Bishop’s Retreats re-introduce class meeting model
By Andy James, Pastor, Tuttle UMC
"We have been brought here to discuss major and serious issues concerning the Kingdom of God." So Jim Scott opened his presentation to United Methodist clergy at Canyon Camp.
The gathering at Canyon was the first of three Bishop’s Retreats held the week of Sept. 19 for Oklahoma Conference clergy. Each UM camp hosted a retreat.
The great-grandson of a Methodist minister, Rev. Dr. Scott poured out his heart to the pastors as he recalled elements of his own faith story, described the Church’s present reality, and expressed his desire to finish well.
He and his wife, Rev. Dr. Molly Davis-Scott, facilitated the retreats. Prior to attending, clergy were encouraged to read a book co-authored by the Scotts, "Restoring Methodism: 10 Decisions for United Methodist Churches in America."
Clergy and laity are well aware of trends that point to declining church membership, worship attendance, and religious affiliation in the United States. Jim recalled the words of Jesus to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times."
Jim then asked, "Do you know how to interpret the signs of the times right now?"
He asserted, "America has become a secular nation, and this has profound implications for the way we do church." He called on the audience to remember how the Church ministered when Methodism was one of the most powerful religious movements.
Molly suggested that restoring the Wesleyan class meeting could be a key to overturning trends of decline and transforming lives. According to her, "The Wesleyan class meeting is the heart of Methodism."
The Scotts said John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, considered the same issues we face today.
He looked at the first 600 years of the Church and gleaned from that history the idea of the class meeting, among other insights.
Wesley did not come up with merely a revision of ideas, the Scotts said, but chose instead a radical retrieval of lost ideas and practices. Restoration became his theme for the Church, and he meant restoration to health, as when Jesus restored the withered hand and the blind man’s sight.
Jim asserted, "Our future lies in our past. There are times in our history when it looked like the Church was bound for extinction, but it has overcome."
Molly challenged pastors, "By and large, we are neglecting our teaching ministry [in United Methodist churches]. Where there is a teaching void [in congregations], people fill the void with what they knew before or what they see on the television."
The canon of United Methodism is diverse but not vague, she said. "We have a wide table, but we have edges on that table."
"Our hope alone is in the Holy Spirit, not our cleverness or our creativity," he said. "The answer is not in some new program. It is in the heart."