By Kelly Soifer
Several of us from Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara just returned from General Conference 2011 (GC11).
General Conference is a quadrennial conference (translation: held once every four years). This one was especially significant in that we also convened to celebrate the sesquicentennial (translation: 150th!) anniversary of the founding of the Free Methodist Church at the actual location where B.T. Roberts established our denomination.
I am rather new to Free Methodism; I started attending the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara in November 2008 and joined in August 2009. Therefore, I have never attended a General Conference.
I’ll be the first to tell you that the schedule included an intensive roster of meetings, some of which were run according to parliamentary procedure. Nevertheless, I found the entire conference compelling, thought provoking and deeply encouraging.
Most formative to our time was the theme — WHOLE: Gospel. World. Person — which was then fleshed out through various speakers, hearty musical worship and fascinating discussions. I believe Bishop Matt Thomas summarized its meaning best in his plenary message on July 16. We can only deliver the whole gospel to the whole world if we are whole persons.
Throughout GC11 we talked about how Jesus calls us to inner transformation. Then as our hearts and minds are changed, our lives will bear fruit and collectively, our churches will be agents of change in our communities and in our world. Broken lives, broken families, broken systems and broken creation will be changed by the restorative love of God, ministered through our hands and feet. Isn’t that compelling?
When people ask me, “How was General Conference?” I simply tell them, “What I realized is that I am part of a movement more than an institution!”
I left GC11 with a strong sense that God is on the move in and through the Free Methodist Church, both in the USA and throughout the world. In hindsight, I feel “GC” could also stand for “Groundbreaking Changes.” Glory to God!
To best capture a sense of this momentum, I asked those who were part of the Santa Barbara delegation to briefly share their impressions from GC11.
Pastor Denny Wayman:
I have always been proud of our Free Methodist family. Our rich tradition and relational theology is unparalleled in the larger Christian world.
However, there was a time when our focus was more on what we do not do than on what we do for Christ. This legalistic focus has changed.
During the same time we’ve taken dramatic steps to be a missional church at home just as we have been overseas. This systemic change has opened the door to do ministry in new and dynamic ways.
But this didn’t just happen during the five days in New York. It has taken several decades of dynamic and courageous leadership that has systematically changed our membership and discipleship process, expanded our expectations and creating a permission-giving culture.
I am very excited to see what God is going to do through the FMC in this next 150 years!
I always enjoy connecting with FMs from across the country, and celebrate in their joys and successes in growing the kingdom of God.
What I appreciated about this GC was our focus to answer questions and create solutions as a larger body, not just react and give input to suggestions given from various parts of the country.
Pastor Colleen Hurley-Bates:
This was my third GC and the openness and leading of the Holy Spirit was the strongest ever. It was such a confirmation of what God is doing through the FMC and how He wants to use His church to reach out to local and global communities with His love and truth.
I was very inspired to think through how we reach out to our neighbors and to encourage our people that we are truly filled up to go out and serve in Jesus’ name. That is what He tells us to do. I got that loud and clear at GC11.
I truly felt honored to have been invited to attend the 2011 General Conference. I felt encouraged and empowered as a young leader, knowing that I am part of a denomination that continues to fight for justice in our society, as well as seeing the importance of loving our neighbors and staying true to the Word.
It was fascinating to be able to sit in on how resolutions are created for our denomination.
Free Methodists are a community of believers who take seriously the primary commandments to love God and one another.
As Jesus says in Luke 12:48, When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. We were reminded at GC11 that we have been inordinately blessed as believers, as Americans and especially as Free Methodists. God is asking us to move His kingdom forward in new and profound ways. May we offer the good news of the whole gospel of God, inviting those we meet to restoration and eternal hope.