By Keith Boyette
In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon reminds us that there is a time for every activity under the heavens. The times we live in seem strange indeed. Any sense of normalcy has been replaced by the knowledge we have never walked this road before. Many routines have been disrupted. The journey we are on seems open-ended and poorly defined. Yet, we know that God is sovereign and orders our steps. God’s purposes will be fulfilled in our lives so we can embrace each day with confident hope because of God’s presence.
As the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) has lived into these days, we have been embracing the future God is preparing for us. We are living in the days of preparation before a birth. Much of what is occurring is happening behind the scenes. It is the necessary work that must occur before the day of delivery. In this article, I want to share with you some of what is occurring that may not be obvious.
The United Methodist Church’s General Conference will be held from August 29-September 7, 2021. The major constituency groups in the UM Church have all supported the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. With the adoption of the Protocol, a new global Methodist church committed to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition will be launched and annual conferences, churches, and clergy will immediately be able to align with this new church.
Since its inception, the WCA has prepared for the possibility that such a new global Methodist church might be necessary given the irreconcilable differences in the UM Church. Even before the special General Conference in February 2019, the WCA had prepared a draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline for such a new church. That draft has been released publicly and the WCA has received hundreds of comments on it, each of which are being considered as the WCA continues to perfect the draft. The WCA anticipates that this draft will be a legislative proposal the WCA will place before delegates to a convening conference for the new church.
With the announcement of the Protocol in January 2020, the WCA helped facilitate a gathering of persons interested in a new church in Atlanta, Georgia in early March 2020. That group, composed of leaders committed to the emergence of a new church following adoption of the Protocol, released a statement setting forth the vision for such a new church. Additionally, those leaders created a Transitional Leadership Council (TLC) to provide direction for the launch of the new church and to lead it from the moment of its launch to its convening conference.
The TLC has been meeting on a weekly basis since March 2020. Using the current Book of Discipline of the UM Church and the WCA’s draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline to inform its work, the TLC has adopted a transitional polity for the new church in the areas of doctrine, social witness, membership and operation of the local church, and ordination. The TLC is currently working on provisions related to superintendency and clergy deployment during the transitional period. It will complete its work on the transitional polity this fall and at an appropriate time will release that transitional polity so conferences, congregations, and clergy will know how the new church will function between its launch and a convening conference the TLC projects will occur in the fall of 2022.
As important as getting the governance of a new church right is, the church does not exist for itself. The church which Jesus builds exists to accomplish His mission – to seek and save those who are lost, and to help every person become His fully committed follower. We are committed to devoting everything God has entrusted to us to reach the world for Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing.
To that end, ministry task forces created by the WCA have been working for the past six months to cast a vision for ministry in the new church in six significant areas – accountable discipleship, church multiplication, church revitalization, global missional partnerships, ministry with marginalized communities, and ministry with youth and young adults. Each task force has engaged people from around the world in crafting the strategies and ministry plans they will recommend to the new church. We will be sharing their reports and recommendations with you in the coming weeks and months. The work of these ministry task forces will enable the new church to hit the ground running, fully focused on advancing the mission of Jesus.
The WCA is investing in a strategy for church multiplication and has identified 25 leaders who will participate beginning this fall in a focused cohort to ensure that Gospel multiplication is at the core the new church.
Recent events have underscored the breadth of injustice and inequality present in the world. The WCA has established a task force to ensure that the new church will do all it can to provide for full racial and ethnic equality. This task force, composed of a diverse and global group of Methodists, is evaluating the WCA’s work to date to ensure it advances the cause of racial and ethnic justice, equality, and reconciliation. It will also recommend next steps for the new church so from its very beginning it is dedicated to fostering a community where all God’s people are welcomed and included.
The WCA also has a number of task forces that are working to ensure all that can be in place will be in place when the new church launches:
- Chaplaincy Task Force – Numerous chaplains (military, prison, hospital, and others) have been in touch with the WCA asking how they can be part of the new church. This task force is ensuring that the new church will be an official endorsing agency for these chaplains.
- Course of Study Task Force – A significant platform for theological education and preparation in Methodism has been the course of study enabling some individuals to complete requirements for ordination without attending seminary. This task force is envisioning a course of study globally true to our doctrinal commitments. It will prepare those entering ministry to meet the many challenges they will face in the coming years.
- Connectional Funding Task Force – The WCA is committed to the new church being lean, efficient, and dedicated to ensuring resources given for God’s work are deployed in on-the-ground ministry. This task force will make recommendations for a globally funded church that is effective and fruitful.
- Insurance and Benefits Task Force – Churches and clergy want to know how a host of matters related to all types of insurance (property, health, and other) and pensions will be handled in the new church. This task force is working on those issues.
- Relating to Other Methodist Movements Task Force – A number of Methodist and Wesleyan groups have approached the WCA about uniting with the new church. This task force is developing the principles and policies that will govern conversations that could lead to such unions.
The journey we are on is not a simple one. The WCA is serving as a midwife in this process and does not desire to control the outcome. Rather we are seeking to facilitate the involvement of as many persons as possible in designing and developing the new church. And simultaneously, we are attempting to answer the many justifiable questions people have as we embark upon a transition that will impact the important personal and corporate decisions we will all have to make.
Solomon not only had profound insights into the significance of time, but he also had amazing insights into the limits of human knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The leadership of the WCA is acutely aware of our desperate dependence upon God and is extremely grateful for your constant prayer for God’s leadership in all that we do.
Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.