Sunday, August 26, 2007

Urban Strategy

Last week was quite a few days for Methodism in the city.

You may not have known that, or recognized it. The only local press on the event didn't quite capture what was going on (o.k. they missed it big time), and the only photo was yet another picture of the remains of the First Church building downtown.

Now, I don't want to diminish the impact of losing that historic building has had on the city - and especially so for the congregants of First Church, who really are First Church - but, c'mon, CA, there are more United Methodist churches in Memphis than First Church and, of course, all the press that is seemingly necessary when a new guy shows up at the little chapel on Poplar Avenue.

Oh yes I did.

So, what was it? This thing that happened last week that was launched in our very own L.P. Brown Fellowship Hall? Well, that's a really good question - and I'm still working on an answer. But here's what I can say.

We met, talked, prayed, toured communities all over the city in which we currently have United Methodist congregations.

United Methodists in Memphis, like so many urban centers, suffer from either inability, incapacity, and, in some cases, unwillingness to minister to those they find within their communities. It's something not unique to Methodists, but since that's the world I know, I'll speak to it.

In a rare instance of true leadership - the Memphis Annual Conference has asked that a 20 year strategy for Methodism be formed. Informed and shaped, in no small part, by the proven leaders of Methodist Healthcare, a team of clergy, laity, and denominational leaders were in the city last week to begin the task of articulating this strategy.

Now a true critic (not that I know any : ) would say that such an effort is at least 20 years late - but that perspective negates the reality of the moment, and the true belief that God has the capacity to work in and through God's people that will surprise us still - and I, for one, am holding hope that the winds of the Spirit will yet blow.

And we're going to need a whole lot of the Spirit's leading to be faithful to the task before us. We had representatives from every General Board of the church (even a couple of General Secretaries) present at these days of discernment and planning. At first, I thought they had come to tell us how to do it, but it became clear really quickly, that they don't know how to do it, either. They're hoping God uses our efforts to do something of meaning that they program into other urban centers where ministry is languishing.

Now here's what I want folks from Saint John's to know. Not only are we well represented on the team that will come up with this strategy, Saint John's will play a vital role in announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church.

And while we'll be a part of the connectional effort to stabilize and revitalize the Methodist witness to the city - I say we don't need to wait for some larger strategy.

We already have one. What is it?

By doing what we do, and not apologizing for it - not boasting, but inviting - and always being willing to accept the challenge that comes with the true, radical hospitality of the Gospel - -

May God bless our efforts and may we be found faithful in them.

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