Reflections on Transforming Ministry Conference

ImageThis past week I, along with 60 other clergy/laity, spent a week at Claremont School of Theology at the Transforming Ministry Conference.

Honestly, I didn’t want to go.  For while the speakers (Diana Butler Bass and Brian McLaren) sounded great, I really wasn’t clear on what the ‘point’ of the gathering was.  I do not need another conference or more handwringing. My husband convinced to attend, saying that once I got there it would be worth my time, and if not, he reminded me, I could just leave.  So my PT Cruiser and I went to Claremont.

Sunday night we began with Bishop Grant Hagiya.  I served a church not too far from Bishop Grant when he pastored in Southern California and I have great respect for him.  His goals for the week were as follows (quoted from his handout)

+Develop a cadre of cutting edge adaptive clergy leaders for the Western Jurisdiction that will lead the church through mainline decline and malaise.

+Start the process of resetting/rebooting our ministry strategy to meet the needs of new generations, even as we re-evaluate the core content of our Christian faith, and settle on what we must retain as non-negotiable.  Follow the admonition: “Be stead in purpose but flexible in strategy” (Gil Rendle)

+Make a commitment with our ecumenical and interfaith partners in ministry to share best practices and learn as much as we can for each other…

+ Develop a cross-annual conference ethos that extends our new paradigm in ministry throughout the whole Western Jurisdiction, as we live out what it means to practice “permeable boundaries.”

+Make a commitment to mentor our younger clergy into dynamic leadership, and pave the way for their leadership to emerge in the near future.

+Make a commitment to recruit, enlist, and mentor the next generation of spiritual leaders by getting the ‘best and brightest’ young adults into ordained ministry in our UM seminaries. Set out a specific goal of 250 new seminarians in the Western Jurisdiction for the 2012-16 quadrennium.

At this point, I woke up a bit. 

Certainly this is ambitious, and while I didn’t agree with all of these goals (the last one is not how I see the UMC future), I was engaged with the idea that here was a Bishop who was trying and had mapped a way forward.  He stands, as do most of us, in two worlds—the one that is dying and this new one that is untried and uncertain.  This gathering is one way he hopes to move us forward.

I really appreciate that.  As someone who was startled my first year in ministry (1992) by the decline, low energy and vision of the UMC, it is great to have someone notice and give this some focus.  And while I do not see change starting in the Conference office, I do believe that those involved in this level of leader can make or break the process.

In the Western Jurisdiction we are often at the head of any changes for the UM church. Diana Butler Bass stated that trends (both positive and negative) often start in the West and move to the East coast.  So, much of what we in the Western Jurisdiction have been living in will move eastward across the United States within about 10-15 years.  How we in the West address today’s opportunities can model possibilities for the larger church, for as we wrestle with the lack of practices that work and the post-institutional times in which we live possibly we can find some trails (both new & old) forward.

Next post: Transforming Ministry Conference, Part 2