The final approval by three out of four present at both North Indiana and South Indiana conference sessions was a major departure in business as usual in The United Methodist Church of Indiana. Now that we, the conferences, have made the decision to unite and form a new conference, it's time to fill in the gaps and allow Image Indiana to become a reality.
Discerning what most conference members believe is God's will for the church here, we are experiencing a new way of seeing our future and the future of the church, while being connected to Jesus Christ. But are we really sure about our transformation, in the biblical sense, not conformed to the world but taking on a new form beyond the usual course of society?
New structures alone do not transform the world. We cannot transform the world until we allow God in Jesus Christ to transform us - create in us new beings. To be transformed, we need to see our congregations as welcoming stations and not family chapels, remembering Jesus had no synagogue, no congregation. He created a new community of believers from those who were not acceptable to congregational life. This new community lived out his challenge to be transformed through radical hospitality.
God is steadfast and comes to us in many ways. We, as the emerging United Methodist Church in Indiana, are reordering the structure of the church to the reordering of our Christian faith in a pluralistic, primarily secular society. We also need to claim and hold firm to our identity as Wesleyan Christians.
Bishop Coyner has said on many occasions "Evangelism in Job 1," but how many people have we personally welcomed into the Christian faith as ambassadors of Christ? Or are we fearful of what people might say or do if we seem to be too evangelical? How else are we going to grow unless we give active witness to our faith and welcome friends, relatives and neighbors into the faith? Are we welcoming congregations, or are we content with the status quo we have experienced the past 40 years, a status quo that no longer works.
As we hand out those flood buckets, wash the grimy walls of a flooded house or pound nails into roof shingles, do we share why we do what we do as followers of Christ?
Are we welcoming congregations or do we hesitate to welcome a generation that bears tattoos, pierced body parts and that dresses casually every day, especially on Sunday? If we label others of our American culture as un-churched instead of guests in God's reign, then we will not grow in members or in spirit. Jesus told his disciples to go to the back streets and alleys and convince the unwanted to come to God's banquet feast (Luke 14).
We are Hoosier United Methodists and our church is becoming one. As we move forward, we continue to trust God as God leads us into a new venture of corporate faith. As we enter into a new Indiana Conference, we come with openness, trusting God's spirit each step of the way. We have been called to the conception of a new conference with new and renewed congregations. Now we enter into a gestation period as we wait for a new birth next June.
Welcome to a new conference and day.
- Daniel R. Gangler