By Keith Boyette
Today, we were to be meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the convening of The United Methodist Church’s 2020 General Conference. But as we are all aware, the COVID-19 virus radically disrupted those plans as it has disrupted nearly every other aspect of our lives. The world has changed. I hear people longing to return to “normal,” but the place we mean by that word no longer exists. We will move into a new sense of normal much as we did in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Those who possess wisdom do not long for the past. We learn the lessons of the past, but we set our faces resolutely toward the future.
We are definitively doing that at the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Our mission remains unchanged. Committed to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we are bearing witness to the faith entrusted to us – the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition. We are embracing a positive and faithful future for Spirit-filled, orthodox churches globally who are resolute in their desire to be salt and light in a broken world offering the salvation and sanctification which comes solely through a relationship with Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
We are confident that God’s timing is perfect. Over my lifetime, I have repeatedly experienced the truth of Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” In this season like so many of you who have adjusted to a new reality, the WCA has focused on supporting Methodists and our neighbors in these unusual times. We have resourced church leaders through a series of videos on doing ministry in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have encouraged support of UMCOR’s COVID-19 response fund as we stand in the gap with brothers and sisters around the world, many of whom live in economic circumstances that make their lives and ministries vulnerable.
We remain committed to and are working to see the legislation implementing the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation adopted. We do not yet know when the postponed General Conference will be rescheduled (according to reports it appears an early September time frame is possible). The Commission on General Conference is working diligently to make the necessary arrangements. What we do know is that the COVID-19 pandemic will not resolve the decades-old conflict in the UM Church. As we emerge from this season of intense focus on the pandemic, the UM Church will need to create new possibilities for faithful ministry globally. We continue to believe the Protocol legislation provides the best pathway for achieving that goal. The WCA stands ready to empower conferences and churches to make the alignment decisions necessary for them to be faithful and fruitful.
With increasing clarity, the WCA will continue to prepare for the launch of a new traditionalist Methodist church. And to that end, we continue to develop a draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline for such a church (see our recently released section on the ministry of clergy). We have invited engagement around the ideas presented in the draft and are encouraged by the respectful dialogue it has engendered. The WCA Council will soon release two additional sections dealing with connectional organization and annual and regional conferences. The WCA continues to refine its work and welcomes input from others.
Desiring to connect with Methodists who are committed to the time-honored teachings and ethical principles of the Christian faith, the WCA is working to facilitate the launch of new traditionalist Methodist church once the Protocol legislation is adopted. To that end, we joined other traditionalists in Atlanta earlier this year to create an ever-widening circle of support for such a movement. The Atlanta meeting produced a unanimous statement from a broad cross-section of leaders with a shared vision. We will continue to work with these leaders and many others as we prepare for the launch of a new traditional Methodist church following the adoption of the Protocol legislation.
We are eager to be a church focused on introducing people to Jesus, helping each person become his fully devoted follower, and enabling each Christ-follower to be a maker of disciples. To that end, our six ministry task forces have been busy highlighting principles and best practices for ministries that will facilitate achieving those objectives – accountable discipleship, church multiplication, church revitalization, global missional partnerships, ministry with marginalized persons, and ministry with youth and young adults. These task groups will continue their work and we look forward to sharing it with others as we all move forward together.
We plan to use every moment between now and a rescheduled General Conference to ensure that everything is in readiness for an amicable separation of the UM Church that people of good faith now agree is necessary. I do not like to wait any more than anyone else; I was prepared to move forward once delegates at a May 2020 General Conference made their decision. But I am confident God will not let this time go to waste. He will use it to make us a healthy and vibrant branch of the Church universal.
Recently, I was greatly encouraged by the words in Psalm 37:4-5, 7, “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you…. Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”
Where do we go from here? Ahead, resolutely, on the Lord’s timetable! The leadership of the WCA is so grateful for your prayers and your commitment as we make this journey together.
Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.