Here’s a great article about our DreamUMC conversation. Our next chat is in a week: May 28, 9 pm Eastern (not 10 pm, as initially stated in the article).
Monday night was magic.
We had our first Twitter Chat for #DreamUMC, the conversation born out of the strong desire to keep shaping the future of our denomination in the wake of General Conference. You can read the full archive of the chat here, or you can view bullet points of answers to the questions we discussed (and some unofficial demographic info) at the facebook page.
First of all, wow! There were 171 people tweeting, and many many more I know who were “lurking,” or as I call it, actively listening. We sent 1,272 tweets, not including retweets. That’s a lot of conversation in an hour! Although dominated by younger voices, the conversation spanned generations, came down fairly even on gender representation, included voices of clergy, laity, and folks between the two, and crossed the U.S. pretty well. We have some work to do yet on inviting the voices of persons of color and reaching out to hear our siblings in the movement from around the world. But there is a lot of energy for movement and hope in this body.
Especially as the conversation got started, what was amazing to me was the passion of the participants. Here, ten days after General Conference ended, people were still filled with pain, regret, brokenness, and grief. Here, despite the brokenness and raw pain, people were still filled with vision and hope and excitement for the future of the United Methodist movement. Such deep pain and deep joy, woven together often in the same person, speaks volumes for the vibrancy and heart of the UMC. As the conversation concluded, the call to continue and progress in our work together was overwhelming and joy-filled. I have rarely felt more in the presence of the Holy Spirit doing a new thing, and never while staring at pixels on a screen.
Reflecting on the conversation, I want to try to synthesize what I heard. We asked three questions, and some themes emerged from the responses.
Question 1: What did you learn/take away from General Conference 2012?
In response to this question, this is where I experienced a lot of pain and brokenness. Many tweets lifted up a new or renewed understanding of our division as a denomination, and several spoke directly about lack of trust. One person wrote “Trust issues abound and we have no idea how to heal them.” Others spoke of the power imbalance in the denomination, and disillusionment with this power. “Manipulation (from all parties and sides) carries more influence than Holy Conferencing.” Many tweets lamented the legislative process, and how it seems to be in the way of the true work of the Spirit and the forward movement of the church. “Movements cannot be legislated,” one wrote, and another: “it is wrong to expect reform to happen @ the structural level.”
Many people lifted up both the blessing and challenge of being a global church– or as I’ve recently had reframed for me (in this excellent post by Wes Magruder), an international church that wants to be a global church. The beauty and diversity of the global Methodist movement breaks down when we try to articulate theology and polity across radically different contexts. As one person put it, “I learned that theology is contextual and structure probably ought to be too.”
Still others took away hope from the General Conference. “God is not finished with the UMC!” was a frequent refrain. People celebrated new connections and friendships, and the sense of not being alone, in either the feeling of sorrow or the passion for ministry we share. Many celebrated the desire for change and the opportunity for conversation and hope. Much as we may try to Methodologize (think I made that up) our movement, that doesn’t stop the Holy from breaking in. As one person wrote: “even when we think all hope is gone, the Spirit has a tendency to show up and surprise us!”
Question 2: How has this new knowledge changed your Dream (vision or hope) for the United Methodist Church?
The next time I am feeling discouraged about the state of the world in general or the church in particular, I promise myself that I will read through these answers again, or just ask a fellow dreamer to tell me their dream for the UMC. These answers were beautiful. Still much pain laced through them, but such amazing and faithful dreams.
Broken dreams were named: “I’m struggling to see how a schism will be avoided,” one person wrote. In another place, a participant would add “I think it’s already happened.” Trust issues were raised again: “I now realize that in order to move forward, we need greater trust. Far too many folks became us vs. them.”
The need for localized contextual ways of being the church was named and lifted. One person summarized this feeling well: “I have become much more in favor of regionalism/contextualism. Annual conferences and local congregations need to be unbound,” while another wrote “I wouldn’t have understood it before #GC2012, but I’m all for a US central conference now.”
Many, many of these dreams envisioned openness and inclusivity for all people, some naming especially the GLBTQ community, but many leaving a wide-open statement– regardless of any division. “I am now even more passionate and committed to building relationships across cultures and other barriers…without agenda,” one participant wrote. Another said, “I (continue to) dream/hope that the UMC will be UNITED, but in our diversity, not just our name.”
The dreams included a deep need for personal transformation and formation as disciples, and the hope that personal transformation would expand out into a transformed way of being and relating to one another. “It has made me more determined to teach Wesleyan theology, more determined to share Wesleyan formation, less fearful,” said one tweeter, while another wrote that we need “less ‘fixing,’ more constructive listening and discerning what a holy life and life together may be.”
In this part of the conversation, one person wrote that General Conference convinced them to go all-in and seek ordination, to get deeply into the system and work for change. Another wrote that GC convinced them to abandon the ordination track and fully embrace and claim the power of lay leaders within the church for transformation. It struck me as wonderful that both articulate a sense of transformation and purpose and calling, and it highlights for me that the call to ministry has to do with our gifts and passion, not our titles or position on the laity-clergy spectrum.
Question 3: What’s one achievable change that would make the UMC a bit closer to the church you dream about?
Here the conversation was at its most powerful for me, as people’s passion was channeled into positive, practical visioning. What I learned is that there are lots of people who see the same way forward I do (I think it has a lot to do with contextualizing our theology and practice, through some form of national or regional central conferences for the U.S.), there are many people who have other or additional creative ideas for transformation. Nothing gives me more hope than passionate people who also can think proactively.
There were many cries for a U.S. Central Conference, something for which I’ve never heard a huge groundswell of support before. But as I mentioned earlier, the tension of trying to live globally (not internationally) amid massive cultural differences really tied our hands and hearts at this conference. One person put it this way: “A US Central Conference free to set our own standards around the issues that divide the global church. That is it.” Another wrote, “Ditto, US central conference. &, quit trying to motivate US church w fear. Motivate w love (good news).”
Many spoke to the need for refocused ministry efforts at the “church” level, and one person emphasized that we need to “expand our idea of ‘church’ to include non-conventional forms of ministry (campus ministry, non-profits, on tap groups, etc).” Another sumarized this need, saying: “invest in the local church, focus less on ad campaigns and expensive meetings and more on the work of the people.”
Still more voices lifted up the need for justice-seeking local ministries: “quit trying to legislate for holiness and rather emphasize social holiness,” said one, and another, “go back to some of our roots of leading social change instead of following it.”
I was especially heartened by the numbers of people describing a need for deeper theological education and spiritual formation at all levels of the church. One participant wrote of the church’s need for “much more serious commitment to Wesleyan theological education. We need more curriculum based on theology AND context.” Another put it this way: “new emphasis on practical theology at local & general church level, a theology of ‘doing’ church-aka being the body of Christ.” This theological formation– from the grassroots up, not the top down!– impacts our entire way of being as a movement. Said one individual: “Return to Wesleyan tradition. more local autonomy, more Lay leadership, prevailing GRACE, full inclusion, I could go on.”
Very practical, short term suggestions called for the elimination of dashboard metrics tools: “Dashboards (obsession only with the quantitative) creates a distorted view of kingdom building that is consumer driven.” Others called for term limits for bishops and for delegates to General Conference. And of course, there was a call to reinstate the Conference Cookies.
One participant invited us to dream up “a radically different way to do GC2016. I have no idea what that looks like, but we need to start imagining now.”
Many goals were personal and connectional, speaking to the heart of what Methodism is, in my opinion. Some were general: “Encourage more collaboration & working together rather than fighting against each other.” Others much more personal: “I’d really like to be in meaningful conversation with our sisters and brothers in Central Conferences.” Still others focused on the #DreamUMC conversation itself as a place where change needs to happen: “reach out to my CC friends and people of color to make sure that the tweet chat has a wider range of voices.”
One person concluded with a simple goal, “Stop worrying about our fears….just do ministry….” I’ve found that at any level of ministry, this is the best advice.
Conclusion & Looking Ahead
For many of us, this conversation was only the beginning. As the hour drew to a close, people expressed joy and hope through the process, “It’s like a Holy Spirit wave!” one person wrote, and I agree. Another person wrote that Twitter gave them a whole new understanding of Pentecost, and I can’t help but see how much of this conversation, and the form in which it is happening, will shape my sermon for that holiday next week. I concluded the time feeling uplifted, hopeful, and heard (which is ironic, since as moderator, I kept most of my opinions to myself– a challenge for this raging extrovert). And I felt and feel deeply blessed to be part of a church and a movement filled with so many passionate people who love and serve Christ in radical, hope-filled, life-changing ways.
We plan to chat again in two weeks, on Monday May 28th, 9 pm eastern.
And as often as we need to in order to equip ourselves, organize our thoughts, and hold one another up in grace and hope.
In the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box (from Hesiod’s Works and Days), Pandora opens a container from which all the world’s evils spill, never to be contained. But there is a glimmer of possibility, because last of all things in the box is the most powerful force: hope.
Perhaps for those of you who attended or followed General Conference with me, that’ll preach.
As my earlier posts attest, there were all manner of ills that spilled out of the box of General Conference, and by Friday morning I was counting down the hours until I could go home and plot my exit strategy from my beloved denomination. I could no longer live in a church that would silence voices, consolidate power, diminish grace, bargain away accountability, tread upon biblical interpretive lenses, and call my friends incompatible and worse.
But last out of the box, from a most unlikely place, hope.
The creative chaos that ensued after the Judicial Council struck down Plan UMC was a breath of fresh air. And we all know that breath, wind, and Spirit are the same, right? Ruah. Pastor Deb, from North Broadway UMC (a friend on Facebook) described it, saying, “Divine creation loves holy chaos. There was a Spirit of freedom in the room…” Indeed there was.
What was so perfect about that moment was that what we’d been feeling and saying all along was proven true: there actually is something inherently un-Methodist about consolidating power in the hands of a few, and people don’t tend to like big huge plans that are made without their voice and involvement, especially in a movement that was once upon a time so grassroots.
But we all agree– change is needed. And it’s clear now that this change can’t be hierarchical, can’t be made by one or two people behind closed doors, and can’t be limited to any particular group, with some token demographics thrown in. Change has to be transformational from the inside out, from the grassroots up. Change has to be transparent and invitational, with many voices at the table. Change has to be free and freeing.
And #dreamUMC was born.
All over twitter, this is what people were clamoring for. Young people, yes, but people of all ages. GLBTQ and allied people yes, but people from all demographics. Women, people of color, progressives, moderates (lovers of the Adam Hamilton Amendment, which I now call AHA), and yes, even some conservative caucasian looking males.
We all want a conversation about the future of the UMC, what it should look like, how it should be shaped, and how we get there. And we all want a voice in it. And the chaos in the void of a defunct plan gives us the space for the Spirit we need to have it.
This isn’t a young people thing. Oh sure, we’re kind of starting it, and it’s on twitter, which is our sandbox in many ways. But see, the thing is, we objected to plans that were made without our voices, so we’re not going to silence anyone else’s. And speaking as a progressive, I object to the marginalization of many unique voices; I’m not going to push aside a theologically diverse voice at this table.
Here’s where we will start: next Monday night at 9 pm Eastern time, we will have a TwitterChat. If you’ve never done this before, you just need to sign up for twitter and search the hashtag (that’s the little # followed by word/s) #dreamUMC. You may also want to follow the account @DreamUMC (you can also “like” us on Facebook). At 9 Eastern, we will have a prayer and then ask some questions for an hour. I’ll start with something like “what did you take away from this general conference?” Over time, with monthly chats, we hope to build a conversation around what is needed for the future. We may one day craft legislation or make a motion, but for now, we want to have a conversation– a conversation as big and broad as twitter can manage.
You’re invited. Whoever you are. We are trying to build a United Methodist Church that has room and freedom for all voices, and springs from the Spirit’s leadings. If that speaks to you, come speak with us.
We have a window, a light at the end of the tunnel, a sliver of hope at the end of all other things. This is the time to dream.
I close with some of aforementioned Pastor Deb’s observations, used with her permission:
- The body has taken authority and the reformation of our structure will be driven by vitality at the congregational level that is contextual and incarnational. Vital congregations cannot be legislated, or mandated, or created by statistical reporting. The Spirit has begun to empower the people.
- The attempt of a few people to write a plan for the whole denomination from their social location of power and privilege has been soundly refuted. We are a connectional church, and our connectional structure worked at a very critical moment in our life.
- A great deal of time and money was wasted over the past 4 years by people preparing a plan that placed too much power in the hands of too few people. There was an arrogance on behalf of those who prepared this plan, and their efforts to exclude the voices of the less powerful did not prevail.
- Those who support a church that fully affirms and includes GLBT persons will begin to live in disobedience to the formal authority of the church. 40 years is long enough to wait for permission to do the right thing. The pledge many of us made to uphold The Discipline while disagreeing with it will be refuted. It is time for organized, thoughtful, sacred disobedience.
- There are young leaders in this church who have a better idea for restructuring and reformation. They’re already planning to meet on Twitter, (a radically open forum) and you can expect some enabling legislation from them at the 2016 G. C. Closed door deals between powerful people will not shape the church of the future.
It is a good time to be a United Methodist. I do not think it will be an easy time. The backlash will be fierce. But I do believe that the Spirit of God, free and radical and creative, might have captured again the heart of the people called United Methodist. I pray that many will join in “occupying” the church with risk taking, bar crossing, rule breaking ministry that brings the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ to many, many new people.