Monday, May 20, 2013

Make us One, Lord

Make us one, Lord, make us one;
Holy Spirit, make us one.
Let your love flow so the world will know
we are one in you.

               - Carol Cymbala, 1991, TFWS 2224
This past Monday, the Dream UMC movement had a synch-blog event in which bloggers contributed entries along one theme: "Is Schism The Best Future for the UMC? Why? Why Not?"

As you might guess, our politically divided UMC blogosphere was split on whether schism was good or bad, inevitable or able to be prevented.  UMC clergy Eric Folkerth and Jeremy Smith wrote a couple of entries I found to be illuminating and stretched my thinking.

What do I think?  I think schism would be bad, and I don't think it's inevitable.  But ... Some thinking needs to change, and a lot of real praying needs to happen.

I'm a left-center Methodist, and a card-carrying independent.  I find it fascinating that our denomination can be so diverse in perspective, but it can be a struggle to see what unites us.  There's a lot of proof-texting going around, not just of the word, but also of the Wesley Brothers themselves.

But I say praying needs to happen ... I think when people who are at opposite ends of an issue enter debate, the prayer often is "God, can you get the other person to change their mind so I can have my way, and my way is your way, right?"  As opposed to, "Merciful God, please send down the Holy Spirit here as moderator."

For three years I had the blessing to serve Aldersgate UMC in Slidell, LA.  It was a church that struggled through the recovery process post-Katrina with so much amazing grace.  They were a pillar of the recovery effort in the community and still are.  But things still changed for the church membership and they (we) were struggling to offer three services on Sunday morning.  We needed to go to two, and our contemporary service needed to move off of the Sunday school hour and into the later, 11am, time slot.

We knew it needed to be done.  The church wasn't doing well.  Scaling back needed to happen so the church could rebound in a mighty way.

We took surveys, we went through committee meetings.  It was a 6-month long process just to get the data together to present a plan.  We tried to shove it through the Administrative Board, but people hadn't gotten the memo clearly enough that changing our service formats was on the docket.

So the decision was made to have a Church Conference - a scenario where every professing member of the church gets a vote.  A scenario primed for heated discussion.

But my very wise pastors structured the meeting as worship.  We opened with prayer, called down the Spirit to be an active participant in our talks.  We sang the chorus printed above, "Make us one, Lord ..."  Anytime things would get heated and we needed to press pause, my pastors would nod at me and I would step over to the keys and we would sing again.  Happened a half-dozen times.  But it worked.  Prayer worked.

People are always passionate about their worship styles, and people were there.  I think I even remember one gentleman saying, "Jesus doesn't wake up until 11am, and he only wants to hear the organ when he does."  I'm not kidding.

But the real prayer lifted up that night on each individual was, "Lord, is it my heart that needs to be changed?"

The new plan, after a hard 2-hour meeting, passed unanimously.  Not everyone was happy about it, but all saw the good that would come.

A holy meeting was called that brought everyone together.  What would happen at  GC2016 if we let the Holy Spirit really do its work?  In our committees between now and then?  The Holy Spirit can move us when we genuinely gather those of opposing perspectives to do the work together.  I believe that, but maybe that's just the moderate in me.

I do pray for the Spirit to come through for us, to make us one, United Methodist Church.  Will you join me in that prayer?