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Planning for post-General Conference church

No matter what happens at the special General Conference next year, United Methodists will wake the next day and still have work to do.

That was a frequent refrain at the April 4-7 meeting of the Connectional Table, a leadership body of 64 lay and clergy members who act as a sort of denomination-wide church council coordinating ministry.

The Connectional Table devoted most of its discussions to how it can help the church fulfill its calling during this time of uncertainty and beyond the 2019 policymaking assembly.

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"We might not know what it will look like, but we can be sure that there will still be a United Methodist Church," preached the Rev. Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai in her opening sermon. "And there will still be God calling our church to be in mission in the world."

Bigham-Tsai is a former Connectional Table member who is now the body's new chief connectional ministries officer.

At the end of its meeting, the Connectional Table also worked on and subsequently released the same message to the wider church.

"The world is in need of the saving love of Jesus Christ, and The United Methodist Church has always been an effective witness of Christ's love," the letter said. "It is vitally important that we continue to be so now. Therefore, today and every day, the mission is yet alive."

The Book of Discipline, the denomination's governing document, describes the Connectional Table's purpose as "the discernment and articulation of the vision for the church and the stewardship of the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church."

The meeting was more about discussion and discernment than any action.

In small groups, members conversed about ways of strengthening the worldwide connection of the multinational 12.5 million-member denomination.

They also talked about ways to boost the denomination's four areas of ministry focus.

The Rev. Alfred T. Day III, the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, noted that 1968 was a time of division, just as today is.

He held out hope The United Methodist Church might still be a countercultural witness of unity amid difficult times just as it was a half-century ago.

The Connectional Table also heard from Hendrik R. Pieterse, associate professor of global Christianity and world religions at United Methodist Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in nearby Evanston, Illinois who
reminded the leaders that struggle within the church is nothing new.

One challenge facing The United Methodist Church that both Pieterse and Connectional Table members pointed to is the need to live into its connectional covenant outlined in the Book of Discipline's section on mission.

After each presentation, Connectional Table members took time to converse and reflect on the material. The meeting also included daily worship and Holy Communion.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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