On Saturday, January 25th, approximately one-thousand United Methodists gathered in Birmingham at Clearbranch United Methodist Church. The day’s theme was, Why the Best Days of Methodism are Ahead of Us! The day featured Dr. Chris Ritter as the plenary speaker; and also featured traditionally orthodox delegation members from North Alabama, Alabama-West Florida, and the Mississippi Annual Conferences.
Here are seven observations from the recent gathering of traditionally orthodox United Methodists in Birmingham:
1. The Laity are Waking Up to New Possibilities for the Future
The majority of the attendees at last Saturday’s gathering were laity, and the overwhelming majority of United Methodist laity in the southeast are traditionally orthodox. The majorities are not in agreement with centrist-left and progressive Bishops and pastors who stand ready to change the definition of marriage and ordination standards in their church. Saturday served as a day that heightened awareness of this reality and many were encouraged.
One man, who attends a church led by a progressive pastor, beheld the approximately one thousand United Methodists gathered together was reminded, “You are not alone.” That realization resonated deeply with many in the gathering.
2. The Unity and Synergy Encouraged the Heart
It was interesting to note that, in an hour of history when the church is talking about separation, a deep sense of unity characterized last Saturday’s gathering. Not only was there little tension in the room, the majority of the attendees felt the blessing that comes with the synergy of being of like mind and heart. Many commented, “How good it is to gather with like minded United Methodist Christians!”
3. The Embracing of Hope for the Future
In Dr. Chris Ritter’s morning talk he said, “I think you all are ready to talk about the next Methodism,” and people broke out with applause. He would affirm later, “We are not here because something is falling apart, but because something’s coming together.”
While there is much that is not defined about the future, the day was characterized by great hope for the future. There was an unspoken sense that we are going somewhere! And that somewhere is worth pursuing as we seek an end to the pain of division and move into a new day of Methodism.
4. The Worship Through Song and a Sense of God’s Presence
The worship through song at last Saturday’s gathering seemed to usher forth a palpable sense of God’s presence. But this was not only a characteristic of our worship through song. Even as our guest speaker was moving into his concluding remarks, he paused and acknowledged a keen awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our midst. This too, was a tremendous encouragement to the hearts of many.
5. The Panel and Speakers
It was good to hear perspectives from a wide diversity of people serving on the morning panel. We heard from women, we heard from men. We heard from an African American, we heard from Euro-Americans. We heard from laity, we heard from clergy. We heard from a young adult, we heard from senior adults. The time was not only informative, but it was good to see diversity reflected in what may be the seeds of a new movement.
6. The Emerging Clarity
While there are many unanswered questions surrounding the protocol and the future of Methodism, there were many matters in which a greater clarity was provided.
- The Wesleyan Covenant Association will not be the new denomination; the WCA is a mid-wife to help us get to a new iteration of Methodism.
- A new Methodist movement would be global in nature.
- A new Methodist movement would be committed to social justice.
- A new Methodist movement would be committed to diversity.
- A new Methodist movement would be committed to women ministry.
- A new Methodist movement would be committed to local pastors.
- A new Methodist movement would be committed to education.
7. The Time of Kneeling in Prayer
Many commented that they have never seen one-thousand United Methodists on their knees praying. It was a breathtaking sight; but more importantly I believe it touched the throne of God. It also mattered because it signaled that making prayer is a priority even in our embryonic state.
Lord, hear our prayer: Let the best days of Methodism be ahead of us!
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, The Compassionate Hope Foundation, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111. If you would like to read what Paul wrote his congregation regarding the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation, you may do so at this link.