Monday, November 12, 2012

Stuck in the Middle

The United Methodist Church has been filling much of my Facebook feed in recent days. Last week, I watched as many of my friends grunted and groaned over the closing of brick and mortar Cokesbury stores across the land. Cokesbury is our store. It is the place where we went to buy our books in seminary, the place we returned to during fall convocations to get books we could easily buy at home, paying for nostalgia in the process, the place where we could hardly wait to see what a professor was assigning to her class in the spring semester.

We love Cokesbury.

We love it even though most of us switched to buying our books on Amazon years ago, frustrated within seconds of not being able to easily find even a United Methodist product on the Cokesbury website. We all know the challenges of the Cokesbury website. We also know how often we walk into a Cokesbury store and find only one or two persons shopping alongside of us. We know how expensive print media is and how often we get mailings from Cokesbury. If we think about it for a few minutes, we might start to wonder how Cokesbury stayed open as long as it did. But we can't stand the thought of it closing.

My Facebook feed has also been erupting with news from the United Methodist Judicial Council, the equivalent of a Supreme Court for the church. The Judicial Council is getting a reputation for undoing decisions made by larger bodies. First it was the move of our General Conference to let go of guaranteed appointments. And now the Judicial Council is reversing a decision that would let go of a bishop who was determined to be ineffective. Many clergy celebrate the first decision, taking delight in a lack of accountability. Some clergy are angry about the second decision, especially those in the annual conferences where this bishop may be assigned to lead.

The United Methodist Church is in trouble. At the current rate of decline, our denomination will be dead in 50 years in the United States. Many people point fingers as to who is responsible. Others come up with plans that could reverse our decline. Still others make moves to hold people accountable. One group moves forward and then another group says the move is illegal according to church law. In the meantime, we cannot even agree to disagree on matters like homosexuality - with our church's stance causing heartache and pain in countless churches, including the church I serve.

Do you know of any organization that is actually growing without holding its leaders accountable?

Do you know of any business that grows - and is sustainable - with an ineffective CEO (i.e. bishops) and ineffective local managers (i.e. pastors)?

While we don't like the decision made by the United Methodist Publishing House, the closing of Cokesbury stores should awaken our denomination. It takes guts to make hard decisions. Hard decisions are rarely popular. I applaud this decision even though I love going to Cokesbury and buying books there once or twice a year.

I'm ready for our denomination to make other hard decisions - to learn that one regularly has to let go of what we most love in order to discover life again. I'm ready to be part of an organization that is known for its vitality instead of its decline. But I have not seen the denomination make many hard decisions and ultimately stick with them. It feels like being stuck in the middle - with one side ready to lead in new ways and another side resistant to any change.

It can be lonely in the middle.

But rather than being stuck, I'm going to give thanks for what God is doing at Mount Vernon Place, the church I know and love the most. I'm going to keep surrounding myself with fellow disciples who are asking what it means to be faithful in our context of downtown Washington. I'm going to keep pondering the ways we can do church outside the box. I'm going to keep following Jesus. I'm going to keep asking God what it means to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, including our denomination's stance on same-sex marriage. I'm going to keep being the best pastor I know how to be.

And, I'm going to give thanks for the $10 coupon that Cokesbury sent to me, one that did not even require a minimum purchase, allowing me to enjoy a new Advent devotional for a couple of bucks.

No comments: