The Rev. Jodie Flessner is convinced that the future of The United Methodist Church does not depend on General Conference delegates but on faithful disciples taking God’s love into the world.
Superintendent, Northern Waters District
I was fresh out of seminary and serving my first churches (Perrinton, Pompeii, and North Star UMCs). The convenience store down the street from the parsonage also rented videos (yes, this was a few years ago). One evening I walked down to pick up a movie and some snack food. The building next to the store was a bar, and there was an interior door between the two businesses. Through the open door, I could see folks watching the game and catching up with friends.
That evening I noticed a man come through the door and join me at the counter. I assumed that he was next in line to make a purchase. As I turned to leave, he caught my eye and said: “You’re the pastor in town, aren’t you?”
We stepped to the side to talk. The man shared how his brother was in the hospital and not doing well. Could I pray for him? I asked his brother’s name and assured him his brother would be in my prayers. The man didn’t give me his name, only his brother’s first name. He didn’t want me to pray with him then and there. He just really needed some assurance that God cared about his brother, that the church cared, and that someone was praying. This unexpected encounter was the first of many conversations like this over the years.
Last week some clergy from the Northern Waters District gathered at Lake Louise for a retreat. As we shared stories, several pastors told of people who they never saw in church, introducing them to friends and neighbors by saying: “This is my pastor.”
During our time together, we talked some about the issues facing the denomination. But mostly we shared about how the churches we are serving are being the church; how we are being places where open doors lead to people engaging in conversations about how God might be present in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
In these first few months of being superintendent, I am encouraged by churches and pastors who are exploring how to take these encounters to the next level. How we build real relationships so that we can make disciples so that we can offer the transformative power of Jesus Christ.
As I have logged the miles across 20 counties to spend time with the 77 churches of the Northern Waters District, I have engaged in many conversations on the future of The United Methodist Church. As much as people want to (and need to) talk about this, they are even more excited to share how their church is being the church.
Several churches have worked with their communities to reclaim and renovate buildings in their neighborhood. The once-vacant storefronts now offer youth programming and community gathering space. Many churches are also partnering with local schools, especially in providing food for hungry kids after school and on weekends. Churches are turning the ingathering of school supplies into the opportunity to invite families to an afternoon of food and activities. We are building connections digging alongside each other in the dirt, planting community gardens, sowing seed for this season.
I am sure that there will be lots more conversations about how The United Methodist Church moves into the future. But I am also sure that our church will not stop being the church to our communities and our world.