Posts Tagged ‘the United Methodist Church’

IMG_1208This week I have been reminded that many in The United Methodist Church are pushing the envelope.   Many pastors, churches, Boards of Ordained Ministry, Bishops, and entire conferences are reacting strongly to the decisions made at the recent General Conference session in St. Louis.  There are many who are trying to push the envelope regarding the church’s position on homosexuality and the church.  At the same time, there are people pushing the envelope in other ways.  For example, I learned of laity who are publicly administering the sacrament of communion.

Years ago I was asked to fill the pulpit when my pastor was gone one Sunday, so I did.  Before the worship service I saw the communion elements on the altar and so I asked who was administering the sacraments.  The lay people in charge of worship matter-of-factly said, “You are.”  I said, “Well, who is going to bless the sacraments?”  They again replied, “You are.”  That was a problem because I’m not ordained, I’m not a licensed local pastor, I am a lay person.

So what did I do?  I blessed the elements and served communion and no one said a thing.    Ever since, I’ve scratched my head and wondered about that day I broke our church’s protocol.  You see I’m normally a rule-follower.  But in this situation I broke our United Methodist rules, and no harm seemed to come of it.

Recently I was talking with some pastors.  They were saying that if we truly want a multiplication movement to break out in our churches of Indiana, we’ll have to loosen the rules, take risks.  I asked what that would look like.  Both answered by telling stories of laity associated with their churches that served communion in public.

One of the pastors has a layman who is an employee at a Walmart.  Every week he serves communion to twenty of his fellow employees in the back room.  The other pastor has a homeless man who started a bible study in a local McDonalds.  Each week he takes a McDonald’s hamburger and breaks it saying, “Take and eat this, Christ’s body broken for you.”  What do you say to such sincere acts, both done with groups of people who would unlikely darken the doors of a church?

So what do we do with that?  To what degree do we push the envelope of our United Methodist polity?  To what degree do we unleash the laity as we send them into the fields that are ripe for harvest?  Not only are people pushing the envelope in the area of the church’s acceptance of gays and lesbians, people are also pushing the envelope in regards to our church’s polity regarding the sacraments.  Where else may the envelope be pushed as we strive to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

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Saturday, February 23, 2019 (St. Louis)

headshots+2-0055Good morning Lord. Well, it’s finally here, the special 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Hard to believe.  We knew it was coming shortly after the 2016 General Conference, and it’s been looming out there in our future ever since.  Now that future has come.  We are here, and the conference begins in only two hours.

Lord, the people I’m talking with have come with a sense of solemnity.  I think we all feel the gravity of the moment, the profound impact our decisions here will have for our church.  There isn’t the excitement that I’ve experienced at the other General Conference sessions.  There’s not the joyful coming together.  As someone said, it feels as though we’re coming to a friend’s funeral.  Lord, we all understand the seriousness of this moment. We all are desperately looking to you for guidance and direction—a way forward.  We recognized things are broken.  Our covenant together is fractured and we can’t continue on this path. Help us to find the right path. Open our eyes to the steps that we must take to be faithful and obedient to you and to help our church to be the church you’re calling it to be.  Lord, we are a broken people in need of a guide, a shepherd.  We need you.  Please come and show us the way.

Lord, today we enter into a time of prayer and fasting, an entire day.  We dedicate this day to you.  We pray for openness of our hearts and minds, that our spirits might be attuned to you.  Help us to be quiet and to listen.  Take away the fears that we’ve brought with us to St. Louis—fears of what if’s, fears of the unknown, fears of failure and potential separation.  May you pour your love out upon us in generous amounts. May your love flow deeply into us, filling every part of our beings.  May your love fill our tables, our meeting space, the city of St. Louis to the full. May it spill out to the world beyond St. Louis that is watching and listening and waiting.  May your love cast out all fears and open us to the wonderful future you’re offering us.

Lord, if we must be accept that we have irreconcilable differences regarding our views on human sexuality in the church and must separate, may we do so in love.  May we continue to be friends, brothers and sisters in you.  May we continue to work along side one another though we may be in different church families.   And, Lord, I pray especially for the people in our churches spread across this country and around the world.  I pray that you’ll rid them of any anger, help them work through their grief, and to bring them peace with the decisions that come out of this conference.  Lord, may they focus on you and the mission to which you call your church.  Reassure them that things are going to be alright, that they couldn’t be in better hands, your hands.  And I also pray, Lord, for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters who find themselves at the center of ongoing debate that our church has been wrestling with for decades.  Lord, may they feel loved by their church.  May we not do harm to them, whatever the outcome.

Lord, again, we’re at a loss as to how to move forward.  We’ve been given some plans, some ideas.  Each one has shortcomings.  Each one will not be easy for everyone to embrace.  Lord, if there’s another plan, one which we’ve not discovered, please bring it to light during this conference.  Surprise us, Lord!  No doubt you can make a way where there seems to be no way.  May we be open to whatever that might be, and give us the courage to pursue it even though no doubt it will not be easy.  May we United Methodists be a faithful people, all for your glory!

Your servant, Ed Fenstermacher

Indiana Conference lay delegate to the 2019 General Conference of The UMC

isIn walked a family of seven Congolese refugees.  Why did they show up to one of our Indiana United Methodist churches?  Because of the cross and flame symbol on the church’s sign.

According to Sergio Reyes, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Getsemani, a family fleeing violence in their home country in Africa recently were resettled near Reyes’ church on the south side of Fort Wayne.  The parents and their five children, ages 6-18 years old, happened to be traveling down the street when a son cried out, “There’s our church!”  The family are members of The United Methodist Church in Congo and so they were very familiar with the UM symbol of the cross and flame.  A family feeling disoriented suddenly felt a little more at home knowing that their church family was with them even though they were thousands of miles from their home country.

The family, that speaks primarily French and Swahili, not only attended Getsemani’s English-language worship service last Sunday, they decided to try its Spanish-language service too!  After the service the pastor and parishioner, who knew a bit of French, took them out to Pizza Hut for lunch.  And the next day they took the entire family out to get new shoes, which were desperately needed.  A couple days later, the family joined the church for its annual Fourth of July baptism service and day of fun at Chain-O-Lakes State Park.

What a beautiful reminder that we United Methodists are a part of global family, as well as God’s family.  Way to go, Sergio and Getsemani Church!  May each of our churches respond to the immigrants and refugees around us with open arms as well!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

ncj20161-300x176It’s the second Monday of the month.  That means it’s a special day of prayer and fasting for those of us on the North Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee.  The committee goes into action this week as delegates to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria, IL, elect four new bishops.  Following the last election, the Episcopacy Committee will assign all nine NCJ bishops–including the four newly elected ones–to the nine Episcopal Areas in the NCJ (Midwest).  As Bishop Mike Coyner is retiring, the Indiana Conference will be receiving a new bishop, something that has happened only once in the last 24 years!

So, I invite you, on my day of prayer and fasting, to join me this week in praying for the Jurisdictional Conference, not only ours in the Midwest, but the other four in the U.S., which will be meeting at the same time.  Together we’ll be electing a number of new United Methodist bishops.  Pray for the candidates.  Pray for us delegates who will be discerning which candidates to elect.  Pray for the twenty-two of us on the Episcopacy Committee who will be determining where to assign the nine NCJ bishops.  Pray, above all, that the Holy Spirit guides the entire process and that God’s will is done.

Prayer makes such a huge difference!  I had a greater sense of prayer support at the recent General Conference in Portland than any of the previous General Conferences I’ve attended.  I sensed God’s spirit on the floor of the conference.  And I believe we experienced a Kairos moment when we adopted the bishop’s proposal to create a commission to bring a plan dealing with human sexuality issues.  Never before had General Conference delegates asked the bishops to lead in this way.  I believe God’s movement in Portland among those of us there was a result of the prayers of many, many people and churches around the world.  If you were one of them, thank you so much!

With the election and assignment of bishops, the Jurisdictional Conference, I believe, will likely impact your church and mine, and our conference, more than any action taken at General Conference.  So don’t stop praying.  This week let’s lift our church and this special process to God and may the results be a real blessing to our churches, conference, and the world!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

CCI LogoAfter at least a decade of signs that the institutional church is on the decline, there is some hopeful news…

According to Warren Bird and Ed Stetzer in their book, Viral Churches (Leadership Network), for the first time in years American churches are planting more churches than they’re closing.   Additionally, in 2012 The United Methodist Church (in the U.S.) had its first increase in Professions of Faith after eleven straight years of decline.  And, there is a sense among leaders in the Indiana Conference that its churches are become more outwardly focused thanks, at least in large part, to its Fruitful Congregation Journey effort.

Although the number of church planting projects in 2012 didn’t exceed the number of Indiana Conference churches that closed, there are a growing number of church planting efforts going on, including the following:

Jeffersonville Riverside UMC.  Leader:  Daniel Payton.  South District.

Plainfield The Branches UMC.  Leader:  Alex Hershey.  Central District.

Indianapolis Casa de Dios (second campus of Fort Wayne Getsemani UMC).  Leader:  Marisa Calleja.  Central District.

Hammond Torre Fuerta (Strong Tower) Hispanic UMC relocating to East Chicago.  It also has a second congregation called Rio de Gracias that meets at Hobart Trinity UMC.  Leaders:  Esequiel and Suri Becerra.  North District.

South Bend Monson Community UMC‘s storefront United Methodist Church for All People, South Bend.  Leader:  Tim Aydelotte.  North District.

Fort Wayne Kristo’s Hands and Feet, a missional plant by St. Joseph UMC.  Leader:  Steve Mekaru.  Northeast District.

Add Bishop Mike Coyner’s vision of starting a hundred new worshiping opportunities in Indiana, and one can easily sense that the future of The United Methodist Church, at least in Indiana, is encouraging and hopeful.  Praise God!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development