Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
The General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) is sponsoring a "Wesleyan Pilgrimage" to England next July. The 10-day trip promises to focus on "An Immersion in Wesleyan Leadership." The trip will visit sites associated with John and Charles Wesley and the origins of the Methodist movement in an attempt to learn principles of leadership that the Wesleys employed.
This trip follows up from a similar trip that six young-adult UMC clergy from the United States took in 2012. A video released by GBOD chronicles that trip. In the video, an explicit connection is made between the purpose for learning through the trip and the membership decline of the UMC in the United States. The participants talk about the pressure as young adult pastors to turn around the denomination and how the trip renewed and encouraged them in their ministry.
The strategy of looking back to one's roots to solve present problems is age old. Thus, an approach that tries to solve the membership woes of the contemporary UMC in the United States is not surprising. Another frequent approach to try to solve the membership problems of the church in the United States is to look at branches of the UMC elsewhere around the world where numbers are increasing, deduce lessons from those countries, and then try to apply them to the United States. Both approaches have their pitfalls but can help Americans to think outside their own cultural matrices.
What struck me as I was watching the video is how infrequently we try to combine these two strategies. The six clergypersons on the trip were all serving in the United States (though one was originally from Kenya). They were asking our British heritage questions about their American context and then trying to hear the answers from their American perspectives. But what would it look like if Americans, Africans, Europeans, and Asians were to go on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Methodism to learn together? How might the answers that John Wesley provides to the problems of the church in the United States sound different when given from a Zimbabwean perspective? Or what might the Oxford Club have to say to Russian Methodists through Filipino voices? Looking to our past and looking to our sisters and brothers around the world for advice about the problems we face are sound strategies. We should remember that they can be combined and, indeed, may be richer when they are.