The United States is a representative democracy, where the people elect officials to represent their interests and work together to make the decisions that impact everyone. At least in theory anyway, this intended system seems to have a bit of a problem in our modern day world. Specifically, the majority of people do not actually know who represents them. Over the past few years a couple of different surveys by different organizations have yielded similar results. It turns out that under 40% of Americans can name who represents their district in the House of Representatives. On the one hand this is a sad statistic, because basic understanding is the first step needed for any kind of real civic engagement. On the other hand, it is somewhat understandable. For the average person trying to live their life, it can be hard to feel any level of connection or representation from a person they may not have even voted for living all the way in Washington DC. While any one constituent may not be able to sway policy on a national level, when we do not even know who represents us then we lose out on any potential for voice or influence we may have in a representative democracy.
In the United Methodist church, I think we sometimes have a similar issue. The United Methodist Church is a connectional church. This means that no United Methodist Churches exist in isolation. We all share a common set of rules, principles, and doctrines for how we are organized and live out our collective faith. We share a common mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We often are able to leverage this connectional system by doing more together than any one church could do on its own. The work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) which is one of the world’s best and most effective disaster response organizations, is proof of this. However, I think most members of a United Methodist Church are mostly focused on their local church and we do not always get to benefit from or celebrate the strength of our connectional system. While I do not have hard survey data to back it up, I get the sense that most members of United Methodist Churches are not engaged with the connectional aspect of the church or how the local church might be connected to the greater UMC.
If that describes you, then you may be completely unaware of current developments in the greater United Methodist Church or perhaps you have only heard bits and pieces about what might be happening. Perhaps you have seen reports or social media posts indicating the United Methodist church is splintering or going through a schism. This is an area where a lot of misinformation is circulating around.
The facts are that until the end of this year, there is a process for a local church to leave the United Methodist Church. This disaffiliation process requires multiple steps and does have a financial cost associated with it. Several churches have used this process. In Indiana more than a hundred local churches have disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church. Only churches that wish to leave need to engage with a disaffiliation process. Churches that wish to remain part of the greater United Methodist connection do not need to do anything.
At this time, the church council has chosen not to take any action regarding disaffiliation, but just like in civics, understanding is the first step to engagement. We want to make sure you have the opportunity to be informed and to ask any questions you might have. To that end, there will be an informal Q&A time on Tuesday March 14th at 6:00 P.M. over the current state of the United Methodist Church. Understanding is the first step to engagement, so I hope you are able to take this step to learn and engage so that we all can be more effective together in fulfilling our mission and living into our vision.