Free Methodist General Conference 2011!
I am such a nerd.
I am a total Free Methodist (FM) fan-boy. I love it. I love the past. I am impressed by parts of the present and am overjoyed at the potential of the future.
I love Free Methodism because: (1) I think the roots cannot be beat, (2) the consequence and theology of the roots provide for a fantastic potential for revolution and revival.
Free Methodism begins in 1860. Before this year we were apart of the Methodist church. But there was a growing number of us who decided that the church needed to re-center itself on the poor, broken, marginalized, disenfranchised populations. Specifically this meant that our churches should be open to any one and not charge for seats like many churches were at the time (freedom of seats). Specifically this means that we desired to see women allowed to pursue her gifts and abilities and the call God puts on her life to do any function, task, job or calling in the church or home. Specifically it looked like pulling away from high-church liturgy where worship is scripted, stifled, priest-centric instead of open, fresh and Spirit lead. Specifically it was drawing a line in the sand about slavery in the 1800's. The Church, Methodist and otherwise, was generally unwilling to take a stance as to not create a division in its membership (freedom for the slaves). It is hard for us to understand now that slavery was a super divisive issue and that many of us would have been supporters of slavery, but Free Methodists planted their flag firmly in the equality camp. And I take great pleasure in being part of this same organization that is leading the Church in the fight against modern day slavery which includes forced labor, both agriculturally and factory, and Human Sex Trafficking.
We have our flaws, I will certainly be the first person to call the church to her face in repentance. But in this, the General Conference (meets every 4 years) that is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Free Methodist Church TONIGHT!!!, I cannot help but be overwhelmed, encouraged, empowered and inspirited.
So, you ask, why am I nerd?
I feel like a nerd because when I am here, I am overwhelmed by the magnanimity that wells up in me when I meet notable FM's. It is like meeting super-stars to me. It is like seeing my favorite bands in concerts. But it is even bigger: I am meeting women and men who have forsaken their own lives, their own comforts, their own homes and families to spread peace, hope and love to the world by witnessing about Christ.
I walk into Hale Auditorium here at Roberts-Wesleyan College (B.T. Roberts - founder of Free Methodism & John Wesley - founder of Methodism a 100 years before) and I see all these amazing people. There's Phyllis Sorter, missionary to Nigeria, taking the country by storm and meeting every challenge with all the strength and poise of a saint. There's the Williamses, missionaries and school teachers to Thailand. There's Al and Diane Mellinger, missionaries to Bulgaria. They just completed a huge project called Love Bulgaria that spreads Jesus' love in an amazing way.There's Joel and Janette Miller and their 4 kids, who have both served in Mexico for a long time as medical missionaries and are now moving to Burundi to help medical students fuse their vocation and faith.
There's Steve Fitch, former superintendent who now serves as director for "Eden Reforestation Projects" planting trees in South America and Africa to restore the environmental damage that is being done and bring poverty relief through job creation and farm land recovery. There's Bishop Emeritus Don Bastian who wrote the fantastic book "Belonging" still used in our education requirements. There's Stephen Gray, master church planter and supt. of the Arizona conference, he planted a ton of churches and a bunch have gone to a thousand. There's Brandon Hatmaker, a Pastor at Austin New Church, who is actually doing everything I have only talked about. There's Christy Winckles, fighting to keep in front of the church her original declaration of women's equal place in the church.
And even more personally exciting: there is John Hay, former urban pastor and now minister through International Child Care Ministry (a ministry of the FMC that does the work of child sponsorship in other countries). His vision and view have let me know that I am not alone. There's Doug Newton, former editor of the denominational magazine ("Light and Life") that continually brought justice issues to the forefront of the church and highlighted creative, succesful, vibrant ministries caring for those. There's Howard Snyder, the prophet of our church. He is a scholar, a missionary, a pastor and an author. He has written books like "The Radical Wesley," "The Problem of Wineskins," "Populist Saints" and his newest book coming out this month or next "Salvation Means Creation Healed."
Then there are our bishops. Bishop, in our church, is the highest office you can hold in the whole denomination. We have three and they are amazing. Bishops Kendall, Thomas and Roller have, almost single-handedly, given the church a new vision and direction and provided the necessary structure for that vision to be implemented. I believe that it is in their term that I have experienced the most hope for our beloved church. The future is limitless. The boundaries are pushed. The Free in Free Methodist is certainly alive and well. Our church is on the brink of revolution and this is across the board. The older generation and the younger ones are finding common goals and language to break unfruitful tradition and move ahead to meet our generation head on.
These are just the few I knew before I came, I met some new heroes while here, like: (1) Pastor Natura, who went to the police chief and asked where the highest crime part of the community was, planted a church there, and crime has subsided. The police chief is now on staff as a pastor at that church. (2) Pastor Amy, who read Snyder's book, "The Radical Wesley," abandoned traditional ministry and opened an organic farming community that rehabilitates ex-convicts being reintroduced to society. (3) Denny Wayman, a psychologist/counselor/Pastor/Supt. extraordinaire, who lead our group with a soft hand and stern vision. (4) Celeste Cranston, a pastor who works in the Theology department at Seattle Pacific University (FM school), heads the Lectio program and is a strong leader and communicator in all of the areas I have seen her.
And finally, I am impressed by so many in my generation. We have a heart, a passion, a drive to continue and make drastically better the work of the previous generations. We seem to be approaching our future with a seriousness of focus, maturity and a radical desire to restore the Whole Gospel for the Whole World starting with the Whole Person.
May God continue to bless our church! May he NOT see our work and smile at it, but LEAD us into the work he wants us to do. May our little Church continue to seek his ways and may we have a huge impact everywhere around us. May we still believe today what B. T. Roberts said over a hundred years ago, "The Free Methodists are a nation by themselves. God raised them up to be such. Wherever they are true to their calling, they prosper..." in fulfilling their call!
Blessings and Peace!