“Bright Hope for Tomorrow: The Future of the United Methodist Church”

Leadership Institute Church of The Resurrection 2019

By Laura Jaissle

As I boarded my plane and made my way to Kansas City, I came with a positive mindset and with big hopes and dreams for the future of the United Methodist church, but I also came with fear and hurt.

This year, Leadership Institute is just for United Methodists. There are 1,300 churches represented, with over 2,500 attendees. Adam Hamilton, upon returning from General Conference, decided he wanted to do something different this year for the Institute to help us move forward after such a deflating General conference that left so many wounded and hurt by the actions or inactions of the church. He shared last evening that he wanted to pull together people to dream of an inclusive church that welcomes all with the understanding of all also meeting those who you disagree with.

As I sat in the impressive and massive sanctuary at COR, I kept looking up at the Resurrection stained glass window with an image of Jesus that stands around 35ft tall — the entire window 35 ft high by 9ft wide. Jesus is reaching his arms out in this image. The room is shaped with a curve, I think it feels like the presence of Christ is surrounding us with open arms. Open arms that bring comfort. I could feel my savior reaching out and comforting the church and speaking his words of Love.

It is that image that closed out a productive day of networking, learning, fellowship, BBQ food and inspiration from unlikely places.

Pre-Conference Sessions

The first day included Pre-Conference sessions and I personally attended 2 3-hour leadership sessions. The highlight of my day was my afternoon session led by Steve Harper.

It was a very honest, engaging and thought provoking learning session. What a gentle and kind soul he is and it was an honor just to be in his presence. I have always appreciated the depth of his work and the way you could tell his spirit was in tune with God through his work. I also knew that Steve Harper went through some transitions in his life on the issue of homosexuality.

He spent 3 hours with us engaging us through lens of his new book which has been his retirement passion; Holy Love: Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality. I walked away from the session with Steve reminded me of Colossians 3:11 Christ is All and in All. I was reminded that even though I tend to be progressive I am still allowed to claim my evangelical Wesleyan heritage and that I am allowed to claim that I am a student of the Bible that the Bible does not just belong to those in the conservative camp of the church. For those reading this please go by his latest book and treasure it. It is a work of passion.

Leadership Institute Opening Session

That passion that came forth as Adam Hamilton called him to stage to close our evening session. The powerful witness that Steve Harper shared among 2,500 Methodists about how his life was changed in the season of Lent 2014 when he had a conversion moment as he was studying the Book of Common prayer and praying the prayer “Lord lay upon our hearts the seriousness of our divisions.”

You see, Steve Harper used to be on the other side of the aisle. He was always the professor students felt comfortable around and the one people could confide in but he stood on the other side of the aisle and sat around the table with the Good News folks. But then, at the age of 66, he finally said enough is enough and God opened his heart to see this issue of sexuality in a whole different way. He saw the hurts and through his lens of seeing God as a God of love made it his mission to do his homework and discover for himself what the Bible has to say about this issue.

Through this process he became an outcast and those whom used to call upon him no longer did. He went from being a “Distinguished Alumnus of an institution to an extinguished alumnus.” He found himself with a new purpose and mission and has become an ally to LGBTQi persons.

It was a powerful testimony to hear as he humbled himself before us in his admission that it took him 66 years to find his way, but not that he did it is a wonderful place to be.

To close the evening of the 2,500 Methodist we did an electronic survey to capture the pulse of the room and where we are at on this issue.

So here we are church. How are we going to move forward. I think what i see from above is that we can move forward because most of us are willing to live in ambiguity, most of us are willing to live and worship with those who have different views. As a Progressive Compatibilist I think of those who are like Steve Harper that I love to worship and sit beside but that it just takes some of them longer to get to where we are.

Over the next few days we will be working towards discovering together what kind of church we are going to be. I left day one with Hope because I think most of us are pretty good Methodists who realize that to be Wesleyan it means we need to keep our theology in line with the things we learn, with the knowledge of our time. Scripture Tradition Reason and Experience filled with lots of hope for the future.