Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Western North Carolina
Annual Conference
June 8-12, 2011
Lake Junaluska, NC

This year Bishop Goodpaster's theme was "Inspire the Living Faith!" Even before we were schedule to arrive, Bishop G asked us pastors to lead our congregations in reading from, studying on, and hearing sermons from the book of Acts. As you remember, we followed suit with our 5-week sermon series from Acts, "Disciples ActingOut." I believe Bishop G was praying for all of us to be re-inspired by the acts of the earliest Christians, and that the passionate flames of the Holy Spirit would be rekindled in each one of us.

Any Christian would be inspired by going to Annual Conference. I know that many times during the week, I thought...Wow! I wished the folks back at Pisgah could see this...could hear this...could feel this. The services, the preachers, the music, and the gathering of thousands of Holy Spirit-filled souls in that place did inspire me. My mind and heart was once again filled with the awesomeness of our God, and what God wants to do in us and through us.

Another thing about Annual Conference this year was the frankness with which we were presented the statistics about our churches. Enfolded within the joy and celebration of the benefits of God's active presence with us, was the shadow of concern.

It wasn't a shadow of concern about God and God's power. It was the concern about whether and me...the churches we attend and serve in...have what it takes to continue to make an impact in our communities. The shadow lurking was the concern about our own apathetic response to God in the coming years.

We have for 40 years seen a steady decrease in the membership of the UMC. We all know this; it isn't news. But this year we have been hammered by that reality and that the funding that has always kept pace, even through the decreasing membership, is beginning to falter.

As the baby boomer generation, which makes up a huge number of UMC membership, begins to leave the work force and live on a fixed income, there is less money coming into local churches, districts, and conferences to fund vital ministries.

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, who is the director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, has explained that by the year 2018, the country will enter a time period where we will face what he calls a, "death tsunami," when the death rate in the country will increase at a dramatic rate. The bottom line is that by the year 2050, there will be 50% more deaths than in 2010.

Even though the rising death rate is a natural outcome of our aging population, it has "the potential to wipe out the UMC witness in vast parts of entire states." The racial make-up of those passing will be non-Hispanic, White and African-Americans; in other words...the majority racial make-up of our United Methodist churches. Lovett H. Weems. (I encourage you to take a look at this video.)

The question posed to us over and over again at Annual Conference was this one: Do we have the courage to follow God in what it takes to sustain and grow our churches in the next few years? Do we have the faith, the passion, the commitment, the determination, to remain as a witness not only for the UMC, but for Christ in the places where we serve?

Bishop Goodpaster encouraged us with his words, his prayers, his example, and his commitment to reset and refocus the financial base of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. He has challenged the congregations of our conference to be bold, to think "outside the box," and to take the problems at hand, with the leadership and help of God, and solve them.

A shadow of concern is a good thing as long as it does not turn into a paralyzing fear. Let us at Pisgah UMC not be afraid of the future. God is with us. God will lead us through anything that is coming. Our part is to listen, stay together, be focused, love God, our neighbors, each other, and trust in the power of our AWESOME God.

1 comment:

WillowFaithPhotography said...

I like this post. Makes me think! I had not thought of the concept of a "death tsunami" however it does make sense as we all have a time to die. I think your point about not being afraid is a great one. God is always with us! But we should challenge ourselves to think about the future and with God's guidance find ways to ensure the Methodist Church's future! Thanks Rev. Judy :)