Warm Lenten greetings in the Name of our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ!
The North Carolina Conference is experiencing a season of disruption and lament. We are still riding out the impact of the pandemic. And then came the first wave of disaffiliation and separation that brought so much pain, anger, and disappointments creating disruption among the clergy, laity, and churches. We are in the midst of the second wave of discernment, voting, and disaffiliations. The third wave is forthcoming, continuing to fracture our connection and leading to uncertainties that attempt to overshadow our hope.
A Call for Healing
In the midst of disruption and lament, the good news is: our hope is in Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. Our fractured connection needs healing of our wounded souls, wounded relationships, and wounded communities. We need to continue listening to one another’s pain and lament and to come alongside our churches who are still experiencing the challenges and struggles of disaffiliation and separation. And we need to continue creating spaces for pastors and laity to lament, and find healing and encouragement in our covenant community.
A Call for Renewal
We desire to continue living our calling as United Methodist clergy and laity and seek ways to move forward with our baptismal vows, our ordination vows, and our commitment to love God, love neighbor, and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our discerning churches need clarity for the work they can do in the unity of faith through baptism, even as our table grows in diversity. Our laity seek empowerment for mission and ministry, and our clergy hunger for vitality in their work as they live out their calling.
A Call for a Hopeful Future
We may be fractured, yet, we are still “held together in Christ” even in our brokenness. In 2022, we began a movement called United Methodist Forward North Carolina, drawing upon our vibrant history of mission and ministry as a connectional church that carried on the work from the footsteps of Francis Asbury to 58 counties marked by United Methodists in eastern North Carolina who transformed communities at home and abroad extending the love of Jesus through worship, prayer, rebuilding of homes, education of children, feeding of the hungry, and much more than can be counted by the hands which served.
Please read our statement “Held Together in Christ,” which seeks to unite us forward with a future for the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. We are here to come alongside our Bishop, the Cabinet, and the Conference staff for God’s preferred future for our Church, the NC Conference, our community, and our world.
What is next for the UM Forward NC?
First, the UM Forward NC will use these final days of the Lenten season to pray for healing and restoration for all the pastors, laity, and churches in the North Carolina Conference. Then in the Easter season, we call for a season of “reclaiming, revival, and renewal” in the North Carolina Conference, The United Methodist Church, and our global connection throughout the world as we move towards Pentecost.
Second, the UM Forward NC is launching a series of “Held Together in Christ” dialogues and gatherings between now through the end of 2023. These gatherings will take place at the grassroots level in local congregations, districts, and communities. The main goal is to create a sacred and safe space for pastors and laity to come together for healing, renewal of our baptismal and ordination vows, and dreaming of God’s preferred future.
Finally, the UM Forward NC will continue to advocate for truth, expose the misinformation and call those who are disaffiliating to exit with integrity. We will continue to lift up the strengths of being part of the UMC and bring clarity about what churches are losing when they disaffiliate. And finally, we pray that the “people called Methodists” in the North Carolina Conference will continue to “keep the main thing the main thing” — grounding in the Scripture, sharing the Good News of Jesus, making disciples from everywhere to everywhere and working for peace and justice so that all my experience the new life we find in Jesus Christ.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Edgar De Jesus
Convenor, UM Forward NC
Lead Pastor, Davis Street UMC
Rev. Dennis Peay
Co-Convenor, UM Forward NC
Lead Pastor, Westminster UMC