AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the work of the author and does not reflect any official opinion of the Tennessee Annual Conference nor the City Road Chapel United Methodist church.
We are not far from the yearly gathering of the Tennessee Annual Conference and I have been thinking quite a bit about what that meeting might look like in light of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis this past February. If nothing else, that international meeting made clear the things that divide us, leading to even more polarization between the various factions of the church. Given that divide, it’s not a far stretch to worry about the tone of our Annual Conference this year. We differ on the interpretation of scripture. We differ in our understandings of the history and tradition of the United Methodist Church. We differ in where we see God calling the church into the future. And, as we talk about those differences, our valid passion around our interpretations, understandings, and calling can easily denigrate into something that seems far, far away from Christ’s desires for his church.
Recently, I had the chance to join with pastors from the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences for a retreat led by Emory professor Gregory Ellison based on his book, Fearless Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice. Fearless Dialogues creates unique spaces for unlikely partners to engage in hard, heartfelt conversations that see gifts in others, hear value in stories, and work for change and positive transformation in self and others. The event led people into experiences that helped us see with new eyes and challenged us to recognize the fears that keep us from truly understanding one another. As we debriefed at the end of the event, person after person felt that the experience had changed us, and we longed to apply what we had experienced to the Annual Conference session.
As I reflected on the learnings, I was reminded of the recovery communities that I visit regularly. These groups are in many ways, the successors to the Wesleyan Class Meetings in that they provide a small covenantal community in which to experience personal transformation. Hundreds of thousands of people gather in rooms each week in a safe space in which people are vulnerable with one another and honest conversation happens. There are many reasons for the success of these groups, but as I’ve entered “the rooms” I’ve noticed that each meeting begins with a recitation of 12 Traditions which guide and informs the work of those groups. Those traditions are the values around which the groups are organized, and clearly lay out a plan for how the groups should function.
In conversation with some colleagues, I began to wonder if we might not need our own “12 Traditions” to guide and inform our time together at Annual Conference. In my thinking, these would be 12 affirmations drawn from the Scriptures and our traditions which layout some common values that would center us and ensure that we treat all with love and respect in the midst of our differences. These are not rules for judgment, but rather reflect a covenantal understanding by which we affirm common beliefs that facilitate loving and gracious dealings with one another. After knocking out some possibilities (drawing on the Bible and our Book of Discipline), I ran them by some colleagues who offered input and affirmation, and now I am sharing them with all to see if we might be willing and able to come to a common agreement regarding our time together this June.
I recognize that we are all moving onto perfection and that these affirmations are aspirational at best. I share them in the hope that God is calling us to a different way of functioning in the world, and that we might possibly be able to demonstrate God’s love in our business together. Certainly, as we saw at the General Conference, Robert’s Rules aren’t enough. Would you be willing to join me in affirming the statements below as a guide for our work together?
12 Affirmations for Christian Conferencing
in the Tennessee Annual Conference
As we come together at the 2019 Session of the Tennessee Annual Conference we recognize that emotions are raw in the wake of the decisions made at the 2019 General Conference. Many of us were broken by what we saw happening in St. Louis, no matter our positions on the issues at before us. Unfortunately, just as the delegates at that conference were divided in their beliefs, we too are divided in our understandings. Yet, we believe that God has joined us together as brothers and sisters in Christ to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The following guidelines are our affirmations by which we agree as the people called United Methodist in Middle Tennessee to support in ensuring that we engage in faithful Christian conferencing during our sessions together:
As members of the Tennessee Annual Conference, we affirm:
- That the focus of our mission in the Tennessee Annual Conference is to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time. Our work in this Annual Conference session must always serve in the purpose of this mission.
- That we are rooted in the great commandments of Jesus Christ to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, knowing that the whole of Scripture hangs on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:36-40)
- That ALL people are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God, and that all need the ministry of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. (2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline ¶161G)
- That the desire of Jesus for Christ’s church is that they be one body in Him, just as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer are unified as one. (John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:4-6)
- We recognize that Christian unity does not mean Christian uniformity. We may have differences of belief and interpretation and still be joined together in carrying out Christ’s call to make disciples of Jesus Christ. (Acts 15:36-41; John Wesley’s Sermon “Catholic Spirit)
- That we are led as people in the Wesleyan tradition to conform our lives to the General Rules given to us by John Wesley to 1) do no harm and avoid evil; 2) do good, being in every way merciful as we have power to all people; and 3) attend upon the ordinances of God as described in our United Methodist Book of Discipline. (United Methodist Book of Discipline ¶104)
- That our faith is demonstrated in the fruit of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
- That we are committed to seeing all the people, taking special care to hear all voices affected by the work we do as an annual conference, and making sure that people on the margins are acknowledged and listened to. (Mark 10:13-16)
- We will work to recognize, acknowledge, and honor the fears that each of us brings with us which limits our ability to fully share of ourselves and hear one another, striving for fear+less dialogues as we remember that “…there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18)
- That listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is as important as being efficient or productive in our work together, and we commit ourselves to holy pauses for prayer and reflection to listen for God’s voice in the midst of our conversation and debate. (Luke 10:38-42)
- We will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that none of us see God in God’s fullness, and we are open to the possibility that God is bringing something new. We are all a work in progress. (1 Corinthians 13:12, Isaiah 43:16-2, 1 John 4:16-21)
- We are committed to bearing one another’s burdens in the belief that doing so represents a fulfillment of the law of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
As a member of the Tennessee Annual Conference, I support these affirmations and will use them to inform my work with my fellow members…
|Rev. Dr. Douglas Norfleet||Mississippi River (Memphis)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Jeremy Squires||Cumberland River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Matthew Kelley||Harpeth River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Terrance Davis Sr.||Cumberland River District||Local Pastor|
|Jefferson Furtado||Cumberland River District||Provisional Member|
|Jodi McCullah||Caney Fork River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|James Cole||Stones River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Phil Ross||Red River District||Lay Member or Alternate Lay Member|
|P.J. Shaffer||Red River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Erin Racine||Cumberland River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Ann Cover||Cumberland River District||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Jay Voorhees||Cumberland River District (TN)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Zach Moffatt||Cumberland River District (TN)||Provisional Member|
|Debra Tyree||Red River District (TN)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|James Cole||Stones River District (TN)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Sandy Shawhan||Caney Fork River District (TN)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Harriet Bryan||Red River District (TN)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|
|Edward Murrey||Harpeth River District (TN)||Local Pastor|
|Brian Marcoulier||Red River District (TN)||Full Member (Elder or Deacon)|