samedi, décembre 28, 2013

Where do they (the Methodists) go from here?

I have to admit that when I speak with clergy in the United Methodist Church, I have this feeling of deja vu.

All over again.

That's not surprising, because this denomination has been struggling with the same questions around gay ordination and gay unions/marriages as has the Episcopal Church.

And though their struggle has made front-page news recently, with medieval-sounding ecclesiastical trials, defrockings and meetings to probe clergy orthodoxy, the UMC has been in the thick of it for as long as the Anglicans.

In the case of the Episcopal Church, conservatives, many of them, decided to find another church home.

That, sadly, may also be the case with some of the dissidents in the United Methodist Church. It's rather hard to see how the center will hold.

Because they are a global church, and meet as one in General Conference, they are even more prone to being influenced by the growing congregations of Africa and their more conservative point of view than were the Episcopalians (though we are part of the Anglican Communion).

As I interviewed area clergy I was impressed by how deeply divided they are, how weary of the controversy, and yet how compelled these clergy are to adhere to their different positions.

We (Episcopalians) are a much smaller shop. Because of that, what happened to us may matter less than a split among Methodist ranks.

I hope, for their sake, that it doesn't happen. Perhaps, like the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), clergy, laity and congregations will find ways to stay together in spite of their disagreements.

But whatever the result of this long, drawn out fight, one thing seems clear -- it is not going to make churches more winsome to newcomers and those seeking to find a spiritual identity amid growing American secularism.

In the meantime, though, they are, as we were, a reliable source of interesting news stories.

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