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Open letter offers questions for GC delegates

by Heather Hahn
April 25, 2012

It’s not just enough to foster more vital congregations. The United Methodist Church should also seek a more vital connection.

That is the message of an open letter signed by more than 40 United Methodist clergy and laity addressed to the nearly 1,000 General Conference delegates now meeting in Tampa.

The petition raises questions for delegates to consider in evaluating proposals to restructure general agencies and eliminate guaranteed appointments.

The four questions are:

  • What does “organizational change” mean?
  • When should churches be invited to give?
  • How must we remove impediments to each young clergyperson from serving in any ministry venue?
  • How can we encourage authority the episcopal office already holds?

The Rev. Vance P. Ross, senior pastor of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., drafted the letter.

“We are looking for a vital connection, which is vital churches, vital campus ministries, vital chaplaincies, vital conferences, vital agencies and vital in all parts of The United Methodist Church,” he told me.

A key part ofconnectional vitality is ethnic diversity.Ross’s letter expressed the hope that the denomination will not abandon its efforts to increase ethnic diversity in leadership and involvement across the connection.

The documentalso raised the concern that the conversations around restructuring have placed more emphasis on saving money rather than encouraging giving.

Ross expressed his leeriness with the proposede limination of “security of appointment” for U.S. elders in good standing.The lettersaid the denomination’s commitment to appointing clergy without cultural bias roots vitality in “the teachings of Jesus.”

Among the petition signers is the Rev. Rudy Rasmus, senior pastor of St. John Downtown United Methodist Church in Houston. Rasmus also earlier signedan open letter initially circulated among large-church pastors that specifically endorsed “the legislation being proposed by the Connectional Table related to the Call to Action.”

Asked why he signed both letters, Rasmus said, “I agreed with most of what was on both of them.”

He said he sees Ross’ letter as an addendum to the initial open letter drafted by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a member of the Call to Action Interim Operations Team and senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

Ross’ letter he said raises additional concerns that affect “ethnic-minority clergy and congregations, be they urban, rural, suburban or exurban.

Another signer of this new letter is the Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. Church of the Resurrection and Windsor Village are the two largest U.S. congregations in the denomination.

“We are praying for you to stand for Wesley’s Blessed Connection,” the letter concluded. “We want vitality and we want change: the kind of Jesus oriented, connectional change that attends to those not present at General Conference and achieves the vitality we all welcome.”