Reflections on Leadership Institute 2019 – Day 3

By Jason Hockran

Leadership Institute Day 3 – 2019 #LI2019UMC “Bright Hope for Tomorrow”

Praise God for a powerful few days of fellowship, spiritual growth, education and connection at Leadership Institute.  Dozens of people from East Ohio have engaged with other UM’s across the US and globally to focus on the struggles in our global denomination and how the future could look for the people called United Methodists.

No votes were taken, no decisions were made.  This is just a healthy space for those desiring a fully inclusive and diverse church to gather and discuss strategy to live into the reality of that in the local and regional church.  A space for learning how to communicate, lead and journey through the life of the community and church in difficult, contentious times.  A space for deep prayer, worship, fellowship and education for leaders of the church.

The new traditional plan restrictive limitations that go into effect on January 1, 2020 do not allow me to live fully into my calling as a UM Pastor and missional leader.  Here are the four commitments made by our team of folks from East Ohio and the greater UMC Next movement to allow for a fully inclusive and diverse UM movement for the future.

For me personally this has been a great opportunity to collaborate and learn from brothers and sisters in Christ that have been exhaustively working for full inclusion and diversity in the church at all levels for decades or more.  I have always been a proponent of diversity and inclusion in my community and in the church but have stayed on the sidelines and not gotten involved in the work that so many of my brothers and sisters have been leading every day.  In light of the traditional plan passing and in congruence with my theology and calling to ministry and faith life, I must take an active role in to full inclusion of our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters and seek and promote active ways to lead the church to eliminate racial and gender biases that continue to separate us from church that God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit desires here on earth.

As a middle aged, white, cisgender male (he,him,his), financially blessed child of God I have had the gift of privilege that so many of my brothers and sisters have not and still do not have in the life of society and specifically in the church.  For the ways in which I have discriminated against and have long ignored and allowed for the harm that has been and is being done to others in my community and in my church family, I am sorry.  I recognize my privilege and how my inaction contributes to discrimination in my community and church.  Remaining in the middle never was a way to take an active role in growing the Church of Jesus Christ.  My calling as a child of God and specifically as a pastor in the life of the church is to draw all people to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I cannot do that locally or globally as a follower of Christ if some of my brothers and sisters are excluded from the full life of the church and the ministry they are called to.  God calls me to a higher standard of inclusion and engagement with my brothers and sisters.  To my SISTERS, siblings of COLOR and my siblings in the LGBTQIA family know that I am a person and a pastor that is safe for you to explore with and live into your identity and a healthy relationship with God.  The intersection of justice and full inclusion for women, people of color and the LGBTQIA community will draw us to a healthier reality of the kingdom of God on earth.  I commit to journey with you and together I know you will allow me to grow in my faith and experience of God and humbly I will help you do the same.  I will no longer be a stumbling block to anyone seeking a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

I will do this in our local church, district and annual conference along with the powerful team of brothers and sisters already engaged in this mission.  The UMC Next team from East Ohio seeks to live into these commitments and provide safe space for like-minded brothers and sisters to communicate, plan and live out daily activities through mission, preaching, teaching, resistance and most of all with integrity and honesty to a church for all.

The final day of the gathering provided much hope for the future of the movement, here are some of the highlights from our last half day together.

The morning opened with a panel of current UM Bishops sharing their view of what the church could look like in 2032.  The following are some soundbites that could have deep impact on local church ministry activity.

Churches will be fully engaged in connectional and contextual ministry

Relationship are more important than theology

Faith Communities will be smaller, agile & responsive

Human sexuality debates will be a non-issue

Grassroots conventionalism will be a key part of healthy communities

Primary mission of the church will be on the great commission and the greatest commandment

Luke 1:78-79 – 78 “Because of our God’s deep compassion,
    the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
        to guide us on the path of peace.”

Church must do the right thing no matter the cost – value the tradition but RISK everything for the future

Local congregation is the primary place for ministry and mission, take authority – lead

Embrace & love all people, make sure people know they are welcome and at home

Grace and love at all costs, Judgment is reserved for God – People need room to breathe with God

We must live for 2032 now in 2019, let’s get started, keep going

After this several of the conveners of the UMC Next movement led us in preparation to meet as annual conferences to plan and communicate about the work we have to do together in our regional contexts.  East Ohio had a strong presence at the gathering, 17 churches represented and over 35 people participated in Leadership Institute.

Katie Dawson(Iowa), Stan Copeland(Texas), Lonnie Chaffin(Illinois) & DJ delRosario(Washington) each of these leaders brought us a few moments of centering and focus as we entered into our time together.  We were reminded of the following:

We are a group of 2,400+ evangelists for where we hope to lead the NEXT Wesleyan movement

Our unique Conferences matter and our local context matters for the work ahead

We must ask and hear the hard questions about difficult topics, love people and protect them

Must ACT!  We are people of repentance and transformation; this means we are people of change

Sisters & Brothers, you have Agency – authority and power to craft a healthy future for the church

Be the future church now in your local context

Do what you can with what you have in front of you, but do something

This session wrapped up with a powerful prayer from our brother DJ reminding us –

All are made in the image of God!

When we gathered as a family from East Ohio it was the most powerful time of the day as we heard from each person about why they attended and their hope for the future.  We heard with passion and conviction about healthy and unhealthy ways to help the church grow to be fully inclusive and diverse.  One of the main points in our time together was taking intersectional steps that include gender and race inclusion and diversity along the journey of full inclusion for LGBTQIA brothers and sisters.  We committed to working together in East Ohio to continue the work that has been done before us and to lead during this time of transition in the church.

In the coming months the EO Next will be outlining healthy ways in which individuals and local churches can stand in resistance to the traditional plan while continuing the mission and ministry of the local church.  If you are a person or a local church seeking other people and churches in our conference that demand full inclusion and diversity in the day to day life of the church, please join us.  We don’t have all the answers, but we do have hope and passion for a fully inclusive and diverse church now and for the future.  Please reach out to anyone from the EO Next team to join the movement.

The closing session of leadership institute was a useful outline by Pastor Adam Hamilton of some keys to healthy development of the local church.  These are steps that need to be taken in the life of any local church to find healthiness and vitality.  These steps are in addition to all the necessary steps to full inclusion and diversity in the church. These include:

Develop deeply committed disciples of Jesus Christ

Practice radical acts of ministry with the people in our communities

Go outside the walls of the church and show a radical love for people

Enlist gifted, committed, passionate young people for full time ministry

We closed this gathering with prayer and communion.  There are many really awesome and transformational leadership things that have come out of this three-day gathering.  There are also some disappointments and frustrations with the reality that we have so far to go to reach the reality of a church for ALL people.  The church is the people, our system has developed in a way that allows for and sometimes elevates the reality of exclusion, sexism and racism.  I am a part of a messy and broken church and system, I am committed to continuing passionate and vital ministry in my local church, conference and as a part of the regional and national UMC NEXT movement.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege to be a part of a grace filled movement.

Pastor Jason Hockran – Andover, OH