I read with interest Bishop James Swanson's column, "Who Really Cares?" in the March 10 edition of The Call. I was quite surprised by his comment, "I am equally dismayed that no one has blown the trumpet to warn us that we are in danger of becoming extinct," referring to the continual decline of membership numbers throughout the United Methodist Church.
Surely the Bishop is aware of the recent writings by Leonard Sweet, Bill Easum, Brian McLaren (and the entire Emergent community), George Hunter III, and numerous other church leaders across the country? These pastors, scholars, and authors have been announcing the shift to a postmodern, post-Christian America for years. They have been blowing the horn loud and clear. But the church more often than not does not want to listen. We are too entrenched in our traditions, buildings, and budgets. We think we can continue to "do church" like it was 1955. And all the while, our society screams out for something real, something authentic, something missional something which we often do not provide.
I applaud the Bishop for being the Godly, humble man that he is. I am proud of his leadership of the Holston Conference, and for the opportunity to serve under him. But we can't fool ourselves any longer. The society around us views the church today as irrelevant. We have become dinosaurs! It's time for the church to begin the process of re-discovering first century Christianity in all its forms. It's time that we begin to dialog and explore how the church needs to adapt to an increasingly "Corinthian" culture. In answer to the Bishop's question, "Who really cares?" I do. And I will continue, by God's grace, to do something about it. What about you?
Rev. J. Todd Kingrea
Wesley Memorial UMC, Etowah, TN
As I ponder the 40-year decline of United Methodism, I wonder if we don't find ourselves in much the same situation that Mr. Wesley found himself in the Anglican Church of his time. "The Story of American Methodism," written by Frederick A. Norwood states: "The formal church had failed to reach many of the people. There was a field ripe for harvest inside the Anglican establishment, to say nothing of many others who, being dissenters or wholly outside any church, stood in need of spiritual ministry." I wonder if that is not where Methodism is today? Whitefield was the first "to go to the people around Bristol where they were" as Mr. Wesley recorded in a letter. We continue to invite people to come into our churches, and to our programs when in fact we need to be praying about and discovering ways to go out where the "lost sheep are." I had a United Methodist pastor growing up that reminded me "to go where lost people are." Those lost sheep aren't going to come home to the pen without someone going after them. They may not know they are lost, and they sure may not know the way home. And when they do get home, will they find the "sheep pen" to be like the old Anglican establishment was in Wesley's day? Honestly, pensions and paychecks should not motivate us, or even declining numbers. This world desperately needs Jesus. And really, until we as the United Methodist Church once again realize that we desperately need God, we will probably continue to decline. We kind of got like the rich guy whose barns were full he was well satisfied and proud of where he was. We were once proud to be the largest Protestant denomination we got satisfied and full, and now our barn is emptying out. We need to get humble before we get humiliated and cry out to God to heal and save us. Then we need to go out where the lost are instead of waiting for them to come back to the pen.
In my pondering, I thought about another thing. The Muslim people over in Iraq are basically standing in line to die. Why? They believe in something beyond themselves that they are willing to die for. They want to see the world become a kingdom of Islam. If all that motivates me is my retirement or next appointment, will I really have an effect in bringing people into the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ? Amen to our Bishop! People need the Lord. And the people called Methodists ourselves once again need to realize how desperately we need the Lord!
Rev. Barry Kidwell
Forrest Avenue UMC
In response to Bishop Swanson's article, "Who Really Cares?" [Wings, The Call, March 10], a man in his position should realize why the numbers are going down in our churches. This is one example.
I would like to know when the policy of not meeting in cities that had sports teams with Native American names became a policy in our church? I would think the Native Americans would be honored to have those so named.
While most, like me, were unaware of this policy, I wonder what else is in our Book of Discipline? Shame on me for not reading it. I think we should be reading and abiding by the Bible in all controversial issues instead of a bunch of man-made rules. Give us another few years and we will be minus another 9,000.
The delegates to General Conference should seek spiritual discernment on all controversial issues. The Christian Indian descendants probably have forgiven what happened many years ago, but we just keep reminding them. God will take care of that, in his time. God's ways are not our ways. He forgives, and remembers no more.
Betty F. Salyer
Big Stone Gap District
For Bishop Swanson's follow-up to his "Who Really Cares?" column, visit bishopsblog.holston.org. To send a letter to the editor of The Call, write: C-Mail, The Call, P.O. Box 32939, Knoxville, TN 37930-2939, fax (865) 690-3162, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Printed letters are limited to 150 words.
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