Jane L. Bonner is a Lay Delegate from the Eastern Pennsylvania United Methodist Conference to the Special General Conference of 2019 and Convener of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Evangelical Connection. She works alongside her husband in his legal practice and is an active member of the Steering Committee for the UMAction program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. In this guest post, she shares about the gathering earlier this fall of a network of evangelical United Methodist leaders in the denomination’s liberal-dominated Northeastern Jurisdiction, at which the keynote speaker was Bishop Mark Webb of the Upper New York Conference.
Bishop Mark Webb joined with the Northeastern Jurisdictional Evangelical Connection and the Evangelical Network of the Susquehanna Conference, representing eight annual conferences, pursuing “A Day of Wesleyan Renewal” on Saturday November 4th. This event was held at Mt. Calvary United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
After warning us to ignore news items which would be leaked in the coming week from the then-upcoming Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, in a refreshingly optimistic message the Bishop encouraged faithful United Methodists to remember the foundational principles of our Wesleyan heritage: Do no harm, do good to the bodies and souls of your neighbors, and, the thing which makes it possible: attend to the ordinances of God (means of grace such as prayer, searching the Scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and Christian conversation).
Wesley was a catalyst for renewal because he believed that the Church of England had abdicated itself to the culture of the day. But the Bishop encouraged us to look what God did with the people called Methodist when they chose to act faithfully. If we can refocus on our foundational principles, there is hope for our denomination, but the Church of Jesus Christ will never die.
Bishop Webb emphasized the life of the Spirit which has sustained and renewed the Church of Jesus Christ over the centuries. According to the Bishop, prayer is the key to personal spiritual vitality and it is through our faithfulness and transformation that God can renew and re-energize His people as he did in the early days of the Methodist Revival. We must seriously engage in this spiritual discipline. Unlike those who followed Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand, seeking the bread that perishes, the Christian is to seek the source; the Bread of Life. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. He has chosen us for a purpose to be holy and blameless; adopted us and redeemed us, revealed His will to us. He fills us with all of His Fullness. So we must go deep with God and pray consistently.
The Bishop of the Upper New York Conference declared that our present denominational Christology is too low. The “what and how” have become the “why” for us. We need to stop trying to figure out and control God’s movements. Focus on the Why – Preach Christ and Him Crucified. Invite others to be what God has created them to be. It is then that we will know God is enough.
Other conference speakers included the Reverend Joseph DiPaolo, a founding member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s governing Council, who gave an historical overview of the forces which have brought our denomination to its present impasse. DiPaolo, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania has a unique perspective as he is also the President of the Historical Society of Eastern Pennsylvania, edits its Annals, and is himself an author. He did not suggest that there are any easy answers for evangelicals in the UMC. He even admitted that the next two General Conferences may not produce a satisfactory solution. But DiPaolo emphasized the need to stay the course. He is a delegate to General Conference and serves on a number of related committees.
Breakout sessions touched upon topics such as: The Church Our Communities Need, Returning to Our Evangelical Roots, Wesley’s Conception of the Means of Grace, and Explaining A National Debate to a Local Congregation. We closed with worship and communion.