REV.MELANIE LEE CAREY
Clergy Assistant to the Bishop
“Just Dinosaurs Mating or a New Church?”
Back in June, shortly after it was announced that Michigan United Methodists had overwhelmingly decided to “form one new annual conference for United Methodists in the State of Michigan”, Rev. Jack Harnish wrote these words
“Watching churches merge is like watching dinosaurs mate…it isn’t pretty and there is no future in it. We tend to take two dying churches, put them together and hope they can give birth to something, but often it’s more like hospice care than it is a maternity ward.” *
Last week the 26 members of the design team for creating the new annual conference were announced. The task of this design team will be to help lead all of us in Michigan United Methodism into the formation of a new annual conference by no later than 2019. And yet the question Jack raised in his blog still lingers. Will the new annual conference really be a new thing? Or will it be like watching dinosaurs mate? Will it be a new birth for the church in Michigan or will it be the next step in hospice care?
Like local churches, annual conferences have long standing traditions, customs, ways of functioning that are carved in stone by the seven last words of the church “we have always done it that way before”. Changing our ways will not be easy, even though most of us are in agreement and even convinced that we need to change or, like the dinosaurs, face extinction.
Lovett Weems has put it well when he said “only babies like to be changed”.
And yet, deciding not to go the way of the dinosaurs, and instead creating something new will involve change.
Giving birth to something new is not a painless process. There is good reason they call it labor! Having recently celebrated our son Nick’s 20th birthday, I still recall the painful labor on the day he was born, and all the uncomfortable changes that pregnancy brought to my body the months before his birth. And yet, his birthday and the day our 17-year-old daughter Grace came to live with us forever at six weeks of age (she is adopted) are still among the best days of my life thus far!
And while reorganization does not necessarily mean revival, the main reason for creating a new annual conference is revival of our beloved United Methodist Church. To that end, we will especially need a new annual conference that will support and under-gird new ways of doing local church ministry that are needed for this day and time.
For after all is said and done, the local church is the place where Christian disciples are born and nurtured into being.
Bishop Deb carefully and prayerfully selected the members of the design team to bring a balance of understanding of the way we have done things as well as creativity and imagination for the birth of something new. She didn’t select team members to represent particular interests or positions in our current conferences, but rather she chose persons whom she thought would best bring the skills needed for the daunting task that lies before us. Some of these skills are insight, wisdom, creativity, leadership, listening skills, and the ability to ask the tough questions. She also wanted a team large enough to accomplish the task, but small and nimble enough to meet often and move efficiently and effectively through the process of birthing a new church into being.
To lead effectively, the design team will need the skills, input and expertise of Michigan United Methodists. This will be a participatory journey. Our design team co-chairs, Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner and Rev. Marsha Woolley, have set up an email for you to share your thoughts, ideas, and particular insights and we will gladly receive your prayers as well. Send your message to Designteam@miareaumc.org.
During the years in which I served as the District Superintendent for the Detroit Renaissance District, we had several brave and courageous congregations that decided not to be mating dinosaurs but rather they chose new life by trying new kinds of ministries. These new ministries included vital mergers where four-and-one half churches sold their buildings and started over as a new congregation, in a new location, with a new pastor with church planting skills. They also included multi-site ministries where one or more dying congregations voted to become a new site of a healthy and growing congregation. They also included the development of new faith communities which are small groups led by trained lay persons meeting in homes, restaurants and community centers. Another new idea that was tried with some success was a ministry-based merger where several local churches decided to work together to engage a new community of people through outreach ministries.
The results of these new kinds of ministries and vital mergers have been growth, vitality and new life. It has not been easy, and it wasn’t without pain, however new life is rising, new people are meeting Christ through the church and God’s creative Spirit abounds. Over and over again the people in these local churches decided to choose
their grandchildren over their traditions. It took courage to let go and live into the new thing that God was doing. But that is what is making all the difference between dinosaurs and a new church.
Personally speaking, I am not too interested in watching dinosaurs mate on their way to extinction. Therefore, my hope, prayer and best intention is that we on the design team and in the Michigan Area will be about giving birth to something new. I pray that we can quiet our own voices to hear from divine imagination. I pray that we will then have the courage and strength to live into this imagined vision. I pray that it will indeed spark a new fire for this time and place, where hearts are again strangely warmed and the love of Christ opens doors and windows of fresh air.
*For Jack’s full blog, click here.