The Way Forward

The Future of the United Methodist Church— A Way Forward!  

(Published in the Epistle December 2018 edition)
 
You may or may not have heard, but the United Methodist Church has been dealing with some controversies lately. As with all controversial issues, we can be overcome with the shock of the topic and lose our sense of perspective. My job, as your pastor, is to provide information, resources, and a healthy outlook on the place we find ourselves as United Methodists. The coming months will be crucial to the future of our denomination, and I encourage you to read the resources in this article so you have first-hand knowledge when the inevitable rumor mill begins its work in the near future. General Conference meets every four years and is the highest legislative body in the United Methodist Church (UMC). It is only at General Conference that our book of church structure and law, the Book of Discipline, can be revised. The UMC gives full voting rights to international delegates; so this is a worldwide gathering, connecting cultures and Annual Conferences from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. At every General Conference since 1972, our denomination has debated, voted and re-voted over our position on human sexuality. In 2016, a resolution was passed so that this topic would not grind General Conference to a halt, and a “Commission on a Way Forward” was formed. Their work was to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. This Commission, made up of United Methodist Laity and Clergy, has been working since 2016 to prepare for a special called General Conference to decide on the future of the UMC in light of our impasse on human sexuality. This General Conference will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from February 23-26, 2019. While there are many options being considered from other groups within the denomination, the Commission has come up with three possible plans for the UMC going forward: The One Church Plan: The One Church Plan provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context without disbanding the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church. In the One Church Plan, no annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions around human sexuality. If approved, changes to the UMC would be phased in after the 2020 General Conference. The Connectional Church Plan: The Connectional Conference Plan, while requiring an almost complete change of our denominational structure, reflects a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services. Under this plan, the UMC is built around three connectional conferences based on theology including perspectives on LGBTQ ministry. Due to the complex nature of this plan, changes will be phased in over the next couple of General Conferences. The Traditionalist Plan: The request for a “Traditionalist” Plan was made to the Commission late in their process. As presented to the Commission, the Traditionalist Plan steps up accountability to the current Book of Discipline language. This Plan requires every Annual Conference to certify that they will uphold, enforce, and maintain the Discipline’s standards on LGBTQ marriage and ordination. Annual conferences that did not certify would be encouraged to form an “autonomous, affiliated” denomination that would work together with the UMC but no longer be a part of it. As of 2021, annual conferences that did not certify could no longer use the United Methodist name and logo, and they could no longer receive any funds from The United Methodist Church. I encourage you to be in prayer for the delegates and the sensitive, complex matters they will legislate during General Conference. Either way they vote, these issues will affect real people in our churches across the world, and in the pews next to you at St. Paul’s. Our Bishop, Rev. Ken Carter, has encouraged all people in Florida to pray, in the morning or the afternoon, from 2:23-2:26, symbolizing the dates of General Conference. I hope you’ll join me in this prayer vigil over the coming months. In addition to prayer, I encourage you to read, watch, and listen to primary-source material on this upcoming General Conference and the Commission on a Way Forward’s work. Each of these plans have their supporters and detractors, and it is important that everyone reads the Way Forward report on the three plans before forming opinions. Our Florida Conference website (www.flumc.org) has an in-depth section devoted to Way Forward resources at www.flumc.org/wayforward. On this site you can read the Commission’s entire report, watch “listening sessions” with Bishop Carter around the conference, read about the history of the UMC and human sexuality, and keep up to date with future developments. In closing, let me assure you that the church of Jesus Christ has weathered these storms before, and will weather them again. On Sunday, March 3, you will come back to worship. The good news is; you will notice that we will still be worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ and ministry will continue here, regardless of how our General Conference votes. In the middle of our culture full of polarization, war, and anxiety, it is important that the church be a place of unity, peace, and assurance that God is bigger than the issues we think divide us. My hope is that this article provides understanding and clarity during this confusing time. I am here if anyone would like to discuss these issues further, and as always, I am honored to serve as your pastor during these important times for our UMC and our witness as disciples of Christ. ~Robert  


Elements of Advent

Each year, as the calendar rolls toward December, we reach the beginning of the Christian Year as the season of Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas. During Advent, we prepare for and anticipate the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for and need of forgiveness, salvation, and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble manger in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming. Advent contains a lot of symbolic elements as we point to the coming of Christ. As you saw during Hanging of the Greens, everything has a meaning; from the colors of the altar paraments, the symbols used on the Chrismon tree, the Advent Wreath and its five candles. There are also other elements to Advent, and they are more about our own mindset. These elements of readiness, joy, love, and peace, go together with the visual symbols to help us focus on the true meaning of this special season and its powerful, world-changing testimony. As we celebrate Advent at St. Paul’s this year, I invite you to dive in to our opportunities for spiritual growth so you can be ready for the coming of Christ. Our sermon and worship series during this season will be Elements of Advent, and we will study the important symbols of this time of year during worship as well as participate in Advent activities and devotionals from the Elements of Advent devotional, written by Ron Glusenkamp with the music of Peter Mayer. Each day in this booklet explores a different element of Advent which connects us to Christmas and bonds us to Christ. There is a short devotional and activity each day to help you stay on target and should also help you have a little Advent fun! Our worship at the end of Advent will focus on Christmas Eve with a Service of the Nativity at 5:30 pm. This worship experience will focus us on each of the elements in the manger scene, reminding us of their meaning to the story of Christ’s birth. Our second Christmas Eve Service will be Carols and Candlelight, a Communion Service in the sanctuary at 8:00 pm full of the carols and scripture of this special time of year. Come and celebrate with us as we welcome the newborn king into our world!  



This Act of Grace…

Way back on Pentecost Sunday, we entered the season of the church known as “Sundays after Pentecost,” and known by some of you who are more liturgically sensitive as “ordinary time.” You may have noticed headings in your bulletin that told you just how far away we were from Pentecost—twenty Sundays, twenty-one, twenty-two… It can seem like we’re getting farther and farther from that exciting season of candlelight, resurrection, Christmas carols and memories. In the church calendar, it can seem like we’re getting farther away from the source of our light, and the long-named Sundays can seem almost depressing because they remind us how long it’s been since we sang “Go, Tell it On the Mountain” or “Up from the Grave He Arose.” However, there is another way to see things: the “ordinary time” isn’t boring, but rather a time to put into practice the growth we’ve experienced during the first half of the Christian year: Advent through Pentecost Sunday. As the Sundays after Pentecost come to a close here in the secular month of November, we’ve got a lot of celebration and ministry to work toward in the name of Jesus. Each Sunday in November we’ll be preparing for Thanksgiving Sunday by participating in a “progressive” food drive for Interfaith. Each Sunday, we invite you to bring a certain item to worship, where we will add it to our overall collection we give to Interfaith on Thanksgiving Sunday, Nov. 18. On November 4, bring canned veggies and fruit to worship. On November 11, we ask that you bring boxed Potato and Rice mixes. On November 18, as we end our item drive, we ask that you bring canned proteins. During worship on that Sunday, you’ll be invited to go out shopping with our youth as they bring in the harvest to add to the collection. We’ll have a hymn-sing service for those who do not wish to go shopping, and we’ll celebrate as our shoppers come back at the end of worship with their harvest! Interfaith is still experiencing a critical shortage of food, so let’s do our best to help those in need! May God bless you as you bless others this November! ~Robert  



It’s the WHY of Supporting St. Paul’s Ministries

 
When we take the vows to join St. Paul’s, we promise to support this congregation with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Being good stewards of God’s church means that we participate in the mission of the whole church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  The mission of St. Paul’s UMC to affirm God’s love by transforming lives, connecting generations, impacting our community and world as well as making disciples for Jesus Christ is a compliment to the larger church’s mission.  However, these are simply rules to follow, and you need the why of those promises.  Why do we do all this?  Why do we study this every year as we prepare for next year’s ministry impact?  Knowing the why makes a huge difference!
The why is because of God’s grace toward us.  Grace is defined as the “undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit,” and when we realize just how amazing this grace is, we will act upon it with transformative love toward God and the world around us.  Everything we do will then be an Act of Grace – what an amazing way to live!  As the late evangelist Billy Graham said, “When you accept Christ, the holy spirit must live in you and express himself through you.”  That’s acting under the influence of grace! As we approach next year’s grace-fueled mission, volunteers on the Stewardship Team have set some goals for our ministry next year.  Adopt these as your own personal goals as you pray about how you and your family will support St. Paul’s with your prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Each of these goals is equally important, covering each area of our membership covenant:
  • Prayers: each member of the congregation will commit to praying once a day.
  • Presence: each member will worship in some Christian form of community (church being the primary one) once a week.

o   You’re encouraged to be creative as you worship in community with other Christians.

o   Do all you can to come to St. Paul’s, but if that is not possible, find a community to worship wherever you are: whether it’s in the car as you travel, in another location where you currently are, or whatever creative solution you can find. 

  • Gifts: each member will work toward tithing if they are not already tithing.

o   While the Finance Committee is still gathering figures for the 2019 Budget, it appears that the budget will increase over last year due to continued investments in ministry and growth.

  • Service: every member of the congregation will commit to be involved in some form of regular service.
  • Witness: every member of the congregation will focus on finding their heartburst for ministry

o   A heartburst is a sudden, powerful, divine, urgent and compelling desire to help that particular stranger (or group of strangers) experience the grace that they need most. ~Thomas G. Bandy

o   What is your “why?” for ministry?

o   If you’ve found it, keep going

o   If you haven’t- keep intentionally listening to God’s voice

Join us for a four-part worship series on stewardship called This Act of Grace. Each week we will hear stories of God’s abundant grace toward us, focusing on the different ways in which we respond to his grace. The themes for each week are “By His Grace” (based on Romans 3:24), “God’s Varied Grace” (1 Peter 4:10), “My Grace is Sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), “This Act of Grace” (2 Corinthians 8:9) and “Responsible Grace” (Psalm 145), which will be our Commitment Sunday when we consecrate our 2019 Commitments on altar and pray over our common mission together.  Grace us with your presence, as God will grace us with his.