Dreaming, via the Internet, a new future for the UMC

By Becca Clark, Special Contributor…

The DreamUMC conversation is more than two months old, and growing in some exciting ways. We are putting words and ideas to action, and finding new partners across denominational lines.

Becca Clark

Coming out of the 2012 General Conference, many delegates, volunteers and folks who had followed the proceedings from afar looked for a way to continue a broad conversation about the United Methodist Church and the directions into which God is calling us. Using the social networking platform of Twitter, we created space for this communication through the account @DreamUMC and the corresponding hashtag #DreamUMC.

The central goal is to have the communication and vision building be as open, grassroots-generated and participatory as possible. We fundamentally believe that there is something inherently Methodist about seeking out, listening for and valuing every voice, rather than assuming direction comes from the top. Sometimes—often, even!—the Spirit speaks boldly through the people one might least expect.

Every two weeks, Monday nights at 9 Eastern, we have participated in moderated Twitter chats or “tweetups,” where people follow the same hashtag at the same time, and respond to discussion questions. Three separate people from two different UMC jurisdictions have moderated, and participation has been strong, with the number of people tweeting declining, but the number of new tweets and secondary level questions increasing as the conversation goes deeper. The chats are archived on a Facebook page so that people who can’t tune in at that time can read the questions and responses later. Often, one or more persons will summarize the conversation for people to read.

Challenges, benefits

Certainly there are challenges and drawbacks to this method. Not everyone is able to use Twitter and Facebook or feels comfortable in those platforms. Our conversations have been tipped toward United States-based individuals (although we have several participants who sign in from Europe or Africa), and are most popular among those under 40 (although there are again many active participants who are young at heart if not in years). Becoming more inclusive with respect to age, geography and socioeconomic status remains a top priority.

The benefits and advantages are stunning, however.

One might expect the conversation to be monolithic theologically, or to point to particular polity positions. This has not been the case. In the open conversation forum, participants have voiced widely diverging opinions, beliefs and positions, and returned to engage with one another two weeks later. Sharing insights, the people tweeting have offered up a wide range of creative, forward-thinking ideas on a range of topics from the major lessons of General Conference to the need for theological and spiritual formation in local churches, from the essential qualities of an episcopal leader to spreading the message and model of DreamUMC’s open-source conversation.

Focusing the chat

With people weighing in from around the United States and around the world, both during the chat and on their own time, the folks of DreamUMC have begun to identify key areas of focus for conversation and action moving forward, including building toward a United Methodist Church that is more connected to its Wesleyan heritage, has a stronger focus on discipleship and development, is more inclusive, and is more equitable globally. For weeks, we have discussed the need for education and formation in local churches, and for the development of lay and clergy leadership at all levels of the church.

We have also heard frustration about the divisions, exclusions and process-related technical details that keep us from being as effective as we can be in mission and service (like debating almost all critical topics using Robert’s Rules of Order rather than living into a more open and holy conferencing style).

These areas of interest are exciting to think about as the conversation continues. The plan is to invite participants to place themselves on one or more teams and work intentionally around these topics, while continuing the wider discussion about the United Methodist Church as a whole, and about where the Spirit is leading us in the months and years ahead.

Ecumenical dreams

One of the most exciting developments in this movement is its expansion beyond the UMC. At the recent Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, a conversation began on Twitter that was very similar to the conversation that we had experienced at our General Conference. One United Methodist, following the PCUSA tweets, mentioned this similarity, inviting the participants there to peruse the conversations that we’d been having through DreamUMC, and suddenly @WeDreamPCUSA was born.

Within days, new hashtags and user accounts popped up for other denominations, including the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Disciples of Christ, and a broader ecumenical gathering.

Vital, connected future

My personal hope is for a focus on reconnecting to the things that make us Christian, that give us power and purpose as the Body of Christ, and that inform and shape us in our various theological and historical foundations.

In talking with a friend from another denomination this morning, we reflected that the ecumenical movement has historically focused on either mergers or, more typically, on sharing in mission. What if this time, we focused on a different kind of mission: to reclaim and reinvigorate mainline Christianity, to engage with a culture hungry for meaning and purpose and connection, and to offer what the church as a whole has found in Christ, trusting that individuals will flock to the particular and distinct denominations with which they best resonate?

Can we, this summer, this year, at this season in the church, open a conversation at all levels and in all places, hearing, discerning and sharing where God is calling the Christian church into a new and more relevant, vital, connected future?

Now that’s a dream I want to live into.

The Rev. Clark is pastor of Trinity UMC in Montpelier, Vt., and was a New England Conference delegate to General Conference 2012.

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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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