Being One in Christ within a Diverse Church

January 20th, 2012
This article is featured in the Call to Action (Feb/Mar/Apr 2012) issue of Circuit Rider

The United Methodist Church in Germany is a small but vital part of our church. Six delegates representing three Annual Conferences are preparing themselves to travel to Tampa, Florida. They value the fact that they belong to a church serving Christ on four continents and are looking forward to meeting fellow United Methodists, experiencing oneness in Christ despite all the differences in language, ethnicity, race, and culture.

The theme of General Conference 2012 describes the core of our calling. We expect that we will focus on the question of how to make disciples for Jesus Christ in openness for the people whom we serve in different contexts. The challenges are different in a postmodern and even post-Christian neighborhood in Western Europe than they are in Africa, the Philippines, and the U.S. We therefore hope that General Conference will take bold steps to reorganize the church so that we really focus on common themes at the General Conference level and at the same time strengthen Annual Conferences and local churches through the means of the connection and through mutual support to do their work in the disciple-making task.

The motto “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and the Four Areas of Focus are brilliant expressions of the United Methodist identity. In this quadrennium we attempted to prioritize the ministries in the Annual Conferences according to the four foci. For example, we offered leadership training for pastors and lay leaders who sought to motivate inward-focused congregations to turn around and serve their communities. We shared the best practices of congregations that started ministries with the poor. The four areas of focus keep personal holiness and social holiness together and they help us to regain the spirit of a mission movement. The United Methodists in Germany hope that the discussions linked to the core issues of the mission of the church will dominate General Conference. We expect that the Four Areas of Focus were not a short-term enterprise but a redirection of the various constituencies for the vitalization of the UMC in all geographic areas.

In my episcopal area, we are not of one mind on the question of homosexuality. However, we respect each other as Christians with different opinions. Many United Methodists in Germany would appreciate it if General Conference would recognize that we live with different opinions in answering the question of whether homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching or not. According to the European culture of speaking openly, such a change would help to truly show who we are: We are of one mind in naming the theme of General Conference as the task for all United Methodists. And we are also a diverse church, reflecting the many colors of God’s grace in the many faces of our membership on four continents. We celebrate our diversity as a unique gift from God to serve people in an ever more diverse world and at the same time we struggle with the fact that it hurts our longing for harmony when we are divided in our understanding of the Bible.

Last but not least, United Methodists in Germany hope that General Conference will continue the process of finding better ways to live as a worldwide church. As long as the UMC in the U.S. needs to discuss all its unique questions of how to respond to the national context in the U.S. at General Conference, we will not have sufficient time to discuss issues which are really global. The conversation on how to restructure the UMC so that the church on all four continents can respond to the needs of the various areas and at the same time continue to exist as one organization must go on. We need to listen to each other in order to find new and creative ways to be a global church with local relevance wherever possible in covenant with other Methodist churches, as well as in fellowship with ecumenical partners.

General Conference is a unique time to talk and to listen, nourished through worship and the experience of sharing bread and wine at the Communion Table, seeking guidance by the Holy Spirit speaking through Christ in others. The delegates from Germany are preparing themselves to use any chance to tell the story of how we live out Methodism in our country. And our people at home are praying for all those who are elected to serve the church as delegates in Tampa, Florida.

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