Please listen beyond the noise

Eric Van Meter

Dear 2012 General Conference,

Please listen to us. And please don’t.

Listen to the people of the United Methodist Church. We everyday pastors, staff, and volunteers have never felt more disconnected from the larger church bureaucracy. We visit hospitals and hold youth retreats and preach and try to serve faithfully. But how do the most important things we do connect with the work of our high-level leaders?

The answer, if you ask us, is that it connects very little. The Call to Action report, for example, piles words upon words in description of what upper church management should do. Among the key themes is that they must institute high standards of accountability to measurable outcomes. Getting rid of guaranteed appointment is a key component of this.

But introducing more anxiety into an already anxious system does nothing to solve our problems. It’s like screaming at a child who is crying from fear. The Call to Action lays blame and offers solution, but only from one perspective. It contains, after all, no reciprocal accountability.

This is just one example of the disconnect. The truth is that most of what’s happening at the Annual Conference level and higher is going on without significant input from those of us on the front lines.

But General Conference is not limited to upper management. We have elected you as delegates because we believe you can represent us well. That may mean changing the agenda as set forth by our executives. It will certainly mean listening to us.

So please listen.

But don’t listen just to what we talk about. Some of the things that cause the most noise don’t matter as much as the volume might lead you to believe. We have passionate feelings about the ordination of our GLTB brothers and sisters, for instance. But most of us realize that cooler heads have not prevailed in the ongoing discussion, that it’s not something that can be solved in the near future. Even more of us have grown weary of hot button issues taking center stage. We realize there are things nearer to the heart of the gospel.

Listen instead to our deep concerns.

Many of our countries are divided over politics and economics. This is certainly true in the United States. We need you to model a way of doing business that is respectful in disagreement, but also looks for common ground. We want to be proud of the way you conduct yourselves, regardless of how we feel about specific decisions.

Our leaders have paid lip service to younger generations, yet our youth groups continue to dwindle and our campus ministries go underfunded, if they are not closed altogether. Can you do more than talk about investing in the young? Can you make decisions based not on our history, but on a hopeful trajectory?

We worry about getting old and dying. In our best moments, however, we recognize that these fears hinder us from really living. Jesus insistently calls us to lay down our lives, to make decisions based not on what will pamper or prolong our existence, but on what will most accurately reflect a character marked by self-sacrifice and concern for others. Can you do your work without worrying about whether or not the UMC will survive in its present form? Can you consider instead what is right for this moment in time?

We—the ordinary people who call ourselves United Methodists—are not without hope. We believe God has called us through the power of the Spirit to follow Jesus in our local contexts. We believe in the beauty of the UMC. As frustrated as we are at times, we still think of her with affection and compassion. We need to know that the higher levels of UMC leadership can extend that same grace to us.

So we ask that you listen, both to us at our best and to God at all times. And we pray for you in your work.

 

The Rev. Van Meter is director of the Wesley Foundation at Arkansas State University. Contact him at eric@astatewesley.org.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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