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Annual Conference sessions this year will include votes on a series of constitutional amendments that would dramatically alter the structure of the United Methodist Church.

amendments-clipIf enacted, these amendments would have the effect of barring non-U.S. United Methodists from voting on matters considered specific to the United States.

James Heidinger, president of the renewal group Good News, argues against the constitutional changes in a Feb. 10 letter to ministry supporters:

One major change calls for the creation of a “regional conference” in the United States — a whole new level of bureaucracy that would sit atop our district, annual and jurisdictional conferences.

Not only would this additional layer be costly, it would only magnify the present disconnect between grassroots United Methodists and a church hierarchy that is often tone deaf to the concerns of the people who faithfully pay the bills….

Even more troubling is the plan’s potential to separate United Methodists in the United States from their brothers and sisters around the world.

In Europe, the Philippines and Africa, United Methodism is composed of central conferences that are largely organized along regional lines.

[If the constitutional amendments pass,] these central conferences would also become “regional” conferences, and then members from all the of the “regional” conferences would ultimately meet at a General Conference.

Mr. Heidinger says such a structure, similar to the worldwide Anglican Communion, carries the risk of fostering divisions in the UMC, rather than helping achieve unity. He points to the current turmoil in the Anglican Communion as a cautionary tale.

The Episcopal Church in America has rejected [the Communion's] age-old tradition of cooperation by countenancing doctrinal innovations and approving of same-sex marriage. This has created a significant breach in the worldwide Anglican Communion, especially between the United States and African churches.

Proponents of the changing the structure of the United Methodist Church argue that passage of the amendments is a necessary step toward recognizing the increasingly global nature of the denomination.

Bishop Ann Sherer (Nebraska Conference) thinks the UMC’s current structure “disempowers central conferences” and enables United Methodists in the U.S. to “escape from dealing with…internal issues.”

Eddie Fox

Eddie Fox (UMNS photo)

At a panel discussion last year last year on the “The Worldwide Nature of the Church,” Bishop Sherer said Methodism needs an emphasis on a “concept of mission that addresses a world community and our connectedness” — one “not impeded by national, cultural and economic barriers.”

Another member of that panel, Eddie Fox, world director of World Methodist Evangelism, insisted that no structural change is needed to empower non-U.S. Methodists or to recognize the worldwide nature of Methodism.

Mr. Fox argued that a strong and global Methodist movement already exists — and it is far larger than any one denomination.

From the very beginning, the world [has been] our parish…. [Today] in 138 countries around the world, 76 million [people] who go by the name of Methodist or Wesleyan…worship on [any] given Sunday in more than 500 languages…. The United Methodist Church represents [only] about 35 to 40 percent of that family….

Now, let’s look at what is proposed [for our part of the Methodist movement] — and what could be the consequences of that proposal…. What does it change? It changes the [United Methodist] Constitution…. [T]he purpose [is] that that there will be a Central Conference in the United States.

[W]hy do we not want the [United Methodist] churches from around the world to discuss matters that we think only belong to the United States?…

This is not the time for us to be creating national entities. Why would we follow the pattern that we see in the Anglican world Communion, which develops national entities?… What is needed now is to walk side by side, not separate[ly].

All 122 Annual Conferences will vote on 23 amendments relating to altering the structure of the denomination. The amendments were proposed by the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church (the Task Force’s 2007 report is here—PDF).

These 23 amendments are numbered III, IV, V, VI, VII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XVI, XVIII, XX, XXI, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, and XXXII. Most of these are “cosmetic” in nature, simply implementing certain name changes. The five amendments that would alter the denomination’s structure are IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXVI.

Nine additional constitutional amendments will be on Annual Conference agendas, bringing the amendment total to 32. The full text of all 32 proposed amendments is here (PDF).

To be enacted, a constitutional amendment must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate Annual Conference voting members. Members may debate a proposed amendment, but cannot alter it.

Only elders and deacons in full connection and lay members are allowed to vote. Local pastors (full- or part-time), provisional deacons and elders, and associate and affiliate clergy members are ineligible (¶602.1 of the Book of Discipline).

Even if approved by requisite number of Annual Conference voting members, amendments related to changing the church’s structure will not go into immediate effect. Last October, the UM Judicial Council ruled (Decision 1100) that the 2012 General Conference must enact specific enabling legislation for a regional conference to be created in the U.S.

Use the audio player below to listen to Eddie Fox’s brief address (quoted from above) presented at a January 2008 panel discussion titled, “The Worldwide Nature of the Church: What Does it Mean?” The audio is 3-and-a-half minutes.

[NOTE: The audio clip, though listenable, contains digital distortion. The distortion is in the full audio of the panel discussion as posted by the United Methodist News Service.]


Related posts
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles
New group will study church’s worldwide nature | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News
African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone

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South Georgia Bishop James King has a message for men in the Feb. 20 Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences.

Professional economists suggest that the stock market has a way of correcting itself when things go to one extreme or the other. It appears that “correction” is a part of a divine design.

Bishop King (UMNS photo)

Bishop James King
(UMNS photo)

The need for correction is not new to Christians. The Bible exposes us to this reality from the very beginning.

When… discipline and restraint are abandoned, bad things begin to happen. If we spend what we do not have, it will eventually show. If we try to take shortcuts to success… it will come back to haunt us.

If we try to be the church without teaching and practicing the values of our faith, it will show in the lives of men and women who have lost their way….

Grace is how God provides us with new opportunities to correct ourselves and grow closer to God.

Men of God, there are too many men who have moved away from our Biblical and Wesleyan teachings. We have come to the inevitable: a season of correction….

Do not fight what is happening, for it is a good thing. We are returning to God.

Let us continue to grow in the grace God provides — as we travel on the road to holiness.

“Return to me,” declares the LORD Almighty, “and I will return to you.”
Zechariah 1:3

“They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them.”
2 Chronicles 15:15

Last August, Bishop James King was elected president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, a national post.

He blogs at BishopKing.com.


Related posts
A profile of Bishop James King
Bishop Mike Watson: Spiritual disciplines for 2009
Rock Eagle 2008: ‘Living life as a son of God’
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’
Maxie Dunnam: A pastor’s personal holiness

Related article
A surefire investment: How to pray in the midst of financial catastrophe | Philip Yancey, Christianity Today

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From the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, a group of theologically conservative pastors and leaders in the North Georgia Conference:

The next meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement will be [Tuesday morning] Feb. 24 at Norcross First UMC.

John Ed Mathison

John Ed Mathison

Dr. John Ed Mathison will speak on the state of the church in the aftermath of the 2008 General Conference, and he will address issues facing the renewal movement.

All are welcome to this open meeting, which will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude by 11:30 a.m. No reservations are required.

Norcross First is at 2500 Beaver Ruin Road in Norcross (Gwinnett County, north of Atlanta — map here).

The Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement was organized in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership in the North Georgia Conference… committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.”

John Ed Mathison “retired” last year following more than three decades as lead pastor of one of the UMC’s most vibrant churches — Frazer Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. He then launched John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries, a platform for teaching the “best practices” he has learned from 44 years as a ministry leader.

Previous WCRM speakers include Dr. Jimmy Buskirk and Dr. Bill Bouknight.

In June 2006, Dr. Mathison spoke on the topic of leadership at the North Georgia Conference Laity Luncheon. Use the audio player below for streaming audio of that address (24 min.), or download an mp3 (6MB). (Note: Audio is slightly distorted at points.)

The John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries’ blog is here.


Related posts
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ‘08
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08
Lyn Powell on the new United Methodist membership vows
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’

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For many Christians Lent has been transformed from a season focused on self-denial to a season focused on passionate praying for the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the world.

sg09The catalyst for that transformation is Seek God for the City, a prayer guide published yearly since 1996 by Waymakers, a ministry based in Austin, Texas. The guide aims to help followers of Christ pray “prayers of biblical hope” during the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday.

“We tend to pray just enough to get by,” notes Waymakers’ founder Steve Hawthorne, with “many of our prayers focus[ing] on fixing our own personal problems.”

But Hawthorne says we must learn “to pray beyond ourselves” — and to “pray with uplifted hopes that are grounded in God’s Word.”

From Seek God for the City:

At this hour we stand a crucial threshold. Now is the time to pray in step with the Father’s great passion to draw to Himself a people from every people….

As you pray with hope, you’ll find yourself drawn into the purpose God has long been pursuing in the lives of friends and neighbors…. You’ll find yourself praying with increasing anticipation.

Each page of Seek God for the City features two Scripture-based prayers focused on a particular topic, such as the reconciliation of enemies, the restoration of families, and the reinvigoration of worship in the church.

Here, for example, is a prayer for the spreading of holiness, rooted in Jesus’ encounter with a leper in Mark 1:40-41:

Lord Jesus, we believe You are just as willing to cleanse us from the pollution of sin as You were to heal people from leprosy. Many of our community, even Christians, have been deeply affected by sin. We cannot wash it away by our resolve and good intentions.

Only You can cleanse people from the sin which sickens us all. We come near to You, praying for ourselves and many others. You are indeed willing. Make us clean.

Seek God for the City includes “prayer points” to help readers intercede for particular groups of people, such as the elderly, the poor, university students, and members of the news media. The guide also features a daily focus on praying for various nations of the world.

To see how all this is laid out in the guide, view this sample page.

Seek God for the City 2009 is for use Feb. 25-April 5. Ordering details are here (copies are $3 each).

A Spanish version and a children’s version are both available free via PDF download.

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During a Q-&-A session at  January’s UM Congress on Evangelism, Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Conference) noted that churches that engage in risk-taking mission must be willing to live with disappointment, failure, and uncertainty.

Bishop Schnase (Schnay’-zee) is the author of The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Abingdon, 2007). One of those five practices is “risk-taking mission and service.”

Part of the “risk” of real mission and service is the uncertainty of whether it will make any difference at all. I can’t tell you how many times we go to great lengths…  to provide scholarships for people who then drop out.

bishop-schanse-3

Bishop Robert Schnase

Or we build a home after a flood, just to see the home wiped away the next year by the next flood.

Or we put ourselves on the line to work with somebody who’s on parole… to try to give this person some network of support and a better chance, and it goes well — until they walk off with the computer.

Or we work with somebody who’s dealing with alcohol and drugs… and they’re making it… and then we get that call in the middle of the night that [tells us] we’ve got to start all over again.

That’s part of the risk of risk-taking mission and service.

And that is as biblical as you can get. It’s like the sower sowing seeds. There’s rocky ground, there [are] the birds that come and eat is all, there’s the hard soil — there’s all of that. But the promise of that parable is that, by the grace of God, a harvest comes forth a hundredfold….

Part of the “risk” is that this doesn’t work a lot of times, or that the difference [we make] is something that we don’t see. We don’t know. We can’t see the results sometimes. But… out of obedience to Christ, we’ve got to try. And we’ve just got to keep doing it.

Use the audio player below to listen to a two-minute excerpt of Bishop Robert Schnase, recorded at the 2009 UM Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, Tenn.

The audio above is courtesy of the GNTV Media Ministry. (You can purchase Bishop Schnase’s entire session on “Risk-Taking Mission and Service” here, labeled “Wednesday Workshop #3.”)

Cokesbury offers a free discussion guide (PDF) to accompany the Five Practices book.

Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices Blog is here.

The Congress on Evangelism is presented each January by the Council on Evangelism and the General Board of Discipleship, with support from The Foundation for Evangelism.

In addition to Bishop Schnase, this year’s speakers and workshop leaders included:

  • Tyrone Gordon of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, Tex.;

Related posts
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related article
Leading in the Wesleyan Way: Congress on Evangelism inspires laity, clergy | Amy Forbus, UMR Communications

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The Reserve Officers Association this week recognized Chaplain (Major) James B. (Jim) Higgins of the U.S. Army Reserve as Chaplain of the Year. The award is given for “extraordinary contribution to the welfare, morale and effectiveness of the military reserve services.”

Major Higgins is also the senior pastor of  McEachern Memorial UMC in the North Georgia Conference.

Mike Selleck, head of North Georgia’s office of Connectional Ministries, profiled Jim Higgins in a recent issue of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences.

In November of 1994, the Rev. James B. Higgins chose the Army reserves as an expression of his belief that Christ must be available to all who may need Him, wherever that may be….

Chaplain (and pastor) Jim Higgins

Chaplain (and pastor) Jim Higgins

After earning his current rank of Major, Jim left his family in March of 2007 for a 17-month deployment ministering to American troops, first at Ft. Hood, Texas, then in Balad, Iraq. While [in Iraq,] Jim earned the Bronze Star.

Currently, Dr. Higgins is the Brigade Chaplain of the 415th Chemical Brigade, out of Greenville, South Carolina, with units throughout the Eastern United States. His responsibilities are focused on counseling, with emphasis in suicide prevention and marriage enrichment, while [also] providing worship and sacraments.

Jim recently commented on his tour in Iraq…:

“It was pure ministry, 24-7, without distraction or interruption. Every moment was given to being the hands and feet, the heart and soul of Christ in situations that cannot be described or understood unless you were there.

“It was all consuming and so totally vital and real, I could do nothing but marvel at the power of Christ to touch and transform, to heal and bring hope.

“My time in Iraq will be one of the lasting memories of my life, and one of the proudest parts of my ministry, bar none.”

Jim Higgins… has brought honor and distinction to himself, his family, his unit, the United Methodist Church generally, and especially to the North Georgia Conference.

Major Higgins received the Vincent Robert Capodanno Chaplain of the Year award Monday during the Reserve Officers Association Mid-Winter Conference in Washington, D.C.

From a news release (PDF) issued by the ROA:

Chaplain Higgins served with the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade from the Texas National Guard from March 2006 to August 2007. As the brigade chaplain, he served with distinction during the loss of Easy 40, a helicopter mission that crashed on one of the deadliest days in Iraq.

His stellar care while helping the 2,800 personnel of the brigade work through the sorrow of that tragic event contributed to his selection for this award.

Yesterday (Feb. 4), Major Jim Higgins was further honored as Chaplain of the Day by the U.S. House of Representatives. He led the House in its opening prayer (video below).

After the prayer, two members of Georgia’s House delegation, Rep. David Scott (D-13th District) and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-11th District), gave brief addresses focusing on Chaplain Higgins’ accomplishments.

Use the audio player below to listen to their comments (5 min.).

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After a long financial struggle, the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the 172-year-old newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences, will cease publication within the next six months.

The paper, however, may continue in a different form as part of Texas-based UMR Communications, publisher of the UM Reporter, owner of the UM Portal web site, and parent company of Lumicon Productions.

The Advocate has the story in its Feb. 6 edition:

Faced with increasing costs and decreasing revenues, the Board of the Advocate voted unanimously at a called meeting on January 15, 2009, to close the Advocate and cease publication prior to the 2009 Annual Conferences….

wca-february6-coverOnce the decision was made to cease publishing as a stand-alone paper, the Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson, editor of the Advocate… contacted Sarah Wilke, CEO of [UMR Communications].

[Wilke] immediately expressed an interest in working with the Advocate to ensure its continued existence. She flew to Atlanta and met with Nelson, [North Georgia] Bishop [Mike] Watson, and several members of the North Georgia conference staff. She is trying to set up similar meetings in South Georgia.

Wilke is primarily interested because there is… an established subscriber base in Georgia. “Several conferences which eliminated print communications several years ago, are now asking us to create a publication for them. This is much more difficult and more costly once you’ve lost that base,” [she said]….

Sarah Wilke

Sarah Wilke

The Advocate generates [more than] $300,000 annually in revenue, not counting… grants from the conferences. Unfortunately, current expenses exceed $400,000, [with] most of that deficit [being] made up by the grants from the two conferences….

[If UMR Communications were to take] over most of the administrative functions of the paper, thereby reducing the staff to only one person to write, collect, and edit the local stories, the expenses would drop below the $300,000 mark….

If the two conferences and the Reporter can reach an agreement, some changes [in staffing and publication] may occur in the next few months, but it will take until the conferences meet in June before the transition is complete.

“The good news,” according to Nelson, “is that we would be able to keep our name, continue our 172-year tradition, and continue to keep our members informed. Plus keep our Sunday school lessons, our Georgia columnists, our letters to the editor, [and] our job postings.”

UMR Communications currently publishes newspapers for 16 UM conferences, including Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Western Pennsylvania.

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