Down through the ages, various Christians have been given credit for the adage “Work as if it depends on you, pray as if it depends on God.” The earliest attribution for the quote is to St. Augustine. The founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius, is also given credit for it. And one author even ascribes it to John Wesley. To be sure, it is a good quote, especially when it is coupled with Jesus’, “Apart from me you can do nothing!” I believe that we need to do all we can with the gifts and abilities God has entrusted to us while, at the same time, being desperately dependent on God who can accomplish far more than we can hope or imagine.
There has been little idle time for the leadership of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in recent weeks. We were at the center of the mediated negotiation that produced the Protocol announced on January 3, 2020. For the ensuing thirty days, two WCA leaders were part of the seven-person drafting team that prepared the legislation to implement the Protocol. Significant time has been devoted to explaining the implementing legislation in numerous venues. Seven leading advocacy groups across the theological landscape have endorsed it – Confessing Movement, Good News, the WCA, Uniting Methodists, UM Next, Mainstream UMC, and Reconciling Ministries Network. There is now widespread acceptance that separation is necessary and the Protocol legislation provides the clearest way to achieving it.
While the mediation team that produced the Protocol was initiated by two central conference bishops (central conference bishops are those leading defined UM geographical regions in Africa, Eurasia, and the Philippines), many rank-and-file United Methodists, particularly in Africa, did not feel adequately represented in the negotiations. And in fact, only one African, Bishop John Yambasu from Sierra Leone, was a member of the mediation team even though United Methodists in Africa represent approximately 40 percent of the church.
In late February, WCA leaders traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, where we met with key General Conference delegates from across Africa. These delegates are also leading members of the Africa Initiative, a broad-based coalition of African clergy and laity who have advocated for the UM Church’s long-held theological and ethical teachings. After two days of informative and candid meetings led by by Rev. Dr. Kimba Evariste, Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah, and Rev. Forbes Matonga, all the Africa Initiative leaders released a statement stating they were “deeply disappointed that Africa was not adequately represented at the negotiating table” and therefore they believed the agreement in its present form was “unfair to United Methodists in Africa.” Nevertheless, despite their concerns, “in the common interest of the global church and the church’s need for an amicable separation,” they decided to endorse the passage of the Protocol’s implementing legislation.
This Africa Initiative endorsement is a significant development since the 278 African delegates attending General Conference represent 32 percent of the 862 voting delegates. Without African support for the Protocol, some U.S. delegates, certainly many traditionalists, would also have reservations about supporting it. With the African endorsement, the adoption of the Protocol legislation is more likely.
As support for some form of amicable separation of the UM Church has increased, traditionalist church leaders are considering what a post-separation environment might look like. Recently, the WCA helped convene a meeting of traditional bishops, leaders of traditional advocacy groups, and traditional leaders who have not aligned with any advocacy group. The meeting was held in Atlanta, Georgia on March 2-4. Significantly, the participants in the meeting agreed to work together to jointly launch one new traditional Methodist church if the Protocol legislation passes. The group issued a signed statement declaring their support for such a new traditional Methodist church.
Additionally, participants in the Atlanta meeting agreed that should the Protocol legislation be approved, clergy and local churches could separate from the UM Church and join a new, global traditionalist church for a transitional period. In this period, pastors and local churches could come under the supervision of a Transitional Leadership Council and a transitional “Book of Discipline” that would, for a brief season, incorporate necessary portions of the UM Church’s Book of Discipline. The transitional period would end with the holding of a convening conference for the creation of a new, global Methodist church. Participants at the convening conference would be clergy and lay delegates from all over the world. The leaders meeting in Atlanta said they looked forward to working together regarding the launch of such a church and widely sharing details about it in the coming weeks and months.
As traditionalists laity and clergy consider the future, I think the vast majority of us are unified around a common vision for a vital, vibrant new church that is committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to the primacy and authority of Scripture, and to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition. We are committed to being a global church, focused on our primary mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and then equipping them to do the same for others. We are invested in being a leaner, more nimble church which prioritizes the vision and mission of local churches, and which emphasizes global missional partnerships. We long to be about the work of church planting and revitalizing existing churches so that we can reach more and more people for Christ. We are committed to being a truly multi-ethnic church which deploys the gifts God has bestowed upon women and men, young and old, and laity and clergy. And we will be a church invested in making the Gospel a reality in a world broken and battered by rebellion. We will offer salvation, redemption, God’s mercy and justice, and the transforming grace of Jesus Christ which makes all things new.
Together with you, the WCA is working as hard as possible to do all we can to position the people called Methodists for the next great movement of God. Yet we acknowledge that all of our efforts are for naught unless they align with God’s will and purposes. In a season of continuing uncertainty, we choose to work hard even as we abide in Christ and desperately depend on Him. We pray fervently expecting God to move in ways beyond our imagination.
Of course, we know we are not in control of events that will unfold over the coming days and years. Recently, in light of the COVID-19 virus pandemic and restrictions imposed on meetings at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the site of the 2020 General Conference, the Executive Committee of the Commission on General Conference postponed the General Conference scheduled for May 5-15 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The full commission will meet to begin discussions about when and where the rescheduled General Conference will be held.
As faithful followers of Jesus, we are called to remain in Him, obedient to His purposes and commandments, witnessing to the Good News of his salvation, and longing for the day when His kingdom will be fully realized among us. We can be the church in the midst of the present uncertainties and chaos.
In his parable of the ten bridesmaids, Jesus said some were ready when the bridegroom eventually arrived, and others were not. Let us be found among those who are ready. Let us work as hard as we can with all the gifts and abilities God has provided. Let us pray fervently, knowing only God can bring order out of chaos. And let us always abide in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.