An Open Letter to FM Leaders: Have We Forgotten Our Roots?

 Caribe Royale in Orlando the location of the 2015 FM General Conference (Photo from www.gc15.org)
Caribe Royale in Orlando the location of the 2015 FM General Conference (Photo from http://www.gc15.org)

Dear Leaders of the North American Free Methodist Church,

In 2008 I discovered why I loved being a Free Methodist – our history of social justice. Namely living out Galatians 3:28. “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.”(The Message)

I grew up in the Free Methodist Church, but I had no idea that a theology of Biblical equality was a part of my own faith tradition.  As a doctoral student (and now a college professor and scholar who researches the Christian patriarchy movement) in 2011 I was desperately searching for a place in Christian culture that was not generically evangelical. I was and still am passionate about environmental stewardship, the global church, poverty, urban issues, and women in church leadership. I found all that in B.T. Robert’s Ordaining Women and Fisher’s of Men and in the writings of other early leaders in the early history of the denomination – many of whom I have written about on this blog.

I was beyond excited to attend the 2011 General Conference at Roberts Wesleyan College. Finally! I would meet other Free Methodists from around the world and the United States. I was brought to tears by the poor conditions of a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and  by the Free Methodist missionaries who shared pictures of the bare shelves and limited medical equipment the hospital had. Pearce Memorial Free Methodist, next door to Roberts Wesleyan, was transformed into a missions fair and bazaar for fair trade booths. I spent hours talking to missionaries, and hearing stories about the international Free Methodist Church. I met bishops from Africa and Asia. I experienced the global body of Christ and connected with historic Free Methodism in an incredibly, life changing way.

The vacation pitch for General Conference 2015 in  the advertising brochure for General Conference.
The vacation pitch for General Conference 2015 in the advertising brochure for General Conference.

I cannot begin to express the incredible heartache and outrage I have felt since fall when I discovered the 2015 General Conference is being held at resort in Orlando, Florida. In 2011 when it was announced that General Conference would be in Florida I was excited. I saw it as a chance to connect with our Latino brothers and sisters, and I expected us to rent a university campus, like the denomination has previously done for the large International Youth Conference events (IYC).  We have always chosen simple, unostentatious locations that reflect our commitment to simplicity.

The cost for the General Conference this year, in my opinion, is high—$400 per person. Yet, what disturbs me the most is how far we have lost our way from the vision set out in 1860. We just celebrated our 150 anniversary at the last General Conference. We placed an emphasis on how those values relate to and are still relevant in a 21st century world. I meet so many other young Free Methodists who were drawn to Free Methodism because of our history and our connection to social justice.

Where have we gone wrong in the last four years? Why is the literature for General Conference calling it a “A Vacation with Other Believers.” In my studies of early General Conferences in the late nineteenth century these conference were not vacations but an intense time of spiritual prayer, debate, fellowship and pleading for direction for the denomination. There was no time for leisure. This was a time to engage with other believers in intense supplication to God for direction- no matter how long it took. There would be debates that lasted hours. There would be arguments; some people would leave conference upset; but it was all in an effort to ensure that the denomination was following the God’s direction. The leaders didn’t always get it right, they were only human, after all; but the point is it wasn’t a vacation.

The grandeur and costs of this upcoming General Conference seem contrary to very heart of what Free Methodism represents. I cannot help but think how many medical supplies $400 could buy the hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo or how many water filters that would provide Clear Blue or how many more children could be helped through International Childcare Ministries.  I can’t help but think how our bishops coming from developing countries will feel when they walk into American opulence and think of their congregations they have left behind or the missionaries, who are having an increasingly difficult time raising support, setting up displays in the resort ballrooms where what they do looks ridiculous compared to the gaudy, over the top interior of resort décor.

I am a Free Methodists because I believe in social justice, care for the poor, gender equality, simplicity, and above all to remember that the Godly principles we were founded on are worth preserving. North American leaders of the Free Methodist church THESE are the principles young Free Methodists want. Not mega churches, not resorts, not vacations. We want authentic not generic evangelical culture.  We have sold out; but it doesn’t have to remain that way.

Sincerely a Hurting, Praying Follower of Christ,

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*These thoughts are solely my own and do not reflect the opinions of any organizations or other individuals I might associate with the Free Methodist denomination*

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See Also:

New School Free Methodism: A Response to General Conference 2015 on the Methodist Meditations blog

Sales Pitch for General Conference in the March Light and Life Magazine

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35 thoughts on “An Open Letter to FM Leaders: Have We Forgotten Our Roots?

  1. Amen to that. Great writing and so very true for all Christians. Great job Christy!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Couldn’t have said it better myself, thank you! – when are we going to find FM leaders who don’t treat our tradition like an embarrassing uncle.

    Did you hear the way they pitched GC at E2? I don’t want to point fingers, as I was really encouraged from the leadership on many of the ideas expressed here, but some people speaking seemed unaware or dismissive of the treasure trove that our tradition has and this generation is asking for.

  3. Free Methodism has always been about prophetically calling leaders to account for decisions. To continually desire to be open to the Lord’s leading. So AMEN to this prophetic What is the motive behind the brochure to “Vacation?” We are called out from the world: our focus should be not on Vacationing but on rejoicing with Paul that the church is connected. To rejuvenate ourselves in Jesus in the presence with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world should be the focus not to enter into the vacation mode of the world in a world class resort. Does this distract us from the purpose of GC 2015? Is God pleased with the choice? Was God sought in the choice? Will the Vacation setting draw away from the focus on God’s work. How does the choice reflect the work of the FMC and spotlight the ministries and educational venues of the church?

    Bishops and leaders: Renew your efforts at prayer and holiness and leave the efforts tending to worldliness.

    1. Amen, Gary and the rest. A few years ago, a book was published, “Searching for the Free Methodist Soul.” Henry Church, former overseer of the work in Africa, wrote that he no longer recognizes the FM church in America. My heart aches, because my views seem to be received as if I were a spiritual dinosaur. I have only been in the FM denomination since 1998, saved at that time, healed in 2001 of MS, and filled with the Holy Spirit a couple of months after that.

  4. Unfortunately GC 2015 is already planned and booked, but I see no issue is sending nicely worded concerned comment to leadership about the marketing materials and location for 2015. This is something that can and should be prevented for future GCs. I am going to miss the intimate atmosphere of the college campus setting for a GC, and I don’t think I can attend this next one. First due to cost and second ethics. If you do go perhaps consider staying nearby at a nice but more affordable alternative ( if access to the resort isn’t limited to guests only which might prevent people at other sites from getting access to the resort and GC. I don’t know that info.) Donate the difference in housing costs to a FM mission organization.

  5. A reply from an older FM feminist: I love the passion and heart expressed for keeping us close to our heritage while we innovate into the future. Don’t dampen your prophetic voices. However, please be aware of several items re: this event —
    As president of Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy, our biannual conferences require much time and effort just finding venues that can accommodate 500 women with needs for large worship rooms, smaller breakout rooms and food for all served in a timely fashion. These venues do not grow on trees. Unless we would go to a large expensive hote/conference centerl, we have discovered only a couple sites that work.
    This is the problem for General Conference. The number of people is simply too large for our schools to accommodate in the variety of meeting spaces, rooms and eating venues required. With 1000 attendees expected, even if only 750 show up, our college campuses are not large enough.
    Also know, that though the younger generations still can enjoy shared bathrooms, dorm room bunk beds and lots of walking between buildings, our seasoned saints cannot still do so.
    Although this particular advertisement piece was ill-advised, have you also read about the many mission trips that are strategically built into and around GC?
    I guess I want you to hear me say that our bishops did not intentionally choose to ignore our history when making decisions re GC 15—they had to evaluate physical needs, economic realities of venues available for an organization our size, and the proximity to an airport, etc, etc. as well as our desire to align with and for those who cannot speak for themselves.

    1. Rev. Lucia,

      I appreciate your comment and I agree. We are outgrowing our FM colleges, which is a good thing. IYC, which I mentioned, and which I know is structured differently now used to be held at large universities, such as Colorado State. When I was a in junior high, high school and college, we regularly had around 2,000 people attend that event and the university had numerous buildings we could use, including the student union for recreational activities. My concern is the grandeur of the location. Many universities rent their campuses out in the summer and if requested several years in advance I believe that a Florida university campus could have been an option that is more in line with what we have historically done for GC events. We have always had transportation and shuttle service available for our most senior Free Methodists, as we did at GC 2011. No matter how big the venue walking is a challenge for the seasoned saints, even at a resort location.

      I also have concerns that missions trips that start with briefing at a resort and end at resort and encompass a vacation incentive at the end (GC) are not the same thing as going on a VISA trip. This concern stems mostly from the marketing materials and the advertising for the connected mission trips. However, I’m not a missionary; so I didn’t feel qualified to speak to these concerns in my letter. If any missionaries or MKs have concerns about the trips or are supportive of them. The one point I do feel comfortable saying is I have spoken to friends from the Dominican Republic who have said that when it comes to short term mission trips like this it places a great burden on the local church to house, care for and host the teams and the bigger impact would actually be sending over the money that would spent on the trip to help the local church instead. I see the value of sending people over to learn about missions and meet our brother and sisters around the globe but I’m in favor of longer immersion type experience that last at least a month. A week to 10 days is too short.

  6. As one of the bishops of the Free Methodist Church I’m pleased to respond to your concerns. Perhaps more than any one else we feel the responsibility of stewarding our heritage and we take seriously (and love!) the fervency early Free Methodists had for spreading holiness across this land. We have it too, and have lives that witness to integrity between what we say and what we do. So we take seriously pointed suggestions to the contrary.

    I get your intensity for a simple lifestyle; it’s also my own understanding of how we should live. Just yesterday I was working on ways to keep our 10 year old Honda Accord running a while longer! So we may be coming at this from similar starting points but arriving at different conclusions because of different understanding of how it will unfold. Or it might be that you have some incomplete information leading to some unwarranted conclusions about General Conference.

    We’ve carefully and thoughtfully worked to design GC15 as a seminal gathering of Free Methodists that we trust will provide critical tools for every church to be able to engage or re-engage their neighborhood and world along the lines of “Whole Church.” We’re focusing on the Nine Strategic Priorities of the church, trusting the Lord of the Harvest to use our best efforts for a joy-filled time of celebrating what He is doing and what He wants to do. I’d encourage you to not be eager to waylay these plans.

    In fact, there’s a certain irony in your critique in that we’re doing General Conference 2015 this way PRECISELY for missional and economic reasons! I hope you’ll appreciate the humor of that. Here are three reasons why I say that, and finally a personal reflection:

    1) The Free Methodist Church in the US needs to be more urban:
    Just because all some people know about Orlando is that it is the location for DisneyWorld, doesn’t mean that’s all there is. It is actually an extremely diverse city. As you probably know, Orlando is also the home to Campus Crusade, Pioneers, Story Runners, The Jesus Film, The Holy Land Experience, New Tribes, and Greater European Mission, among others. Along with Wheaton, IL and Colorado Springs, it is one of the three primary centers for US evangelical non-profits.

    2) The Free Methodist Church needs to stay frugal, both out of a concern to identify with the poor AND a concern to not take ministry dollars away from ministry. It’s weird that those two concerns don’t always line up. That is, we could have actually chosen a hotel that looked “poorer” but we would have wound up spending more money! We’ve tried to balance the “message” piece with the “economy” piece. Maybe we got it right, maybe we didn’t, but it wasn’t for lack of trying!

    Precisely because Orlando is a “destination site” there is much competition between airlines on their Orlando routes. These prices are inevitably cheaper than flights to secondary market destinations. Especially in July! We searched for a destination that would make the event most accessible to the greatest number of Free Methodists.

    The main reason we chose to have GC15 at the Caribe is that it was much less expensive than at one of our universities. In 2011 we paid the host college about $67,000 for the use of their facilities. Not an unfair price, given the costs to the college and their need to amortize their expenses. But in 2015, we are paying NOTHING for the use of Caribe’s conference facilities. And they’re facilities that are built for the attendance we hope to have; as opposed to any of our universities, where we’ve had to split groups between a number of buildings. The hotel is giving us the entire convention center at no cost, based upon our commitment to fill a number of their hotel rooms over the course of the event. So we are doing this event at the Caribe not because it is opulent, but because it is wise stewardship of the Lord’s money.

    You’ve mentioned a cost of $400. The actual cost for GC15 registration is only $99, that’s actually less than the cost for GC11! If you add in 5 nights’ lodging it comes out to $379. That’s based on the registration of $99 (except for delegates and vendors, for whom it’s $149), and five night’s lodging of $280, based on double occupancy. If three people were to share the room (each would still have their own bed), the cost would be $187 for the room plus $99 = $286 total per person. I don’t see how anyone would find that unreasonable. Of course food isn’t included.

    3) I don’t understand this critique of vacation. The patterns of rest that are built into creation (Daytime/nighttime, winter/summer) as well as the patterns of rest given to us in the weekly Sabbath and the year of Jubilee seem to me to be clear arguments for a vacation concept; a time of pulling away from carrying the load and enjoying the six days of creation. I am often quite public about when I am going to be on vacation as a way of encouraging others to follow my example. I know that part of our historical identity was to make people feel guilty when they were joy-filled or took pleasure in things. But I would reject any suggestion that we weren’t made for delight, including vacations!

    But beyond any tally-sheet; the reality is that we’re not just bean-counters, or simply running Excel spreadsheets to make decisions. We listen to the Spirit of God, we pray, we fast, we discern His leading. We’re primarily interested in what will happen inside the walls and inside the hearts and minds of participants in GC15. We understand that we can’t make everybody happy, that’s not our intention. We’re trying to lead the church toward a future that tracks with our identity, not slavishly or mechanically, but that tracks on the principles.

    When I read your blog I turned and said to Yvonne, “That could have been me 35 years ago.” When I was in seminary. Before I had walked a lifetime with the poor, slept in their beds, eaten at their tables, slept in bus stations, slept in pews, slept in airports. Loved them. Learned their language. Slept in train stations, tents, under the stars, crumpled in the back seats of cars, buses and middle seats on airplanes. Loving the rich and the poor comes from the same place in our hearts, doesn’t it? I witness to a heart that still loves and I know you do too.

    1. Bishop Roller, my concern is not the location of the GC, nor the price, nor even the advertising. But, with all due respect to you as well as Bishop Thomas and Bishop Kendall, I must stay that I have an underlying dis-ease about the direction of the FM Church. I have shared this with you and the other bishops in the past.

      You speak of “stewarding our heritage.” The point of my call to return to the ancient paths has nothing to do with our heritage. What do I hear in our teachings, and what do I not hear? I hear good stories. I hear business strategies. I hear about attractional activities. I do not hear a call to repentance from sin, nor a call to being baptized in the Holy Spirit so that we are no longer slaves to sin. We are to make disciples of all men, yes, but we are also to teach them to obey the commands of Jesus Christ.

      Because we do not call people (including churchgoers) to repentance from sin and to baptism with the Holy Spirit, I am concerned that we are becoming a “vanilla” denomination, teaching all the good things about God the Father and God the Son, but nothing of His judgment and righteousness, which is essential for a balanced understanding of the character, nature and will of our God. Our teaching seems to resemble the new teaching wave called hyper-grace, though I pray it is not so. Because we do not repent for sin and because we are not baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, we work in the natural rather than by the power of God.

      Upon what do I base that strong statement? FM missionaries who have been in the mission field for years come back to the U.S. and find rejection in the FM church. It should not be so, if we here in the U.S. have been filled with God’s Spirit. You know from your travels abroad that the FM Church here is different than the FM Church in other countries. It is not just a cultural difference — it is a spiritual difference. For this reason, I intercede before the Lord, and occasionally speak out.

      I love you with God’s love, Bishop Roller, and respect you as my spiritual authority. But I also call the whole FMUSA to repent and return to the ancient path — not heritage, but true holiness that can only come by way of baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.

      1. Pastor Sue, I think we have never met before, but you are making a point here. Eraste from Rwanda Free Methodist Church

    2. We attend family reunions about every three years and often the cost is nearly $400 a person, so I don’t find this unreasonable. However, our cost usually includes meals. Some of our family members putting the reunions together have a very hard time finding places that can adequately meet needs from young to older for 100 people. It does not stretch my imagination to realize the logistics for accommodating 1000 people. Blessings to you…and yes change can be hard.
      Carol Fisher

  7. As one of the bishops of the Free Methodist Church I’m pleased to respond to your concerns. Perhaps more than any one else we feel the responsibility of stewarding our heritage and we take seriously (and love!) the fervency early Free Methodists had for spreading holiness across this land. We have it too, and have lives that witness to integrity between what we say and what we do. So we take seriously pointed suggestions to the contrary.

    I get your intensity for a simple lifestyle; it’s also my own understanding of how we should live. Just yesterday I was working on ways to keep our 10 year old Honda Accord running a while longer! So we may be coming at this from similar starting points but arriving at different conclusions because of different understanding of how it will unfold. Or it might be that you have some incomplete information leading to some unwarranted conclusions about General Conference.

    We’ve carefully and thoughtfully worked to design GC15 as a seminal gathering of Free Methodists that we trust will provide critical tools for every church to be able to engage or re-engage their neighborhood and world along the lines of “Whole Church.” We’re focusing on the Nine Strategic Priorities of the church, trusting the Lord of the Harvest to use our best efforts for a joy-filled time of celebrating what He is doing and what He wants to do. I’d encourage you to not be eager to waylay these plans.

    In fact, there’s a certain irony in your critique in that we’re doing General Conference 2015 this way PRECISELY for missional and economic reasons! I hope you’ll appreciate the humor of that. Here are three reasons why I say that, and finally a personal reflection:

    1) The Free Methodist Church in the US needs to be more urban:
    Just because all some people know about Orlando is that it is the location for DisneyWorld, doesn’t mean that’s all there is. It is actually an extremely diverse city. As you probably know, Orlando is also the home to Campus Crusade, Pioneers, Story Runners, The Jesus Film, The Holy Land Experience, New Tribes, and Greater European Mission, among others. Along with Wheaton, IL and Colorado Springs, it is one of the three primary centers for US evangelical non-profits.

    2) The Free Methodist Church needs to stay frugal, both out of a concern to identify with the poor AND a concern to not take ministry dollars away from ministry. It’s weird that those two concerns don’t always line up. That is, we could have actually chosen a hotel that looked “poorer” but we would have wound up spending more money! We’ve tried to balance the “message” piece with the “economy” piece. Maybe we got it right, maybe we didn’t, but it wasn’t for lack of trying!

    Precisely because Orlando is a “destination site” there is much competition between airlines on their Orlando routes. These prices are inevitably cheaper than flights to secondary market destinations. Especially in July! We searched for a destination that would make the event most accessible to the greatest number of Free Methodists.

    The main reason we chose to have GC15 at the Caribe is that it was much less expensive than at one of our universities. In 2011 we paid the host college about $67,000 for the use of their facilities. Not an unfair price, given the costs to the college and their need to amortize their expenses. But in 2015, we are paying NOTHING for the use of Caribe’s conference facilities. And they’re facilities that are built for the attendance we hope to have; as opposed to any of our universities, where we’ve had to split groups between a number of buildings. The hotel is giving us the entire convention center at no cost, based upon our commitment to fill a number of their hotel rooms over the course of the event. So we are doing this event at the Caribe not because it is opulent, but because it is wise stewardship of the Lord’s money.

    You’ve mentioned a cost of $400. The actual cost for GC15 registration is only $99, that’s actually less than the cost for GC11! If you add in 5 nights’ lodging it comes out to $379. That’s based on the registration of $99 (except for delegates and vendors, for whom it’s $149), and five night’s lodging of $280, based on double occupancy. If three people were to share the room (each would still have their own bed), the cost would be $187 for the room plus $99 = $286 total per person. I don’t see how anyone would find that unreasonable. Of course food isn’t included.

    3) I don’t understand this critique of vacation. The patterns of rest that are built into creation (Daytime/nighttime, winter/summer) as well as the patterns of rest given to us in the weekly Sabbath and the year of Jubilee seem to me to be clear arguments for a vacation concept; a time of pulling away from carrying the load and enjoying the six days of creation. I am often quite public about when I am going to be on vacation as a way of encouraging others to follow my example. I know that part of our historical identity was to make people feel guilty when they were joy-filled or took pleasure in things. But I would reject any suggestion that we weren’t made for delight, including vacations!

    But beyond any tally-sheet; the reality is that we’re not just bean-counters, or simply running Excel spreadsheets to make decisions. We listen to the Spirit of God, we pray, we fast, we discern His leading. We’re primarily interested in what will happen inside the walls and inside the hearts and minds of participants in GC15. We understand that we can’t make everybody happy, that’s not our intention. We’re trying to lead the church toward a future that tracks with our identity, not slavishly or mechanically, but that tracks on the principles.

    When I read your blog I turned and said to Yvonne, “That could have been me 35 years ago.” When I was in seminary. Before I had walked a lifetime with the poor, slept in their beds, eaten at their tables, slept in bus stations, slept in pews, slept in airports. Loved them. Learned their language. Slept in train stations, tents, under the stars, crumpled in the back seats of cars, buses and middle seats on airplanes. Loving the rich and the poor comes from the same place in our hearts, doesn’t it? I witness to a heart that still loves, as I know yours does, too.

    1. Hmmm. I appreciate the frugality of saving “us” some cash. But the tone of the last paragraph left me disappointed. Playing the “you’re too young and haven’t seen suffering as I have” card is, to use a word from my now-lost youth, lame. And while yes, jubilee and sabbath are biblical values, applying them to mostly white, middle-class Americans seems…ill-advised. Certainly a week at Disneyland is not what “Jubilee” was about–unless we are going to be freeing the working class from their debts while we are there. :-). GC 2015 is just part of the issue. I fear we are starting to chase after worldly measures of “success” and “relevance”—and in 21st century American Christianity, that means chasing popularity and money. Nonetheless–I’ll probably be there in 2015. With my kids. Who will enjoy Disneyland. Ain’t none of us clean.

    2. Thanks, Bishop Roller, for helping us to understand the decision. Like the Free Methodist Feminist’s concern, my first reaction was to think about all my international friends who will come…even our college campuses and dining options have seemed extravagant to some of them, so bringing them to a resort in Orlando made me really uncomfortable! But then I realized it was the same discomfort I have experienced when FM friends from Haiti and Africa and Asia have stayed in John’s and my home here in the US. Our walls are lined with books–a “Fort Knox” of value! We have more than one car, more than one TV, more than one computer. The contrast between our lifestyle and theirs was right out there for them to see, and for us to own. No hiding! No fooling ourselves, either.

      Since you mention International Child Care Ministries as one possible better investment of $400–I’m not going to argue with that! I use that yardstick on everything I spend now, and it keeps challenging me. When I know that I can change a child’s life for a dollar a day, every dollar that slips through my fingers makes me stop and think. Thank you for making us think about how many kids could be helped by the cost of attending the event.

      Here’s where I’ve come to, after hearing the same facts that Bishop Roller quoted above. I recently visited the Caribe to start planning the amazing, globally-focused children’s programming that ICCM is organizing for 1st-6th graders. We’re going to have a huge, air conditioned space–big enough for some fun activities that would be hard to have outdoors in the heat. We’re also having ICCM’s 50th Anniversary banquet on the Tuesday of General Conference–and there will be a banquet room large enough for us to bring sponsors from all over the US and not overflow the place. (Last time we had to have our banquet at noon because the only room big enough was the same place that had to be reset for the evening services, so it couldn’t be done at dinner time.) On the weekend before GC at the Caribe, the Set Free Movement is going to have a huge anti-trafficking event with two benefit concerts–and ICCM will be featured, both with a trafficking-prevention project to protect kids and with children available for sponsorship. The creative missions space that you enjoyed at RWC will actually be much, much more central to all the activities this time than when it was held in the cafeteria at Pearce Church, where you had to make a point to look it up and hang out there. We’ve got even better plans for how to create spaces for hanging out with missionaries and national leaders at GC’15. And one more thing. One affordable housing option at the Caribe is condos with living rooms and full kitchens. If you want to do what my family did at General Conference even back when it was at Winona Lake, you can pack up your PB&J and a loaf of bread, some apples, chips and cereal and milk and never pay a penny for resort meals. I might even cook some rice and beans for our visiting friends who would find that the most hospitable option…

      Thanks for letting me give you a peek at the silver lining.

      Looking forward to an amazing time when God’s Spirit moves and God’s people catch the vision for reaching and serving the world in Jesus’ name.

      1. Linda,
        Great suggestion about packing meals. My family did that at the last GC and I’m sure my extended family is going to do the same this time around. I appreciate the feedback. Good points.

  8. I strongly agree with Bishop Roller’s response. I’d also like to say that the short (1-2 week) missions trips do cost money, and, yes, that money used for travel could be used by the local church or group that is receiving the missions team. But that’s not the point of the teams. I’ve been on 2 of these trips and the life-changing benefit that I received was incredible. It opened my heart to missions in a way that I’d never thought possible. Bonds created with believers across the globe were established and their faith and my faith were strengthened as we tried to communicate in broken English and hand gestures. The memories run deep. The tears of delight running down the face of a widow pastor when we made repairs to her home? Priceless to me. Praying with her and another lady from her congregation in her home and learning? Priceless to me. Oh, and then there are the bonds that were made with people from my church that were on my teams. Our home church is stronger because of bonds that were made years ago. Bottom line? I didn’t contribute anything of real value in terms of my construction skills, but that’s really not the point.

  9. I love what the Free Methodist Church once was and I am heartbroken by the direction that leadership has taken it in the last 15 to 20 years. It is my constant prayer and hope that I will be able to worship in a restored healthy FMC again some day. The Lord has given me a vision of that possibility. He has also shown me that it is only possible when men are willing to be broken, repent and are willing to restore what and whom they have destroyed. Until that day I plow, plant and pray over the field that he has set before me.

  10. What a wonderful conversation. Love what its being said and shared here.

    Bishop Roller, thank you for your response. It is genuinely compelling, well thought out, and winsome :).

    For all – My understanding of church history, Methodism, and Free Methodism is that we did things not because of the frugality but because of their ability to promote or discourage our growth in Christ. For instance, the church was suspect of rich foods because comfort causes our senses to be dulled and our lives to lose grace.

    In Wesley’s sermon on the “Causes of the inefficacy of Christianity” he outlines comfort as the leading cause of the “loss of grace.” This was a paradox to him. Good Christians become frugal and hard-workers, but by doing so they grow more comfortable and less Christian. He rails against Christianity as a system that destroys itself – unless, famously, we reject the allure of comfort and wealth and “give all we can.”

    The Free Methodist ethos follows this sermon. Traditionally we have only two marks of our church (1) to spread biblical Christianity and (2) to preach the gospel to the poor. There were a lot of ways to “preach” the gospel to the poor outlined in the 1860 BoD, but what I find so compelling is that we did so by embracing poverty.

    In clarifying my remarks earlier (which admittedly were uncalled for, harsh, and ungraceful – I am sorry), I want to say that being the good news to the poor is more than frugality. We didn’t wear gold, we built simple buildings, dressed simply, abstained from alcohol so that we could minister to the marginalized better. Our appearance, manners, words, and deeds were to be of and for the people. This speaks both to the idea of opulence and rest.

    My concern here stems from a larger concern that we are drifting into generic evangelicalism (if not dispensationalist fundamentalism with a reformed bent). Our history and theology is so profoundly wonderful, and the Caribe, to me, doesn’t seem congruent. The main reason: we are appealing to the broader, unhealthy cultural ideals of vacation, entertainment, efficiency, frugality, and comfort to promote our major vision and political gathering.

    The rub for me is that my generation has tried those ideals and found them wanting. We are longing for the passion and commitment of our spiritual ancestors who rode horseback and camped in tents because they bought into the vision. This isn’t our romanticism of the past, this is a new generation rising up and looking for a church who is making a difference in the world and its problems. Our historical and theological emphases position us perfectly to reach the post-modern world, but sometimes it seems like we are moving away from our best assets.

    I am sorry GC15 is getting the brunt of the criticism. E2 blew my expectations out of the water and the GC was amazing. It just feels like a microcosm of something larger; it feels like fears confirmed.

    Blessings all!

  11. THIS (http://fmcusa.org/uniquelyfm/) is the vision of the Bishops. Not all FM churches are healthy, some are dying, and perhaps others have been hurt by poor leadership. But this is where the Bishops want to see the FMC going, and they are working hard. I believe this is a wonderful vision that is Jesus-centered and love-centered. “Love God, love people, and make disciples”. Everything else (accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, being baptized, abstaining from and repenting of sins, reaching out in love to your community, how to use your money, how to be healthy–both personally and as a church–etc, etc, etc) are consequences of those three statements, and honestly may not look the same for each person. I think that judging the entire denomination by the location of GC15 is not fair and is a little petty. I understand having concerns, and some of which are certainly worth asking about, but writing about it publicly where it will be spread like wildfire…is that a Biblical way to share concerns? Or would it be more Biblical to contact the leaders personally first before publicly calling them out as poor leaders who will cause the end of Free Methodism as we know it (perhaps a slight exaggeration :))? I know this day in age we are quick to share our thoughts and feelings on the internet–and that’s our right as free Americans. Just something like this, that is sharing facts that aren’t exactly facts, is this the wisest way to go about it? I just think of Matt 18:15: “If a believer does something wrong, go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer”. I feel that no matter the person, or their level or lack thereof in leadership, that this should always be our practice.

    1. Katrina,
      I appreciate your comments. I also agree with the bishops vision for the denomination and have great respect for them. This blog post came after months of praying about wording and how best to approach the topic. My blog has always been a place for discussion and there was only promotion, no discussion about GC15 in denominational publications and literature. Thus, the need to post my article. I am an academic and free lance journalist. I see this letter more as an editorial than calling anyone out. Calling people out was not my intent. It’s certain GC plans/location I am concerned about; not personally attacking people.

      The concerns I posted I feel are legitimate and this space is a space for all leaders and Free Methodists to dialogue. I was very intentional in my letter not to address it to the bishops because these first world, developing world concerns are issue we need to think about at all levels of leadership in North America. They are issues for everyone to consider, because most, if not all of, probably have done form of leadership at our local church or somewhere else in ministry.

    2. While the vision of the Free Methodists is acceptable, the practical application may not be. The promotional literature called to the worldliness of Christians today instead of to their called-out-ness. Re-read BT Roberts, sure lets gather as a church as is our practice, lets do it at Orlando, even at the Caribe, but let us not parade our worldly attitude by appealing for vacation. What are we to be vacationing from?
      General Conference is not about a vacation. It is about connecting, conducting business for the Kingdom, The message may be good at the foundation but our distinctive has always been the separation from the world and separation to and for God. From all I am reading in the comments it is not that the GC is in a vacation spot but that it was advertised as a vacation, and this is contrary to our mission and our heritage, and our distinctive calling.

      Lets watch how we speak in our Lord’s business.

  12. Great Vision but what does it really mean?

    THIS (http://fmcusa.org/uniquelyfm/) is the vision of the Bishops. Not all FM churches are healthy, some are dying, and perhaps others have been hurt by poor leadership. But this is where the Bishops want to see the FMC going, and they are working hard. I believe this is a wonderful vision that is Jesus-centered and love-centered. “Love God, love people, and make disciples”. Everything else (accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, being baptized, abstaining from and repenting of sins, reaching out in love to your community, how to use your money, how to be healthy–both personally and as a church–etc, etc, etc) are consequences of those three statements, and honestly may not look the same for each person.

    I would personally love to know what constitutes a dying church? We loved God, loved people and were making disciples. Yet my FM church was closed due to poor financial decisions made by the leadership of the FM church long before most of the current congregation even attended. Closed when Sunday morning numbers were creeping up, we were serving our community to the point the Mayor even mentioned our little church at council meetings, we were being called by the school to engage in more activities with them, we served the last, lowest & least (after school assemblies sharing the gospel, prison ministry, bread ministry, meals, community bible studies on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursdays growing weekly). Monthly outreach events where the gospel was shared, networking with the other churches in our community to serve the community in several ways. Does this sound like dying. Quite the opposite the only problem communicated by the conference leadership was financial none of it proved profitable enough for the FREE Methodist church. I guess FREE isn’t free anymore.

    We were their Isaiah 61 church but even that wasn’t enough! Maybe its time to stop putting together more Initiative teams and start standing by the churches living these initiatives out in their communities. Stop declaring your churches dead without so much as a visit to see what’s really going on. Numbers on a annual report or a bank account don’t always tell the whole story.

    1. Did you continue to do what God Called you to do when the church was shut down?

      God said that whoever did for the least of these did for Him. If you have closed those avenues of outreach. Reopen them and then find a venue to reopen the church, on your own. It will be more vital without the trappings of the old, vital with God’s business. Then return to the Church and request admission to fellowship in the conference.
      But don’t thumb your nose at them. That isn’t nice. Love suffers all and is kind.

      Have you read Mary Alice Tenney’s book on The early Free Methodist Women. She characterized them within the statements of the Love chapter. one of the vignettes was the Pentecost Bands led by Vivian Dake. Particularly the women’s band ministering in Illinois. The final comment by Tenney was that when the fervor of the PBs were removed from the church it quit growing. this is corroborated by Marston in From Age to AGE.

  13. Gary

    Please understand I wasn’t thumbing my nose at them. I apologize if it seemed like that. I was and am just trying to understand it all. This has and continues to be a difficult time for the congregation (some of which have been there long before my family arrived).

    We had our last service as FM last Sunday. We have found other venues for most of our ministries. It just saddens me that the numbers seemed to be the only important thing to our conference.

    Yes to your question, we have continued to do what God has called us to do. As a congregation we have agreed God isn’t done with us in our community.

    Some of the long time FM members are having a really hard time with this decision by the FM conference, so I am not sure seeking a FM fellowship will happen. But only God knows what is in store for us. I have been working with the conference doing what I can to make this transition easier for all of us. I nor my husband are the bridge burning type of Christians. We believe even through this we need to be a reflection of Jesus Christ in all we say and do.

    Thanks for the recommendation on the book. I will read it.

    Blessings!

    1. Stephanie,
      My comment about the nose was more for my own benefit. than for yours. I had no thought that you would I am glad to hear that you are continuing God’s work.
      My Brother is a FM pastor of 40 years and the CSupt. is not reappointing him to his charge. The congregation is going to follow him by their choice. I am only looking to watch God take the work and multiply it. As I understand it, they are going to try to remain in the fold, but without the meeting place. But I may have it wrong.

      I have begun to see God work that way in my own life. When one is committed to walking with God, expect the blessings.

      God Bless you and your work.
      Gary

  14. I know you’re probably all moved on from this conversation, but I wanted to thank you. As a “grafted in” member of the Free Methodist family, I love what God has done in our past. I have hope for what is happening today, and the directions we can be called/moved in the future. I was slightly uncomfortable by some of the plans for GC15 as well, and know even many teenagers who had questions about it as it was presented at FMYC 2014. On the surface, it certainly seemed like we’d “Left Behind” some of our heritage…enough that even 10th graders were asking. I’m thankful for the Bishop’s response above, and even for the words by members in response to him – calling for a continued examination of how we can best embody and share both the Love of God, and Love for God.

    I feel like I’ve entered a room where ya’ll have been sitting and having a conversation for a while….then froze in time. I caught audio of that conversation, and felt the desire to burst in giving ya’ll a hug. Glad to call you each family.

    I don’t think I’ll make GC15, but it sounds like some good things are in store. I’ll be praying for a Fresh Wind of God’s Spirit to blow through the work, play, rest, prayer, worship, service, encouragement, and Church happening there…

  15. I know you’re probably all moved on from this conversation, but I wanted to thank you. As a “grafted in” member of the Free Methodist family, I love what God has done in our past. I have hope for what is happening today, and the directions we can be called/moved in the future. I was slightly uncomfortable by some of the plans for GC15 as well, and know even many teenagers who had questions about it as it was presented at FMYC 2014. On the surface, it certainly seemed like we’d “Left Behind” some of our heritage…enough that even 10th graders were asking. I’m thankful for the Bishop’s response above, and even for the words by members in response to him – calling for a continued examination of how we can best embody and share both the Love of God, and Love for God.

    I feel like I’ve entered a room where ya’ll have been sitting and having a conversation for a while….then froze in time. I caught audio of that conversation, and felt the desire to burst in giving ya’ll a hug. Glad to call you each family.

    I don’t think I’ll make GC15, but it sounds like some good things are in store. I’ll be praying for a Fresh Wind of God’s Spirit to blow through the work, play, rest, prayer, worship, service, encouragement, and Church happening there…

  16. After having gone to General Conferences for years… each one was so exciting and challenging.. our 5 children have been influenced much by the ‘larger’ church out there. So I am glad to see we can ‘keep up with the times’ and remain spiritual.. So much wording is only worrying about how we express ourselves… from the east/west/north/south.
    Terrific LOVE God pours out on all of us from the farthest regions…
    Let us LOVE, PUSH, ENCOURAGE one another..
    God bless us all…….

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