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‘Uniting Methodists’ hold conference in Atlanta

ATLANTA—Nearly 300 United Methodists gathered in person and were joined by more than 50 online sites around the world as the Uniting Methodists movement met Nov. 13-14 at Impact United Methodist Church, Atlanta.

The Rev. Olu Brown, lead pastor at Impact, led the planning team and convened the gathering.

Two days of worship, theological reflection, panel presentations, small group sessions and fellowship marked this first gathering of the Uniting Methodists.

“We’re a church that holds together both an evangelical desire to lead people to Christ and a passion for justice,” the Uniting Methodists stated. “We hold together an emphasis on both grace and sanctification. Our church includes moderates, conservatives and liberals, and we know that we are stronger because of it.”

In welcoming the group to the North Georgia Conference, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson affirmed the vitality of the church’s ministry that is strengthened by unity. The Rev. Jasmine Smothers, lead pastor of Atlanta First UMC, opened the conference with an exhortation to “Get up, help carry the mat, make the way clear and bring everyone to Jesus,” as she preached from Mark 2.

At the center of the two-day agenda were lectures by Dr. David N. Field, academic coordinator of the Methodist e-Academy and a research associate of the Research Institute of Religion and Theology at the University of South Africa, as well as a member of the UM Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward. The lectures, based on Field’s book “Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease,” centered on loving God and loving others. He demonstrated Wesley’s way of affirming essential theological convictions while allowing space for diversity of practice and individual conscience.

Field said United Methodists are drawn together around the center of God’s love—rather than by any sort of “boundaries”—so that everything United Methodists do is measured by its connection to that center.

A panel discussion and small group conversation focused on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward was led by commission members Tom Berlin and Smothers, with additional comments from home missioner Helen Ryde and president and publisher emeritus of The United Methodist Publishing House, Neil Alexander.

Another panel discussion included the Revs. Melissa Maher from Houston, Jason Wellman from Columbus, Ohio, and Stan Copeland from Dallas, who shared stories that led them to where they stand today.

“The United Methodist Church cannot be brought to our knees by a culture of polarized ideologies and bow at the altar of divisiveness,” Copeland said. “If we ever hope to live into our mission and vision of ‘making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,’ the ‘world’ is going to have to see us as relevant and different from its warring factions.”

In other major presentations, Mike Slaughter, retired pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC, underscored the authority of the Word (logos) revealed in Jesus in relationship to the written words of Scripture. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., preached on the parable of the weeds and the wheat, reminding her hearers of the deadly danger of the UVT (Us-vs-Them) virus. Justin Coleman, senior pastor at University UMC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, concluded the event by leading the Wesley Covenant Service.

The Uniting Methodists self-identify as “a movement of Christ-centered, hope-filled, United Methodists, uniting in Christ to make disciples for the transformation of the world” who are “called to be a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation and a polarized culture.” More than 4,000 United Methodists have signed up in support of the group’s core objectives at the movement’s website, www.unitingmethodists.com.

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