Living out my promises
Last Sunday, Deanne transferred her membership to the UM church we've been attending. My membership, of course, remains in the Annual Conference, but I set this Charge Conference as the one I would report to. So, we both stood up and said the vows, renewed our promises, and were welcomed into the fold.
It's a nice congregation. The pastor is orthodox and warm-hearted. The people are friendly. There are all generations present in quantity. Folk are serious about their faith, and active in various ministries. It's a small church. For the next two or three years, while I continue to build our ultimate retirement home, it's a good place to be.
Once we finally move out to the holler, of course, all bets are off. Given the chaos in The United Methodist Church and the maneuvering by its elites as we come up on the called General Conference in 2019, there may not be a UMC by the time we're ready to move again -- or at least, there may not be a UMC I'm willing to admit I'm a clergy member of.
My feelings these days are those of grief, of loss, of having the results of my life's work scattered like dust and ashes on the wind. Despite all that is good and right and hopeful in so many congregations, there is a doom hanging over us. We might still escape the worst, and I pray for it, but the probability is that the COWF will give us a less-than-good recommendation, and then the Council of Bishops will both change it to be what they want, and beat down all attempts by the orthodox majority to take control and make it what we want. St. Jerome described the results of the Council of Ariminum, AD 359, "The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian." It is entirely possible we may wake up to a similiar comfortable apostasy; if so, the groans and astonishment will also be similar.
That means that all those productive congregations of people busy about the business of the kingdom -- and all those wonderful, aging congregations still faithfully doing what they can -- will wind up as parts of a vast conspiracy to promote untruths and finesse our way past our own rules. The likely upshot is that The UMC will go the way of the UCC, the PCUSA, the Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and others. Ichabod: the glory will depart from us. The result will be decline; it may be fractious or it may be peaceful, but decline, nevertheless.
Many will leave. Those who stay will find it rarer to have an orthodox pastor. More and more of what they will be given will be the comfortable pap served up by pastors trained in a form of biblical interpretation that requires either dismissing the Bible or standing it on its head. We will sell out to the culture. As people leave -- or just fail to join, because there is no There there any more, as the faithful age out and die, as pastors succeed each other on the appointment merry-go-round and the faith once and for all given to the saints becomes something quaint and dismissed with either a smirk or a slam, as congregations close their doors because they can't keep going any more, I wonder what I will do.
It reminds me of the close of Charles Williams' cycle of Arthurian poetry. As the nation falls apart in civil strife and the invading Germanic tribes advance, the Company -- the little group of believers -- gather around Taliessin, the King's Court Poet, to pray and affirm their belonging to each other one last time.
Taliessin gathered his people before the battle.
'Peers of the household,' the king's poet said,
'dead now, save Lancelot, are the great lords
and the Table may end to-morrow; if it live,
it shall have new names in a new report.
Short is Our time, though that time prove eternal.
Therefore' -- he lifted his lands to the level of his brow,
the hands that had written and harped the king's music;
there the ageing began ere the hair was grey,
or the tongue tired of song, or the brain fey;
O but the Bright Forehead was once young!
'Therefore now We dissolve all former bonds -- '
the voice sounded, the hands descended -- 'We dissolve
the outer bonds; We declare the Company still
fixed in the will of all who serve the Company,
but the ends are on Us, peers and friends; We restore
again to God the once-permitted lieutenancy;
blessed be Dinadan by whom the lieutenancy began
when he called Us on the day of fools, on his own day.
We restore it to God in each singly and in all.
Receive it in God.' One of the household said,
shining through grief, the king's poet's steward,
a strong star: 'This is the last largesse;
give we freely, companions; but first, lord,
let us live again the moment of ratification,
a superfluous necessity; let us lay our hands again
between my lord's and swear that the household endures
for ever, and we yours in it.' Taliessin
answered: 'What skill have We had but to be the will
of the whole Company? -- We a needful superfluity,
the air in which the summer stars shine,
nay, less -- the mode only of their placing and gracing.
It is a command; swear.' While it was done,
lightly each in turn and with the other,
and each with the king's poet, the least of his household,
all the household exchanged the kiss of peace.
That is how I feel. If the day comes when I no longer recognize The United Methodist Church as the one I professed my faith in, the one I was ordained in, the one I spent my life laboring for Christ in, then I will go forth an exile. I will always be what I always was, and what we shared was both real at the time and stands for eternity, but if I must live out my remaining days as a hedge-priest, as the Hermit of the Chapel in the Green, so to speak, then I will spend my days with my savior in that way -- and with those whom my savior sends to me to encourage on the path to the kingdom.