Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Conference was recently surprised when asked to share her thoughts on the reformation taking place in the United Methodist Church. Instead of asking about the chaos and disaffiliation happening in our denomination, the Yellowstone Public Radio interviewer used a different word.
Like Bishop Oliveto, I find that thinking of these days as a season of reformation strikes a chord of hope. She said, "Instead of 'split,'' 'schism,' or 'disaffiliation,' what if we saw this moment in the life of the United Methodist Church as a reformation moment?"
The Church, and yes, the big "C" Church, has long known that we need a reformation. The percentage of U.S. Americans who claim Christianity as their religion continues to decline. A study published last year by Pew Research Center says this is primarily due to people who are leaving the faith and choosing to have no religious affiliation (the "Nones" and the "Dones").
I am not interested in a conversation about Grace disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church. I am deeply interested in discussing a reformation within and beyond our congregation. Lately, I've been thinking about the letters the Apostle Paul wrote to churches. After the greetings, the prayers, and the kind words, he got to the point. "Be better." He reminded the churches of their purpose. Know Jesus, lean on Jesus, and share his message of the love of God and the love of neighbor.
While I could shake my head and wonder what Paul might want to say to the Church of today, instead I’m wondering what each of us might say if we could write a letter to our church. Paul's letters were, in a sense, love letters. He cared deeply for the church and its people. So much so that in a day when long-distance communication wasn't simple, he made it possible for them to hear him speak passionately and say, "This is what I long for you to know, see and do."
What would your love letter, or letter written with love, say? What future do you believe is possible? What would reformation in your congregation, your community, or in the big "C" church take shape? How can we be better at sharing the life-giving love of God in Jesus Christ?
Our congregation is about to enter a time of reflection and planning for the future. As we do so, I'd love to read and learn from your letters. If you are willing, please send them my way. If you don't see yourself writing a letter, perhaps share how you would complete this sentence: "I imagine a church that__________. "