Nominations change seeks those called to mission

3/4/2008

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

A truism about The United Methodist Church is its penchant for committees.

Before almost anything can be done, a committee must be formed. Those on the committees are folks willing to try to do what is asked.

But what about those called to do ministry?

A new plan of order for the Mississippi Conference seeks to shift the emphasis from committees for committee sake to ministry groups involving those called by God to mission and ministry.

“We want to get back to the idea that everybody is called to do ministry,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel, conference director of Connectional Ministries. “We want to use the gift approach.”

The idea grew out of two events, Casteel said. The first was the response at the 2006 Annual Conference to an “altar call” for those who felt called by God to address health-care issues. Nearly 100 people responded, and out of that about 65 are now involved in successful ministries.

The other push toward the change has been Bishop Hope Morgan Ward’s series of listening sessions held around the state. United Methodists were given opportunities to talk to the bishop about how the conference does ministry.

The first step was taken in mid-February when a “Leadership Survey” was posted on the conference Web site, www.mississippi-umc.org. Anyone interested can click on the link and fill out a form indicating areas of mission and ministry in which they might be interested. Casteel said more than 60 people had responded by Feb. 29. He emphasized that participation is open to all United Methodists, lay and clergy.

Ward said many folks are willing, but want to be told what to do.

“As a pastor, I was disappointed when people responded to my invitation to serve with these words: ‘I’ll do it if you tell me what you want me to do,’” she said. “I was thrilled when people gave witness to the movement of the spirit in their lives and energetically offered energy, ideas and creativity. 

“I have heard these witnesses recently in Mississippi: ‘I am called to the ministry of racial reconciliation.’ ‘I am called to be engaged in the Chabadza Covenant with Zimbabwe.’ ‘I am called to ministry as an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS.’ ‘I am called to plant a new church.’”

Casteel said the change is evolving, and the 2008 Annual Conference will offer some indication of where it might go. Lay and clergy members will be given an opportunity to take part in roundtable discussions of a variety of mission areas with others who share their interest.

Ward said a new order, a new way of doing things, could have a profound impact on the conference and the denomination.

“One of the provocative questions of Lovett Weems that resonates with many of us is this: Can The United Methodist Church change from a structure of control to a structure of grace?” Ward said. “A more open process is a journey toward a structure of grace. Through grace we are given life and gifts and energy for service. Through service, the giving of ourselves in Christ, we find ourselves. It is the mystery of the gospel.”