Diary of a Delegate: If I could ask one question…

I mentioned that I happened to run into Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter a couple of nights ago. As is almost always the case, I thought of what I really wanted to say after I walked away. I wrote it down, and sent it to him as a letter. Can’t hurt right? It’s part of our global conversation of church restructuring, so I’ll share it here (minus the greeting and stuff).

Twitter cloud image for 4/30 from @andrewconard

Dear Rev. Hamilton,

Regardless of what plan for the UMC we (move on toward) perfect and adopt, I had one process conversation that I hoped to share. I read the whole report months ago and really loved the theology and push behind it; I just think there’s one more question that needs to be asked.

The Call to Action folks asked what makes a vital congregation. I want to take one more postmodern step back and ask, what makes a congregation? Put another way, what is the model of a local church?

I submit that the presumed model is something like: a relatively fixed congregation that meets in an old (usually) building once a week for worship, and a smaller, more fixed subset of that group that trickles in and out in between to handle the administration and ministry of the congregation.

This model of the church is dying. Definitely. I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.

There are a few very prominent exceptions, places where what appears to be this model is still very successful, but I believe the Church-of-the-Resurrections and the Glide-Memorials of the world are actually not living this model. They are exceptions that prove the rule.

See, I think the strategists looked at vital and vibrant churches, presuming the current model, and asked, what do these congregations have in common? What do they do that we can measure and teach that makes them the same? From there they developed measures of vitality, some of which are really great, but some of which I feel are trying to make us better at being a church in the model that is broken and dying.

I’d suggest that what makes those magnificent churches vital is not what they do that’s the same, but what they do and have done that has deviated from the presumed model of local church. What makes them different? Because that’s where they are living into a new way of being a local church, and that’s what we need to learn.

I’m not an analyst or anything. I’m a local church pastor with just under eight years of ministry experience behind me. I can’t answer that question, although I suspect it has something to do with smaller, intimate groups of people in prayer and action together, connected to one another and to their context/community, gathering in worship to celebrate, equip, and uplift, and then living out their connection to God where they experience deep and true meaning in their lives in ways that are relevant for them, and engage and transform the world around them.

In any case, if we see what we need to equip congregations in a new evolving model of local church (for example, I am horribly under resourced for how to identify and nurture leadership ability in the laity with whom I serve—been making it up as I go along!), then I think we can better evaluate vital congregations, effective lay and clergy leaders, and the effectiveness of our global church to resource, inspire, and equip those churches and leaders.

It is important to me that this conversation

happen somewhere, because I believe in the UMC of today and tomorrow, I love it dearly, and I want us not to survive as an institution, but to die if we must and rise again to newer and more abundant life. I deeply appreciate your work on behalf of our worldwide church, and passionate, relevant ministry. I am honored to be in this Church—the whole big multi-denominational movement of people loving and serving Jesus—with you.

Grace and peace, and God’s resurrection promise,

Becca Clark



Diary of a Delegate: TwitterSermon

I had a very strange experience last night. I preached a sermon on Twitter. It had been a very hard day (more on that another time) and I had left the voting area (called the bar– not a social establishment for beverage!), and sat for a time with some friends, members of the GLBTQ and ally community. The music began, and a joyful liturgical dance that moved me deeply, but I felt such a disconnect because my friends and loved ones were cut off from the worship, both by the voting area, and by some of the votes we had taken.

Members of the Common Witness Coalition, as I was writing, the “church”– the broken, internally and externally wounded, frightened church– I was thinking of was not the UMC. It was the Coalition. My word is for us in our pain.

I wavered on the edge, and I began to write:

Having a hard time crossing back into the (voting) bar. #NoBarriersInWorship #gc2012 #GC12love

Okay that prayer changed my mind. Maybe I can worship now. #gc2012 #GC12love #NoBarriersInWorship

I’m having a really tough time with this service. It’s profoundly powerful #NoBarriersInWorship #gc2012 #GC12love

Precisely because of its power I feel the disconnect. #NoBarriersInWorship #gc2012 #GC12love

(we sang the wonderful song “You Are Mine,” which includes the lyric “I will call your name, embracing all your pain, stand up, now walk and live.” and the refrain “I love you and you are mine.”)

How many people want to hear us say “I love you and you are mine”? So much pain to embrace. #NoBarriersInWorship #gc2012 #GC12love

That’s right folks. I’m preaching on twitter. Deal with it. #NoBarriersInWorship #gc2012 #GC12love

The music this evening has reminded us of our boundless love of God & God’s boundless love of us. #gc2012 #GC12love #twittersermon

Would that our love of one another were as boundless, moving us to shout, clap, leap, or sigh and weep. #gc2012 #GC12love #twittersermon

I didn’t preach this week. I’ve got a sermon inside aching to be born, and I’m 1500 miles from my pulpit. #gc2012 #twittersermon #GC12love

(we heard the story of Jesus asleep in the boat as the disciples cried out in fear at the wind and waves, until Jesus awoke– Lord, save us! We are perishing!– and rebuked the storm)

We are indeed perishing. Not as a church or institution- not important. We’re perishing as a beloved community. #gc2012 #twittersermon

We are perishing because we do not adequately love each other, trust each other. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Huddled in our broken, leaky boat, we are terrified. Jesus sleeps on. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

And we think Jesus is sleeping because he doesn’t care. So we yell louder in our fear and distrust. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Hey Jesus! Don’t you see that we are dying over here? Don’t you care? Save us! #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

(I’m having a Pentecost moment. There’s another sermon in this room, and I hear it too) #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012 (The preacher in the room was preaching a sermon that was sort of in conversation with what I was writing, sort of source material, and sort of separate)

Afraid, and seemingly alone, we forget that Jesus hasn’t abandoned us, he’s in the boat with us. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

He’s sleeping, not because he doesn’t care, but because he & he alone is not afraid. He is not perishing. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

When we shake him awake, begging him to save us, he utters a word not of power but of peace. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

He doesn’t tell us who is right. He doesn’t make a theological claim. He invites peace. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Beloved, we are not at peace. We are in the midst of the tempest. A storm of our own making. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Our distrust, discord, and disconnect roil around us. Our brokenness threatens to pull us under. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

(can’t stop now) #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Christ, save us! Do you not see that we are perishing? #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Peace. Peace be with you. Peace be among you. peace be between you. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

May we love & trust God as much as Jesus does, at peace in the leaky, storm tossed boat. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

(I received and replied to another tweet: “@KVG_DC: @pastorbecca Thank you for captioning that wonderful sermon…” lol not captioning brother. #twittersermon is my own words.)

May we love & trust one another as much as we love and trust Christ. Leaping, clapping, sighing, weeping. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

Amen. #twittersermon #GC12love #gc2012

I feel lighter & better. I have never done anything like that. I’d say I don’t know how it happened, but… #twittersermon #spirit #gc2012