aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A few roses amidst the thorns

I've been pretty critical of The UMC and the attempts of those who want to restructure it. I risk being labelled a mere "aginner." But I see lots of positive things in our Church; I just don't see how the massive structure helps or hinders them.

For instance, right now my congregation is one of several engaged in a program called the Fruitful Congregations Journey. It's a training and consultation program for small churches. We also do this in our Conference for larger churches and for clergy. Now, I'm familiar with all this stuff; I've studied it for years. But it doesn't really do anything if I'm the only one in the congregation with this knowledge base. We need to get a critical mass of our congregational leaders conversant with this stuff and able to articulate productive pathways for the rest of the congregation. I give full credit to our bishop for leading our Conference in this direction and funding these programs. This is the good stuff. But we obviously don't need to restructure The UMC from the top down to deliver it; we're delivering it now. And any Conference, anywhere, could decide this year to do the same.

Also right now, I'm part of a working group trying to pull off a major Scouting mission trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This will be similar in some respects to the trip I led to Tanzania in 2001 (and somewhat similar to the return trip to Tanzania I led in 2006). We are coming at the invitation of Bishop Ntambo. Our Conference Scouting Ministry leaders are being called upon to assist their Conference Scouting Ministry leaders to make the magic happen. We don't need permission from some higher-up body to do this, nor do we have any expectation of help from them -- and they have none to give. The General Commission on United Methodist Men and the Office of CYSA/Scouting in Nashville are organized in typical bureaucratic ways. All they can do in Africa is send somebody to visit -- and they can't do that because they don't have the budget for it, and no will or means to raise the money unless some rich donor drops it on them. This is not to deny any of the good things that the denominational leadership in Nashville can accomplish -- just to say that we don't need them to go do the ministry to which we have been called.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a major UM agency that really delivers solid value, I'd call your attention to The Upper Room. UR is a division of the General Board of Discipleship, but it is a very peculiar one. Unique among UM bureaus, it receives no denominational funding; its continuance depends upon people perceiving the value of what it does and supporting that with purchases and donations. Also special is that it works with non-UMs all over the world. And what does UR do? Well, it publishes The Upper Room, the daily devotional guide that bazillions of people use, in multiple languages. It governs the Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis ministry -- one of two American programs (the other is Disciple Bible Study) that our European churches actually ask for. It has a Prayer Line (funded by UM Men) that prays with whoever calls, 24/7. And it hosts other programs. But the point is, restructuring is pretty irrelevant to The Upper Room.

The National Association of United Methodist Scouters -- with a lot of help from the UM Men Foundation -- provides New Testaments for youth on high adventure trips. This summer, we are sending special editions of the NT to trekkers at Philmont Scout Ranch, paddlers at Northern Tier Canoe Base, sailors at Florida Sea Base, and Girl Scouts hiking the Appalachian Trail and celebrating their 100th Anniversary. That may be small potatoes in one sense: NAUMS is a tiny organization, with little in the way of institutional support. But we've been doing this for over twenty years. The bigwigs in charge of everything are sometimes very interested in our causes and sometimes not; we sometimes make common cause with them and sometimes we go our own way. But we're here, year after year, making some basic, good things happen. If the whole denominational machinery would go broke tomorrow, we'd still be doing something in the middle of a great big nothing, even if on a shoestring.

Now, these are not all wonderful because I'm involved in them; I merely list them as examples here because these are the ones I know best. Other folks could list other great things going on at the local church and Conference levels of The UMC. The point is, we're doing these even now, even with our current structure. I've read in a blog or two that we cannot fulfill our task of making disciples under our current structure. Funny, I've been making disciples at my little church all along; at least, that's what I think is happening when I baptize, confirm, teach the faith, and lead people into new ministry experiences. I don't recall needing some huge bureaucracy to enable me to do it, either. Not that we're burning up the track here at Ellettsville, but we do average 4 or 5 professions of faith a year; considering that around half of all UM churches can't manage to produce even one in any given year, we aren't doing badly. The seed produces some thirtyfold, some a hundredfold, you know? But it produces.

So, yeah, I'd like to see us have a more effective denominational structure. But maybe "more effective" starts with cutting down the weeds so more good grain can grow, instead of figuring out a way to keep every program and every general agency job while shuffling chairs at the top.

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