Sherry is the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Brighton, Michigan. She is currently leading the church through a revitalization process that involves aligning the church's purpose and vision with its worship experiences, faith formation programs, community outreach and mission.
The Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church meets February 23 - 26 in St. Louis, Missouri. I will be attending as an observer. (Actually, I am a "credentialed" alternate delegate because I was elected as an alternate delegate for the 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference. However, I will not be sitting in any session as a delegate because there are several alternate delegates eligible before me.)
I will be "in the stands" of the former St. Louis Rams football stadium where the conference is being held. I will share information as events unfold at the Conference through this blog, Facebook (Sherry Parker-Lewis) and Twitter (@RevSherry). You can see events live streams at gc.michiganumc.org.
Please keep the delegates in prayer. Let us pray together that the work of the General Conference reflects God's will for the United Methodist Church.
As the specially called session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church draws near, I am hosting a informational gatherings at the church. The General Conference will meet in St. Louis, Missouri, February 23 - 26, and may take action regarding the United Methodist's guidelines on same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons. Several legislative resolutions have been proposed, including steps to strengthen enforcement of current prohibitions or take away any prohibitive language.
I am talking with congregation members with two goals: first, to provide information and second, to share assurance and hope. This is not a time to fear, but instead, to put our trust in God's will for the church and the resilience of the church.
After the first two gatherings, I am in awe of God's grace. We met at the Whitmore Lake Campus on Sunday, January 27 and at the Brighton Campus on Monday, February 4. While it was clear that those who attended shared different opinions and theological understandings, there was a spirit of kindness and respect. I believe that when believers gather, even if the conversations are challenging, God's grace abounds.
Some have suggested that the leaders of First United Methodist Church plan our response to the actions of General Conference. Of course, we cannot make any kind of plan until we know the outcome of the conference. I pray that decisions made by our denominational leaders are within God's will and will aid in offering Christ to the world. In the meantime, I continue to trust in God's grace and love for the church. Whatever decisions need to be made in the months ahead, our church will make them prayerfully, loving God and one another.
Bishop David Bard, the United Methodist Bishop for Michigan cited Ephesians 4:1-3 as a call to unity of purpose in the name of Jesus Christ. "As a prisoner for the Lord the, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
Our church logo cross has been updated and will begin to appear in church publications in February. The blue logo cross, with hints of our United Methodist "cross and flame" denominational logo, also contains the hopeful symbol of growth. The hint of water and land lifts up the two campuses and the circle shows unity.
Another feature of the new logo is that rather than the Brighton location emphasis, the primary words in the logo are now "First United Methodist Church", with campus locations following.
First United Methodist Church and Wesley United Methodist Church of Whitmore Lake agreed in April 2018 to become one church with two locations. The "adoption" agreement that brought the members of Wesley UMC into ministry at First UMC included a provision for reconsideration of church name.
In the fall of 2018, Ms. Pauline Schaffer convened a group of church members to make recommendations concerning our church name. The group agreed that "United Methodist" should stay in the name. They also agreed that the name should not highlight either the community of Brighton nor Whitmore Lake. After several meetings, they did not have a strong alternative to the church's current name First United Methodist Church. In fact, some suggested that this name could continue with a "rebranding". We engaged graphic artist Ms. Samantha Tumolo, who had designed our current logo, to rethink how our logo could reflect the reality of two campuses and allow the flexibility of growing to more campuses in the future. After she worked through December to refine the design, the church Church Name Committee and the church's Administrative Board reviewed the logo and the "rebranding" shift from Brighton First to First United Methodist Church. The consensus was to adopt the updated logo.
Sherry participates in a training exercise in Church Unique Vision Framing
George Washington Carver wrote, "Where there is no vision, there is no hope." The very nature of the church is to be a people of hope. However, if a church has no vision it is not moving forward in offering the hope of Jesus Christ.
I recently spent three days of training with "navigators" from Auxano, a consulting group that specializing in helping churches through the visioning process. I joined 25 clergy and lay leaders from the Michigan Conference who have been trained in a process to help the local church build a framework for their unique visions.
Auxano's visioning process is based on the work of Will Mancini and begins with the book Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture and Create Movement. Mancini's belief is that the mission, values, strategies and ministry measures of a church are unique to each context.
The visioning process leads church's to examine their own context and values and to claim a vision framework that is uniquely theirs. The process is long (9 to 10 months!) and the work challenging, but the result is a clarity of strategy and framework for strong, hopeful, dynamic ministry.
My take aways for the church I lead, First United Methodist Church:
Our mission statement, "Know God, Love God, Serve God", is a "strategy statement" and not a mission statement. It is a summary of our strategy for strengthening followers of Jesus Christ.
We have a clear set of values that are informing the decisions we make.
We have clear measures for what a growing disciple of Jesus Christ is (results of our strategies), but we have failed to make that process clear to the congregation and those who are joining us for the first time.
I was also reminded that a church that is doing to much, may be going in too many directions to be effective. If we are all "pulling" in the same direction on a few things, we can make a bigger impact.
I continue to be inspired by the leadership and ministry of the congregation I serve. They serve with big hearts and take risks in the name of Christ with great faith.
On February 23-26, 2019 the United Methodist Church will hold a special session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Delegates will gather to consider proposals regarding church policy for same-sex marriage and ordaining and appointing LGBT clergy.
In 2016, the General Conference found itself at an impasse on issues of human sexuality. Current church rule (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church) prohibits clergy from performing same-sex marriage and “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are not allowed to serve as clergy in our churches. Many in the church accept these rules and many do not. These differences are made all the more challenging because the United Methodist Church spans continents and cultures.
“The Commission on a Way Forward”, a diverse group appointed by the Council of Bishops, has offered three different plans for Conference delegates to consider in February. You will find more information about the plans in handouts provided on the information table outside the sanctuary or in the Community Room.
Bishop David Bard has prepared a recorded presentation that explains the plans and changes that would follow if a plan is adopted. You can view the video here.
I have scheduled town halls to discuss the plans and future of the United Methodist Church and invite you to attend: Sunday, January 27 at 11:00 (Whitmore Lake Campus); Monday, January 28 at noon with lunch provided (Brighton Campus); Monday, February 11 at 6:30 pm (Brighton) and February 17 at noon (Brighton).
Please keep these delegates who will attend this General Conference and the United Methodist Church in your prayers.