In an essay on the website of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), Thomas E. Frank* writes that with the Call to Action, the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops "have challenged the Church to … a complete change of culture, structure, and practice."
Inevitably, there are those who are ready to embrace that change immediately, while others express reluctance.
Florida Delegation unanimously endorses key principles
Meeting at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa on March 3, the Florida Annual Conference Delegation to General Conference 2012 joined delegations of several other Conferences in approving a resolution in support of key principles of the Call to Action.
The Florida delegation's action was unanimous.
Reform proposals in the Call to Action include restructuring of General Church agencies, redirecting $60 million in General Church funds to boost the number of "vital congregations," and creating a "set-aside" bishop.
"It is critical that we address significant General Church change now. This cannot wait another four years. I know there are critics of some proposals … but I am excited about this plan because it finally links important program work through one board," said the Rev. Debbie McLeod (left), who served on the first Call to Action Steering Committee.
"It is critical that we consolidate several agencies now, because of the shrinking number of U.S. United Methodists and U.S. congregations which support 99% of the World Service Fund. Even more important is placing a fresh emphasis and adopting more effective ways to focus on evangelism, discipleship, and mission engagement close at home and around the world," said McLeod.
Mickey Wilson, Conference treasurer and first-elected laity of the delegation, said, "We can't focus on the little things that might not be perfect; we've got to start somewhere. The delegation has taken that step, and I applaud their hard work." Wilson said that the proposal to redirect $60 million to boost the number of "vital congregations" is an "excellent idea."
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, head of the delegation (right), and who served on the second Call to Action steering committee, applauded the endorsement as well. "The delegates spent a considerable amount of time and gave it prayerful consideration before endorsing this resolution. I think they were mindful of the critical time we're in as a denomination."
Acevedo spoke to the broadness of the proposal to restructure. "It is broad enough for a unanimous consensus – it is not specific about the number of people who will be affected, but there needs to be significant change at all levels," he said, adding, "we can no longer do business as usual."
"The Methodist Church is declining as a whole, and we can't let this be normal. The Methodist Church needs a future with hope," said Acevedo. "This is a clarion call that says we can longer accept ineffectiveness and decline. We need to do something."
Acevedo helped lead discussion of the issues and was part of the team that generated the findings that led to the endorsement. He hopes the delegates' action will lead ultimately to action at General Conference. He hopes "that we won't allow this (plan) to get lost in committee or be compromised to such a point that it is not effective."
He added that an interesting question is, "What happens at the beginning of May, after General Conference? Will we be able then to shift our way of doing things? Will we have the strength of will to say that we no longer will accept decline as normative? We can't simply say that everything hinges on what happens in Tampa."
Division on Ministries with Young People advocates delay
The Division on Ministries with Young People (DMYP) also affirmed the work of the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, and all the leaders who have worked on the Call to Action and Interim Operations Team and agreed, "Change is needed in The United Methodist Church if we are really going to help 'make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.'"
However, a DMYP statement said, "As we have had a chance to prayerfully reflect on all that is recommended, we believe further conversation is needed throughout the Church. We, too, are concerned but hopeful about the future of The United Methodist Church. However, as a Division we are worried that in our haste to make changes, we have not been able to fully engage the width and depth of our connection."
"Change is necessary. The work that has been done, both by the Interim Operations Team and the General Agencies, is a beginning; but we believe the Church needs more time to discern and dialogue before a new structure can be implemented. Rather than restructuring this year, we hope the work begun in the Call to Action will move us into a quadrennium and future of deep, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led conversation.
Will Green, Earlie Pasion, Lauren Godwin, Dani Diehl, Cesar Cauende, Nhoris Ngoy, Evaline Asmah, Stefanie Schutz, Bethany Amey, and David Cosmiano, members of the Division on Ministries with Young People Executive Table, signed the statement and said, "We are praying for the Church and its people everywhere … as we prepare for General Conference."
Visit gc2012.umc.org for all General Conference 2012 resources. (From the California-Nevada Annual Conference website at cnumc.org, just click on "2012 General Conference," the first item under "Quick Links" on the right side of the Home Page.)
*Thomas E. Frank is University Professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is a scholar of American religious history with a focus on mainstream Protestant denominations, particularly Methodism, and is the author of Polity, Practice, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church (Abingdon 2006).