By Mac Hamon
While the theology of John Lennon's song Imagine is something with which I struggle, he thinks outside the box, and says he is not the only one. Contrary to Lennon's lyrics, I want to imagine that religion can be a source of hope, peace, and reconciliation. I may be naive, but I believe it could begin with Hoosier United Methodists.
After all, we have Imagine Indiana, the possibilities of which could lay the ground work for peace, hope and reconciliation among the marginalized. Sound too ambitious? I don't think so. I imagine, for example, an annual conference session that no longer meets three days in business sessions, but perhaps only one day. District conferences might care for much of the annual conference business, or at least the preparation for it, and annual conference could then become a time when after a one day session the remaining two days are spent in mission work - rehabbing people's houses, visiting in nursing homes and the homebound, visiting in jails, tutoring, etc.
Imagine District Superintendents as spiritual mentors for pastors and local congregations. Imagine that there were a few human resource people charged with the task of matching pastors and congregations. Since the Bishop makes appointments, they could act in advisory capacities. District superintendents could spend more time caring for the spiritual needs of parsonage families and local congregations.
Imagine there were no more Annual Charge Conferences; it's easy if you try. Paper work would be eliminated and all work handled via email. A superintendent could contact a local church in some other way during the course of the year. Perhaps they might serve as resource persons for a spiritual formation retreat in a congregation(s), lead a small group for a short period of time in a local church, drop by to listen to a pastor and pray with them, etc.
Imagine that petitions were sent to convene a General Conference to completely revise The United Methodist Book of Discipline. The binding resolution would be that the General Conference must emerge with a Discipline that is no larger than half of its current size.
Imagine what might happen to us if we started a new congregation in the inner city for everyone we started in the suburbs. It probably would be a lot cheaper than the suburbs since we could use a store front, or even a grouping of house churches. Imagine if we turned the large numbers of Certified Lay Speakers loose with this challenge. Given the numbers of un-churched people in the inner city, it would not take long to reverse our downward decline in membership.
Imagine that the process for becoming an ordained clergy in The United Methodist Church was streamlined. The current one is based on the same myth that public education suffers within Indiana. If there are more days of school, there will be a better educated student. The United Methodist Church seems to believe that if there is a longer process, clergy will be better. Both are myths. Imagine if the exit provisions for clergy in The Discipline were really implemented. Unfortunately, we seem to exit effective clergy because we are not interested in redeeming them, and keep ineffective clergy who are beyond redemption.
Now, I know this is imagining Indiana very different than it is today. I also realize that some of these things might run contrary to The Discipline, or at least stretch it a bit. With the mission field out our front doors these days, we can no longer afford to do business as usual. And, I would imagine that if changes like these were made, there would be a lot of people whose idea of The United Methodist Church would change, and perhaps might find it more relevant to the needs of our day. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
Mac Hamon serves as the senior pastor of Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.