The past few months have brought an increasing sense of instability and uncertainty into the minds and heart of many United Methodist Church (UMC) members. Following the somewhat surprising and favorable actions of the General Conference in Portland, there was a newly formed sense of hope. The evangelical, orthodox delegates made a significant impact in many ways, including winning nominations to the University Senate and Judicial Council strong evangelicals, finally severing all formal relations between the UMC and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choices and defeating all proposals to divest UMC funds from Israel. Even the hastily approved decision for the Council of Bishops to form a commission to offer a plan forward for the church at a called General Conference raised a modest sense of encouragement that a change must occur.
Yet, the last few months since General Conference have dampened enthusiasm and hope among evangelicals. There is no need to list once again the number of Annual Conferences, Boards of Ordained Ministry, pastors and bishops across the country who have pledged to disobey the canonical laws of the church regarding marriage and ordination. Now, the election in the Western Jurisdiction of Karen Oliveto, an openly avowed lesbian in a same-sex union, as bishop has created a maelstrom of reactions among orthodox Methodists and heightened the crisis in the denomination.
One new and possibly formidable response to the future mission and ministry of the UMC in this time of disobedience and confusion has recently emerged and has the potential to be a strong, unified and strategic voice. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) has been launched to connect churches, clergy and laity to promote traditional Wesleyan beliefs and practice. As a participant in some to the work to launch the association, I believe that the WCA can not only play a useful role in the days ahead but also a necessary one.
The times in which we find ourselves now as United Methodists call for a strong and strategic presence that can influence the unfolding developments in our church. The Judicial Council has a critical meeting in late October and its docket includes the review of the Oliveto election and consecration as bishop. The Council of Bishops is in the process of nominating the commission to prepare the proposal for the future of the church at a called session of the General Conference, anticipated in 2018.
These are perilous times and the WCA can be an attractive alliance to promote a vibrant, scriptural Christianity in the UMC. It can be a place where information and communication are shared. It can be a network of churches and leaders in partnerships to strengthen our ministry of the gospel. And, it can be a compelling, influential voice for upholding our doctrine and discipline in light of the covenantal breaches occurring with the denomination.
In the days ahead, change is coming. As we, as Methodists, navigate the troubling waters before us, the WCA just may be the instrument that God has raised to assist us chart the course of renewal and reform of our church. Visit the WCA web-site to learn all you can and make plans to attend the initial WCA Gathering on 7 October in Chicago.
Rev. Martin Nicholas seeks to reach communities and touch hearts, with an emphasis on domestic and international missions, at Sugarland First Methodist United Church. The church has led the growing Texas-based ministry for over 14 years. Nicholas serves as Treasurer on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). He is also involved is the Chairman of the City Ethics Task Force, a member of the Cultural Diversity Team and City Vision Task Force.