United Methodist News Service Photo by Kathy Gilbert
Children WreathCommentator Phil Susag hopes younger generations such as these can restore the church's social conscience.
In the words of an old song, "I was born a Methodist and I'm a Methodist 'til I die." However, being a Methodist when I was born and growing up seems to be more and more different from what I perceive it to be now every day.
As early as I can remember, being a Methodist meant being a John Wesley Methodist. Statements like "the world is my parish, do all the good you can, in every way that you can, wherever you can" were the basis for that and attitudes like that seem to be disappearing. Even the motto " Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" is becoming more hypocritical day by day.
The practice of social justice as Jesus described it was the basic element of John Wesley's philosophy and practice. I was privileged to be of service to the Methodist Church at every level when that was the driving element of our effort. Those experiences meant so much to me that no matter what happens at the 2012 General Conference and in the years to come I will continue to be a John Wesley Methodist no matter how much that may make me officially a dissenter.
It would be helpful if The United Methodist Church were to be really fully committed to those John Wesley principles as it was for two centuries. When we express concern about the decline in membership in the UMC we seem to forget that the departure from John Wesley is a significant factor in it.
To be sure, in the present circumstance, we have a financial problem. However, reducing the level of active participation in the work of the church by the proposed restructure will eliminate one of the best promotional elements. Those of us privileged to serve beyond the local church become the best possible voice for support of the work we are committed to do.
Besides reducing the number of board members in various areas, the departure of the church from the Wesleyan tradition of social justice, along with denominational restrictions relative to those eligible to be "our neighbors" as Jesus instructed, creates a negative attitude in society and reduces the interest in becoming disciples.
Those of us, like me, who have been privileged to be part of the "Golden Generation" in America need to take part in the task of restoring the real concept of what the church is all about. We must be missionaries to the younger generations to help them become a new Golden Generation.
It will not be easy. Such things as irresponsible and thoughtless communication via social media will be a challenge to overcome. Among other things, we also need prophetic and fearless leadership among our clergy and bishops to lead United Methodists in standing up for Jesus' countercultural teachings of love and inclusion in the face of today's injustices.
Despite these daunting challenges, I look forward to the effort. With the passion and commitment given to us by Jesus and more recently by John Wesley all things are possible. As a colleague in my earlier professional career once said at a point of potential discouragement, "thus encouraged we press on." So let us press on.