There is a wonderfully poignant scene in the 1949 movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, starring John Wayne, where the troop returns to the fort after an unsuccessful patrol. It is the last patrol for Capt. Nathan Brittles, who is retiring after 30-plus years in the U.S. Army Calvary. Capt. Brittles, who won the Medal of Honor in the Civil War, is leaving the Army, in his opinion, a failure.
I must confess that I feel much like Capt. Brittles this morning, the morning after the adjournment of the 2012 General Conference.
For you see, like Capt. Brittles I am in a retirement mode. My four year term as your Conference Lay Leader will end at the conclusion of Annual Conference. I will also, with the shrinking of many of the boards and agencies of the general church, not have a place on the committees I have served on in the past years. I have said many times in the last year that I believe in creating space for newer and younger voices, and I therefore won’t seek election to the 2016 General Conference delegation. General Conference 2012 was my last patrol, and, in my opinion, a failure.
I, along with almost 1,000 other delegates, met in Tampa, Fla. – for two weeks at a total cost of $8 million and two weeks of our lives – and saw all the work that we accomplished dashed on the rocks the last day. The Judicial Council rendered a unanimous decision that the work that we had done on the reorganization of the general church was unconstitutional.
Your North Texas Conference delegates, who had led this work under the inspiring leadership of the Rev. Don Underwood, were left stunned, breathless and, in all honesty, angry.
My friends, we now have what I see as a very dysfunctional general church. We are not driven by our mission statement of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” but by this new form of representative government.
By that, I mean every group feels like it must have someone at the table – as we heard over and over – “who looks like me and can represent my views.” The special interest groups are now running our United Methodist Church. Every committee, and I mean every, must have representation of specific groups. While I acknowledge the many injustices of the past, I don’t think that should preclude us from moving forward. Where have we come up with the idea that for me to understand your situation, I must be exactly like you? Am I unable to see injustice and discrimination because I am not part of your group?
We heard all through GC that we needed to have a youth and a young adult on every committee of the general church. It was almost funny when you look at how many committees there are and wonder where we are going to find qualified youth and young adults to fill the spots – we will just start putting them on the committees to reach quotas. I am proud of my record over the past four years of lifting young people into responsible roles and working on mentoring them as they mentor me. We created the District Youth Lay Leader specifically to bring youth and young adults to the table.
Obviously, not enough fast enough.
The future of the UMC is not clear. I don’t believe that the church as it is currently organized can survive. We have the boards and agencies operating without any accountability except to their selfappointed boards. What will happen, only God knows – and I do believe in Jeremiah 29.11: “I know the plans I have in mind for you,” declares the Lord. “They are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”
We must all remember that the vitality of the UMC is in the local congregations. I tweeted that last day of GC, “I thank God for my relationship with University Park UMC or I might walk away from the UMC.” I have invested almost half my life at my local congregation and 20-plus years with the Annual Conference and general church.
Like Capt. Brittles, I will continue to serve even in a retired status (you will have to watch the movie to understand), and I know that God’s plans will prevail. I pray that you will join me.
Richard Hearne is Lay Leader of the North Texas Conference, which stretches from just this side of Bogata to just that side of Burkburnett. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.