Author: Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson, retired
In recent weeks I have been immersing myself in the Psalms. Reading James L. Mays’ Interpretation Commentary on the Psalms I came across his powerful translation of Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when covenant kin sit together in unity, for there the Lord has ordained the blessing of enduring life.”
I love the church universal, I love Christ, and I love the United Methodist Church, our covenant community of faith. We are going on to perfection in our life together as we live into the covenant of being God’s own people, gathered by God’s own hand. This community has shaped my life and vocation and given me a home for growing in love with God and my neighbor. Never an easy task but I would not give anything for the journey. I long for nothing more than for us to keep growing together in this love. Of course, we disagree on speciﬁc issues and we have ever since the earliest Christians argued over eating meat oﬀered to idols and whether or not one had to be circumcised in order to be baptized. See Acts and Paul’s letters. This journey of living into the gospel where we ﬁnd ourselves living is a never-ending process, even another gift. We United Methodist have used Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience to come to interim answers and to keep traveling together.
I read a brief post recently by one who made the point that doctrine is an entry point, not the ﬁnal answer when we are conferencing together in prayer about next steps in understanding God’s nudges toward our life together in mission as commissioned by Christ. That is a concept I share. None of us know the whole truth. We now see dimly, partially. Only God, maker of heaven and earth and all things known and unknown, knows complete truth. My prayer, “Dear God of Love, please pour an extra portion of humility into my soul which is so full of strong opinions.”
I support the One Church Plan and want to share with you my reasons, knowing I do not know the full truth.
First. The One Church Plan seems to be the path that might lead to unity among us diverse United Methodists. Jesus prayed for us to be one according to John 17. Every schism tears at the fabric of the whole body. I ﬁrmly believe we can be more eﬀective in mission and ministry and make better use of our human, spiritual and ﬁscal resources as one body. We have more to share with the whole world when we are one. I believe this model oﬀers us the maximum possibility to increase our body capacity to do God’s work in the world.
Second. We have diverse views on human sexuality, the role of women, the nature and depth of racism and colonialism, marriage, birth control, and abortion just to name a few that have troubled us and will continue to trouble us as ﬁnite human beings living in a broken world. If we are ever clear on these issues more issues will emerge. We are growing together as we seek God’s guidance to take next steps.
I need to hear from people who think diﬀerently from me. Yes, I have ﬁrm beliefs, but I do want to listen and learn from people who see God’s guidance leading us in diﬀerent directions. I have discovered that to keep changing and learning and dialoguing is one of the ways God has provided for me, for us, to deep growing up in faith. Wesley calls these prayerful conversations conferencing, a means of grace. God takes me, us, to new understandings. We need each other. God gave us to each other and I need each of you, even when our frustration level with each other is way too high. The One Church model seems to give us this opportunity for mutual growth in understanding, learning and faithfulness, as well as a good dose of humility and self-discipline, that we might be God’s own people serving God and the world.
At a good friend’s suggestion, I just read a little of the history of the Methodist movement in 1792 and the work of Bishop Francis Asbury. 1792 was not a good year for Asbury. Two groups felt it necessary to leave the Methodist Episcopal Church. He searched the works of Bouroughs and Baxter and published a little monograph ON THE CAUSES, EVILS AND CURES OF HEART AND CHURCH DIVISIONS. Abington Press reprinted it for us in 2016. The list of political disorders and practices that divide sent me to my knees: Pride, Self.
Love, Envy, Passion, Rigidness, Rashness, Willfulness, Inconstancy, Jealousy, Contention and then Whispering, Needless disputes, Meddling, Slander, Inordinate respect, Compromising against the Common Good, Revenge. A checklist for a painful, but necessary examination each night during these next months.
Third. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world as we tell and live the Good News made known in Jesus Christ. We are called to struggle with God and one another in order to live with all people with compassion, love, justice and peace. We need to be together as one to do this vital mission which God has given us.
May God’s abundant grace guide our conferencing before, during and after General Conference 2019.