“We can do more together than we can apart”. This was the not so subtle message of the disaster relief training workshop I attended (with five lay persons) last Saturday. It’s clear; we weren’t only talking about our response to hurricanes and floods. We were better together, despite any theological differences, as a single denomination. Maybe. I’m not so sure anymore. Only a unified denomination with people clad in polo shirts, bearing chain saws, and wearing special identity badges can save churches devastated by natural disasters. That’s how it sounded to me. To give you an idea of how much unity matters, we were told that our churches (congregations at risk for obliteration from the hand of God due to hurricanes, floods, and Biblical style destruction) were going to receive free money (is there such a thing as no strings attached cash), learn a litany of fancy acronyms, and be invited to prepare for the unknown. Have I mentioned how much I despise the “inside baseball” acronym language proliferating press conferences after a disaster? Churches should avoid it like the plague. I fear it is too late.
I’ll be honest. I’m tired. I’m frustrated that as we prepare to tailspin into ecclesiastical oblivion, no one sees Methodism’s spiritual atrophy as a byproduct of our archaic organizational culture. I’m tired of going to meetings only to be lectured on common sense. So too are the laity who are often required to attend such meetings, sacrificing income they would normally earn to feed their families, invest in the community, and tithe to the congregation. I live on a Barrier Island that will be hit again. Our church knows this. It’s good to have any help on offer. Here’s my question: I’m wondering is the help really “help” or a band-aid designed to keep one part of an already divided connection from floating away.
Attending a mandatory meeting where congregations receive handouts easily downloaded from UMCOR, the emergency management department, and any insurance company that are then read to the audience, directly from the screen, isn’t helpful. If anything, it’s disheartening. Despite the promise of financial support, it feels as if the conference doesn’t believe some churches know how to prepare for storms they’ve dealt with for two centuries. If the connection doesn’t give local churches this much credit, no wonder we’re struggling to figure out who we are as a denomination.
I’ll say it again: I’m tired. Being a United Methodist over the past two years has been spiritually and physically exhausting. This doesn’t change the reality: the storm is coming. Methodism is in full-fledged disaster preparation mode. We’re talking about hurricanes. Yet, is anyone from the leadership above the local church preparing their congregations for the denominational hurricane? As Jesus said, you cannot live by press releases alone.
No one knows what will happen but we know the hurricane is approaching. We need to be preparing for both storms: schism and hurricane. It’s foolish to try to stop either. Our documents need to be in order, our medical supplies need to be packed, and we need to discuss how to prepare for emergencies. Where will we go and what will we do? These questions apply to the next named storm as well to the decisions coming from each annual and the general conference. Are we going to repeat the same tired mantras, distribute handouts and read them to each other, or plan life in a new religious landscape?
Richard Lowell Bryant