Sunday, March 09, 2008

Peculiar Prophet? Heck, He's Nuts... But He's Right.

I was a Southeastern Jurisdictional Delegate in 2004, and I wanted to elect, for sure, three persons to the episcopacy: Hope Morgan Ward from North Carolina, Jonathan Holston from North Georgia, and Will Willimon from South Carolina. Hope was elected first, hands down - everyone knew she was right for the job. Jonathan was what the UMC needed, I thought: someone who was enabling present leadership and equipping them to be effective in the present and future. Although a district superintendent with a proven track record, some said he was too young, some said "We already elected a black man," others said, "We need to elect another woman," and, to make a VERY long story short, he wasn't elected.

But we did elect Will (excuse me, Bishop Willimon). Will can come across as arrogant. However, I have always had a very hard time countering many things he's written and said. I hope my present bishop won't be offended, but Bishop Willimon was my first pick as the bishop to bring home from Jurisdictional Conference. Of course, he was the first pick of many annual conferences. He went to North Alabama (his blog can be found here).

I'm at the point now where I could care less how someone comes across in church leadership. This is what I want to know: can this person lead, are they effective, and are they prophetic? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, our denomination is dying, and I'm no longer in a mood to pacify causes, caucuses, Good News, the Confessing Movement, MFSA, and any other of the special interests groups of the Church. We have so many interests that it seems we've forgotten the Main Interest.

So it was with a lot of interest, and a few amens, that I read what a layperson, Kim Edwards of San Diego, CA., had written recently in the United Methodist Reporter in a question & answer session with Bishop Will Willimon (the whole article can be read here).
Let’s change gears, to General Conference. Any concerns in particular you’ve got your eye on?

Not one single thing. I think two weeks is too long to be in a church meeting, and it’s too much money. I will have to be convinced that it is important.

It costs millions to meet. We spent $300,000 last year on coffee! I just don’t know any Methodists who think they’re giving for that purpose. This is just me. I don’t have a voice. I don’t get to vote. I get to sound off through you.

Any issues you want to see discussed at GC?

I’m not being cute when I say that General Conference is distracting. The real stuff for our church is your local church. It’s what happens on Sunday morning and Monday morning at your local church.

And I just think where we’re failing is in this grassroots level. We’re going to have an address from youth at GC this year. OK, but the backdrop is that we have been killing youth. We’ve got something like 20 percent of the youth we had 15 years ago. Are we doing something wrong?

I wonder where we’ll be in 10 years. Of course, I know where I’ll be in 10 years—in the home!

What’s your advice for bringing church back to the grassroots level?

The best work Jesus does is local. It’s congregational. We are failing dramatically. The decline is huge. And I think none of you lay people would put up with this in your own business or your own life to say, “I made 25 percent less than I did last year. I wonder if I’m doing something wrong?”

We have to do the very Methodist thing of worrying who is not here this morning.

"Two weeks is too long for a meeting... The real stuff for our church is your local church... The best work Jesus does is local. It's congregational. We are failing dramatically.... None of you lay people would put up with this in your own business or life..."

A bishop who "gets" it. Imagine that. But he's going "in the home" in 10 years. Will we pick up the ball?

I'll come visit you in the home, Bishop. I suspect we'll still need you.


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