By Anne C. Ewing
The current United Methodist Church structure is built on a patronizing, outdated and colonial model of bringing other peoples out of spiritual darkness into the light of God and God’s church. There have been a lot of efforts to mitigate this model, but much work remains.
I would like to see the church look like this instead:
The Central Conferences, all outside the U.S. borders, would be considered entirely grown up and more than capable of managing their own churches and assuming responsibility for their own finances. Because there has been a long fostering of dependency, the U.S. church would continue some funding at various levels for up to 20 years, on a diminishing schedule.
Each former Central Conference would assume its own management as follows:
Funding bishops’ offices.
Staffing educational institutions. The U.S. church would be particularly concerned to maintain good connections with Africa University as a special link between the various segments of the UMC. We have much to learn from that institution’s history and life.
Enacting contextual governance. To remain United Methodist, every area conference or jurisdiction must include the Articles of Religion and The Constitution in its Discipline. After those two sets of doctrines, everything else is just governance. Therefore, with those inclusions, each area would be free to write its own Book of Discipline, establish its own method of governance and its own Social Principles.
In my view, this approach would free all of us of the contentiousness that comes with every General Conference, because there would be nothing to fight about, so we would not present to the world the ugly image of a whole denomination snarling over Social Principles and Theology. General Conferences focused on legislative conflict are not "holy conferencing."
Then we could have a worldwide General Conference every 10 or so years in which we would hear about the progress the church has made in building schools, fighting malaria, and filling the world with song and joy. We could take our time to get acquainted with each other as adult equals and not spend so much money to fight and express contempt for each other.
Enhancing our connection. Under this plan, U.S. conferences and congregations would be encouraged to make strong connections with the various areas of the former Central Conferences to create projects together, to engage in mutual assistance, to exchange pastors, and to expand their visions of the world.
Retooling boards and agencies. Under this plan, each area would choose what institutional boards and agencies it wishes to establish. The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries probably would not keep sending missionaries in the old ways, but might became a facilitator of pulpit exchanges, seminary exchanges et al among its many activities. The United Methodist Committee on Relief would continue to respond to crises throughout the world as it does now, with the added benefit that on occasion there would be United Methodist friends elsewhere in the world with whom to consult. Other U.S.-based boards and agencies would adjust as needed.
These are the very basic outlines of my wildest dream for The United Methodist Church. There would be a lot needed to bring this about, but we should not allow masses of messy details to divert us from the process of establishing a genuine, loving Church, offering hope and love to all we meet.