Signs of hope in the UMC

Posted: September 11, 2012 by efenster in Ideas, Information

As we United Methodists in Indiana strive to carry out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, what signs of hope are we experiencing?  My Bishop, Michael Coyner, recently wrote an E-pistle devotional thought entitled, “Don’t Go Over to the Dark Side.”  In it, he mentions how he’s had several United Methodist pastors share with him their discouragement in our denomination, the fact it continues to grow older and smaller (in the U.S.) and that the recent General Conference didn’t do much to take action to address these issues, and that there’s a general sense of cynism among some clergy. 

Given this reality, where do we see signs of hope?  Working in the area of Church Development within the conference, I have the benefit of seeing the growing edges of our church with all its signs of God at work.

This past weekend I led a Fruitful Congregation Journey consultation team to help assess Rochester Grace UMC, and it was so encouraging to hear what God is doing in that church led by Rev. Maurice Grindle.  Is their community becoming more and more secular?  Yes!  Is the church growing?  No, but this past spring its young adults, though small in number, decided to be a part of the solution to the challenges facing their church.  They formed a new Sunday school class, and they helped initiate a new ministry that provides a free meal Wednesday evenings for the hungry in their community.  Well over 100 have been coming.  Who would have thought that would be the case in a small, rural county-seat town?  Now, we’re encouraging them to begin building relationships with those coming and to help them grow in their relationship with Christ.  God is moving in that church and many others!

God is also moving in many parts of our conference through the development of new UM congregations.  In the two districts I primarily work with (the North and Northeast), we have Hispanic congregations forming in Hammond, East Chicago, and Hobart.  Granger Community UMC is launching another campus in LaPorte.  There are four pastors in South Bend exploring a new outreach to the city’s poor that could involve a new congregation.  A major UM church in Elkhart is looking at giving birth to a new congregation in a former UM church building.  And I’m involved in helping St. Joseph UMC in Fort Wayne start a new congregation in my own neighborhood.  Is everything going perfectly?  Hardly, for example, we just had to stop our Gary new-church plant.  The vision is still there but how it’s done needs to be revamped.  But over all, new congregations are being developed to reach the unchurched  with God’s Good News of Jesus Christ!

Add this to what’s going on in the rest of the conference and it truly brings me great hope and encouragement.  I hope it does for you too.  Yes, the world has changed and much of what we’re doing is losing effectiveness.  So, let’s all begin to discover together the new wineskins that God is using to reach the coming generations.  May we United Methodists be right there in the thick of it too!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Assoc. Director for Church Development, Indiana Conference

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