Wesleyan Wisdom: Thank you all, goodbye, and God bless you!

Editor’s note: This article was submitted prior to the announcement of the continuation of www.unitedmethodistreporter.com but CircuitWriter Media LLC. We have reached out to Dr. Haynes about possibly continuing his column on-line in the future and hope to be able to announce about his participation soon. 

Writing the 209th and final “Wesleyan Wisdom” column for the United Methodist Reporter marks a sad ending to a fulfilling mission. Saying “goodbye” to you as a reader severs a cord of communication that has been very special. Some of you write often, some seldom, some never, but I envision you as I write.

I did not name the column and have felt a bit foolish to have the word “wisdom” connected with one who has never claimed to be a Wesley scholar. I have moved back and forth from “Wesleyana” per se, to polity and to parish ministry. Each topic attracts a different set of readers.

Donald Haynes

Donald W. Haynes

I have been honest in expressing my lifelong love for Methodism, a love I was taught at my mother’s side, walking a dirt road to the one-room rural church that my grandfather had built in 1904 and deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. When I went to college, my mother was concerned that I might jump to the Nazarenes or Wesleyan Methodists, so she gave me one of her few lectures—a one liner: “Will you be a Methodist preacher? As far back as we know, our people have been Methodists.” Today, we have a grandson who is a student at Duke Divinity School and feels called to continue in this family heritage.

Denominational loyalty is eroding more rapidly than most pundits predicted. My roots and love for Mr. Wesley’s spiritual progeny deepens my sadness to see, as a sign of our times, the demise of the United Methodist Reporter. Cokesbury retail stores are closed. The moving of one of our seminaries into a local church is not a sign of denominational vigor. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of our small membership churches will close in this decade. Once upon a time our “county-seat First” churches were our bellwethers, but many of them now have empty Sunday school rooms and an aging worship attendance. Our deaths outnumber our professions of faith, forcing Lovett Weems to predict a “death tsunami” in a few years.

A student of our denomination’s fiscal solvency told me last week that 2018 may be the last year that many conferences will be able to sustain even a semblance of the conference administration and benevolence funds that have been our hallmarks. Licensed local pastors are needed more than ever, particularly part-time ones, but “guaranteed appointment” for ordained elders may hurt their chances for serving a church. Truly these are times that try our souls.

In 1881, all Methodist bodies came together in London for what they called the Ecumenical Conference (Richard Heitzenrater notes it should more correctly be called the first “pan-Methodist” conference). Bishop Edwin Mouzon, in his 1921 book, Fundamentals of Methodism, quotes from a sermon apparently preached on that occasion by Dr. R.W. Dale, a famous British Congregationalist preacher of that day. To me it is a message we need to hear again:

You are the heirs of great traditions. You stand in a noble succession. But, ‘They who on glorious ancestry enlarge produce their debt instead of their discharge.’ . . . Keep faith with your fathers; keep faith with Christ; keep faith with your children and your children’s children; transmit to coming generations the gospel which has already won such splendid triumphs. . . . It is a great gospel which you and your fathers have preached during the hundred and fifty years of your history, a gospel which declares the love of God for all men. Preach it still with the same confidence of faith and the same passion of joy. . . .  See to it that through God’s grace you know for yourselves that, through the merits of Christ, your sins are forgiven, and that you are indeed, and of a truth, the children of God; that your testimony to the Christian redemption may not rest on tradition but on your own personal experience. . . .

I call upon you to resolve, with all the solemnities of an oath, that you will stand fast until you die, in your fidelity to the truths which have given to Methodism its power and glory; and that henceforth you will pray with a deeper earnestness and a firmer faith that the fires of Methodism may never be extinguished.

Since this is my own last word to you, I indulge in the repetition of a familiar message: Let us use the connection as a means of grace, not a weapon of power. Let us not break down the spirit of appreciation and harmony that has long existed between the bishop and cabinet on the one hand, and the local congregation on the other. I am hearing from all across the connection that congregations see themselves as victims to decisions that impact their destiny with no consultation, no on-site conversation or observation, and no appreciation for the loyalty of the people to accept their appointed pastors, pay their apportioned funds, and maintain their building and grounds. They are being arbitrarily merged, closed, put under a megachurch, or told they are being rearranged into a new circuit. Often the pastor commutes from a long distance and does not use the parsonage.

We have confusion, fear and resistance. We have people leaving the United Methodist Church. We have been witnessing to their friends and colleagues in a way that will not make evangelism and radical hospitality very effective. We have thousands of churches where morale is low and the connectional system is seen as a weapon of power rather than an arm of support.

I propose that if a church is in survival mode and near closure, they be given the courtesy of a grace-filled conversation with the district superintendent in the presence of a third party—another superintendent, a coach, a consultant, or the bishop him or herself. Make every effort for a reconciliation and meeting of minds. If this process fails, rather than “seizing” the property for closure or a re-alignment against the congregation’s will, make a proposition: Give the congregation the property. Ask them to keep faith with the theology of their Wesleyan and Arminian heritage and supply the pulpit on their own. Ask them to prayerfully consider support of World Service and other benevolent funds of the United Methodist Church. Covenant with them that if they come through this period of their history recovered and strong enough, they can be re-admitted to the annual conference.

Think of the good will this would generate. The annual conference does not need closed churches on its hands to sell to some other theological tradition—often for a “low-ball” price. We do not need any more adverse publicity or conflicted relationships.

God is not finished with United Methodism, but we are going through hard times. Let us take a positive “offense” rather than a begrudging “defense” as we see our institutions and our local churches in travail. Let us adopt the attitude for which President Lincoln pled in his last inaugural—“malice toward none and charity to all.” Let our words be the last ones on John Wesley’s lips: “Best of all, God is with us.”

Thank you for your faithfulness to this column as a reader. If you wish to receive future columns via email, please send your email address to tranquilglyn@gmail.com. If you or your church can use copies of my book On the Threshold of Grace—Methodist Fundamentals, I can provide them for $5 plus shipping.

Now, in the spirit of Tiny Tim, God bless you, everyone.

Dr. Haynes is a retired elder from the UMC’s Western North Carolina Conference. Email dhaynes11@triad.rr.com.

 

Donald W. Haynes, UMR Columnist

Donald Haynes

Dr. Donald Haynes has been an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church for more than 50 years and is a member of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. A recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award, Dr. Haynes is the author of On the Threshold of Grace—Methodist Fundamentals; serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hood Theological Seminary; and is the Assistant to the Pastor in Evangelism at the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro, North Carolina. Dr. Haynes has written for The United Methodist Reporter since 2005.

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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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