It was late in the evening when I arrived in Memphis for the Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting last Thursday. I headed straight to the rental car counter to claim the “economy” car I had reserved, but when I got to the window the agent said, “Sorry, all we have left in economy are those Smart Cars.” She pointed to a vehicle that was clearly smaller than any roller skate I had ever owned—a car so small that I wondered if I would have to strap my small carry-on to the roof to get it and myself to the hotel.
I didn’t respond right away to the agent’s news, choosing instead to alternate between looking incredulously at her and at this “car.” I had that line from Seinfeld pounding in my memory: You know how to TAKE a reservation but you don’t know how to HOLD the reservation; and that’s really the most important part! I was beginning to resign myself to the possibility of rolling up to a meeting with my peers in a car so uncool that a Schwinn bike with a basket and streamers on the handlebars would have been a hipper option.
Thinking about it later, it struck me that my experience at the rental car counter was actually a metaphor for the week at hand. The WCA meeting corresponded with the timing of the Judicial Council decision regarding our bishop’s election and the announcement of the dates of the special General Conference in 2019 to hear and vote on the proposals of the Commission on a Way Forward. The truth is that we have reached the point where nobody in the UMC is happy with the options presented to us. For more than 40 years, we have been trying to cram ourselves and a whole lot of theological, biblical, and social baggage into a single vehicle that doesn’t really have the capacity or the horsepower to get us where we want to go.
The WCA meeting was focused on hearing preaching and lectures regarding the theology and practice of the church. As a person who identifies with the orthodox, traditional, Wesleyan brand of Christianity, I could resonate with the discussion. This is my “tribe.” But I also had the privilege of sitting next to Paul Kottke and Marv Vose from the Mountain Sky Cabinet, who were there to observe the conference. They would identify with the more progressive majority in our annual conference, another “tribe” of which I am a part, and I know they heard some things quite differently. I am glad they were in attendance, just as they were at the first WCA meeting in Chicago. We are keeping the lines of communication open between those of us in the WCA minority in Mountain Sky and our Bishop and Cabinet.
Some have seen the WCA as a schismatic group that wants to break away from the UMC. Many members of the WCA see the election of our bishop and other acts of non-conformity in some annual conferences as already schismatic. As Paul Kottke and I revealed in our exchange in the conference newsletter last October, we often use the same words but mean very different things by them. We have very different views of scripture, the church, its theology, and its future. More and more people on both sides are coming to realize that we need different options and those options will likely result in taking separate vehicles at some point in order to reach our desired destinations.
But that is not going to happen immediately. The WCA is committed to allowing the work of the Commission on a Way Forward to, well, move forward. I have continued to preach patience to my congregation, knowing that the church is doing its best to come up with a solution that will allow us to follow our convictions and vision of the future of the church with integrity. As difficult as it is to wait, we all need to trust the process. I am reminded as we approach Pentecost that Jesus’ last commandment to his disciples before his ascension was to “wait”—to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. It is tempting for all of us to want to jump in the first vehicle we find and punch the gas, assuming it’s being guided by the Holy Spirit. But I want to encourage my colleagues on all sides of our denominational impasse to consider engaging in an intentional period of waiting as we approach the special General Conference in 2019. The likelihood is that the UMC will look quite different after that, and options may become available that we never even considered.
After a long look at that Smart Car, the rental car agent suddenly seemed to have a revelation out of the blue. “Wait,” she said. “Can you drive a stick?” Indeed, I can. “Well then,” she said, “would you like that yellow Mustang over there? I’ll give it to you for the same price.” Yes, I said. Yes, I would!
Good things can come to those who wait. Paul Kottke and I talked about that as we drove to the back to the airport after the meeting in that Mustang (which, admittedly, I am not cool enough to be driving). We are committed to staying in relationship, keeping the conversation going, and praying for one another and our church as the future unfolds. I hope you will join us.
Note: This article also appears in the May 1 edition of the Rocky Mountain Conference newsletter. I am grateful to Charmaine Robledo, RMC Communications Director, for giving me the opportunity to submit it.