Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm Not Sure What's Going on With My Annual Conference, But It's Not Good

The Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church, my annual conference, recently made the curious decision to eliminate two conference level programming positions: those related to youth and children—those held by Beth Morris and Susan Groseclose. On the surface, this move gives one the impression that our always aging denomination isn't terribly concerned about cultivating young disciples. (While I think that lamenting the "graying" of the church is offensive to older adults, the UMC nonetheless needs to come to grips with its struggles to engage younger generations.) The bishop and conference office exacerbated this impression through poor communication. None of the youth or adult advisers on the Conference Council on Youth Ministry were informed of or consulted about the move. To my knowledge, the conference still has not issued a formal statement on the matter. (Gavin has more here and here and here.)

Jay Vorhees, a reporter trapped in a pastor's body, has been on top of the story and spoke with Bishop Wills soon after he learned the news. From Jay:

[Bishop Wills] believes . . . . that we need to be doing more in regards to youth ministry than propping up existing structures; that we need to be more proactive in our evangelism to youth; and that staff persons will have to be willing to be present in local congregations on a regular basis to train and facilitate these changes. This vision was supposedly shared with the staff members and they were given the opportunity (at least to his knowledge) to restructure their ministries in new ways that fell in line with this vision. According to the Bishop, they chose to focus on their traditional duties and seemed unwilling to embrace this new vision.

Later, the bishop would clarify that "Beth was not told about this new direction and organization." That's a problem.

Maybe I'm missing something, but shouldn't the conference youth staff and council on youth ministry be involved in discerning, crafting, and implementing a new vision for youth ministry? United Methodists are supposed to make decisions through a process of "holy conferencing"; unilateral, top-down decisions are un-Methodist.

Forgive me if I've misspoken or misunderstood what is going on. By all accounts Bishop Wills is a good guy and a great bishop, and I think the vision he articulated has merit. But Beth Morris has served young people in the Tennessee Conference well for a long time and has represented the conference well on a national level. In my opinion, she (as well as youth ministers and young people in local congregations) should have been a partner in re-visioning youth ministry in our annual conference.


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