Postscript to Portland

I’m almost afraid to admit it, but I think I came away from Portland if not quite “surprised by joy,” to quote C.S. Lewis, at least somewhat cautiously optimistic. For even amidst all of the anxiety and acrimony that a General Conference usually produces, there were signs of something else happening this go-around, as well.

You could hear it in the delightful diversity of dialects that filled the Oregon Convention Center for two weeks. For not only were the proceedings simultaneously translated into nine languages, when the Africans among us broke into song at one rather critical juncture, in their singing there was a sense of the Holy Spirit moving among us, too.

All throughout the meeting, in fact, it was impossible to ignore the reality that our church is indeed changing. Not simply because four out of ten United Methodists are now  French-speaking Africans. But because in the global voices of our church one can clearly hear as well the Bath Qol, or voice of God who reminds us now as He did the prophet long ago: “Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth–do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43.19)

To be certain, we have enormous challenges facing us still as a denomination, for in many ways we are at a place similar to that of a crab who is ready to shed its old shell but who is not yet in the safety of a fully formed and hardened new one. Whether it makes it vulnerable or not, however, the process of molting is not only necessary for a crab to grow, but it also helps to get rid of parasites, barnacles and other critters nesting on the shell, and even the bacteria that degrades the exoskeleton from within.

Don’t get me wrong: I still think that instead of meeting for ten days every four years, we might do better to flip it around and meet for only four days every ten years. For if we really are the salt of the earth as Jesus once said, we’re probably most effective when we sprinkle ourselves out upon the society around us, rather than gather together as an enormous salt dome and then expect the world to be impressed.

Still, my hope is that we at least managed to do some good and, equally important for the heirs of John Wesley, to not do as much harm as we’ve certainly shown ourselves capable of doing in past such gatherings.

Maybe that’s why despite all of our differences, our bishops are trying to find a way to keep us united. While we’re in that tenuous time between shells, however, perhaps it’s a good idea for all of us to stick together indeed.

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10 Responses to Postscript to Portland

  1. pam says:

    I praise and thank God for you, Chap, a wise & mature, godly man. We so appreciate your leadership & wise counsel- not just to your church, but to the larger church community.

  2. David Green says:

    Dear Chap,

    Thank you for your knowledge and intellect you have shown over the entirety of your service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I watched the daily reports from Rob Renfroe and his assessments from Portland. I know that there is a great desire for the United Methodist Church to remain united as a world church. However, I and many people see that this is an impossible goal under the present circumstances. All that the newly established commission will do is postpone the inevitable. We already have 3 conference boards of ordained ministry that have publicly stated that the sexuality of any person will not be considered in the process of ordination. We must face the facts that we may stay a Church that is United in name but is not united in belief concerning the issue of sexuality. Now is the time to make a decision over whether we will act while we have time or we will continue to see the church decay every day. I know that no one wants to see this happen but it is unavoidable. In my humble opinion, we need to declare our intentions now while we still have the time. Simply waiting on the bishop’s commission to decide will be too late. Again, thank you for who you and for your service and wisdom given to many of us who are in the background of the Church.

    In Christ,

    David N. Green

    • Dear David, Thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement. I am indeed hopeful that we can somehow keep the “United” part of our church’s identity, but you are correct that it will be a struggle. A lot will indeed depend upon both the makeup and the mission of the bishop’s commission and their willingness to honestly confront the new realities that face us as a church, including the decision of some of our conferences to simply ignore the witness of the wider church. Humanly speaking, you may be right that an eventual division of some sort is unavoidable. But I continue to hope that God will make a way where there is no way. If He chooses not to do so, however, then like yourself I will prayerfully try to determine the most faithful course available and walk in it, no matter what the consequences might be. Your brother in Christ, Chappell

  3. pruth says:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. (Martin Niemoller…as seen on the Holocaust Museum, a good place to spend some time here in Houston, in DC or at Yad Vashem)

    How do you reconcile getting rid of “parasites, barnacles or other critters” with a Jesus who would leave the 99 to go and search for the one?

    • Okay Paula–I love you but you are way off base on this one. The crab story is a metaphor, not an allegory. The parasites and barnacles are literal to the crab but not intended to refer to any individual or group within our church. It was simply a way of saying that change that seems scary can also have ultimate beneficial results as well. Sorry that you took offense to it when none was certainly intended. The whole point of the blog was not about getting rid of anyone but rather learning how to live together as we grow into the church God wants us to be.

      • pruth says:

        For your information, I did not get a copy of your comment until I went back to quote you on this. However, I think that any of us might take offense with the barnacle statement because it would seem to those of us who have fought for all people that some are worth it and some are not. Jesus himself used many metaphors, however, and I believe he meant it an attack on the Pharisees without naming names.

      • I’m so sorry my words came across that way to you, Paula, but they truly were not meant to imply any association in that fashion. Truthfully I simply read up on what happens when a crab changes shells and found it encouraging that even in the process of becoming vulnerable there were positive benefits that resulted. That was the point and nothing more for indeed as the last sentence suggests I believe that now is a time for all of us to hang together. I’m sad that after our long years of friendship you would think I would ever compare anyone to parasites or barnacles–that has never been my belief and I would have hoped that you would have known that and given me the benefit of the doubt. At any rate, sorry if my choice of words made you think otherwise.

  4. Kathe Behrend says:

    I hope it all works out as God wills. Good to be “Surprised By Joy” ! Our circle had a prayer walk last week on the grounds of the Lanier Theological Library and after the walk, a wonderful treat was viewing a collection of C.S. Lewis British Frist Editions, letters and illustrations for his books. That was a joyful surprise!

  5. pruth says:

    You are forgiven, but please keep in mind that some of us are pondering whether we in good conscious can stay with a denomination, contributing time and talents to an entity that chooses to discriminate—one that has chased off our children in different directions.

  6. pruth says:

    conscience (not conscious)

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