Restoring Grace and Reclaiming Fellowship in the UMC of the Future
Rev. Dr. Levi C. Williams
When Bishop Bennie Warner ordained me in 1980, over 35 years ago, I remember the appreciable level of camaraderie pastors shared, and how arriving at the Annual Conference site was like attending a family reunion. The ordained ministry provided a spiritual and emotional support system that made all pastors feel they belonged to a divine fraternity of God’s shepherds. Now I write to appeal that we restore the grace and reclaim the fellowship that once existed within the Conference.
Last year I wrote an essay in defense of abiding by the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church in nominating elders for the episcopacy. The Conference went ahead and voted on a rule that went beyond the BOD. While I do not agree with the rule, I respect the decision of the Conference. This year, the actual nomination of elders for the episcopacy will take place to elect a bishop who will lead the LAC/UMC into the future. This is worth celebrating.
As I read the news report from district conferences, at the Gompa District Conference, the Dean of the Cabinet, Rev. Christopher Marshall called on United Methodists to look beyond tribe or ethnic group and focus on the sincere service to God. Anything less, he said, “will not be in the interest of the church and the people of God.” He is right. John 3:16 did not say God so loved one ethnic group more than others, but rather, “God so loved the world….” In the same news report, Rev. Benedict Greene, the DS of Kokoyah District echoed the sentiments but warned, “A fragmented church after Bishop Innis will not represent us as true United Methodists.”
I encourage the next bishop who will receive the shepherd staff of leadership to seek to spread the Grace of God within the Conference and create an atmosphere of collegiality. Whoever is elected will become the bishop for every United Methodist and the pastor of all pastors. He/she must not punish those who may not vote for them. Instead, through forgiveness, embrace all pastors and members of the Conference as a church family. When pastors and their families thrive, the local church and Conference will flourish.
In the words of a great hymn of the church, “A Charge to Keep I Have,” we must remember we have “a God to glorify, a never dying soul to save and fit it for the sky.” We must be ready to give an account to Jesus, when he returns, about how we showed his Grace to others and became a true community of believers. He expects nothing less.