Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Letter to the Bishop

Lots has been going on around here, and since I don't have very many readers of this blog, I'm assuming if you're here, you already know what's going on. So, here's my letter to the bishop that I e-mailed last night and will be snail mailing today if I don't get some sort of response:

Bishop Wills and Rev. Mabry,

I have personally experienced many emotions over the past days as I have tried to understand the recent events of the Tennessee Conference. At first I was angry that two friends in ministry of mine had been treated in a way that left them upset. Then I became gravely concerned about the future of the children, youth, and young adult ministries of the Tennessee Conference. And finally, I became very saddened at the lack of communication that I have witnessed.

I believe that the situation with the program ministries of the Tennessee Conference is one of the gravest disasters our conference has ever made. Not because Beth Morris and Susan Groseclose are no longer employed by the Tennessee Conference (though I do mourn that fact), but because there has been a systematic breakdown in the organization of the Tennessee Conference.

My husband, Mark Hagewood, and I drafted a resolution that we will be sending to the Annual Conference for inclusion in the Pre-Conference booklet to be discussed during Annual Conference that affirms the importance of these age-level ministries in the Conference and calls for these positions to be reinstated. You can read this resolution online at I do not know what the outcome of this resolution will be, but I will do my best to see that this conversation is had at Annual Conference, whatever transpires between now and then.

I have been reading the e-mails and blogs that have circulated over the past few days as we try to understand what has happened, and the bottom line is, we don't. I have heard from several people who have spoken with you both directly, but I am very interested to hear from you myself before I make my own decisions about the future. The past is another story.

I am open to change. I understand that the way we've been doing ministry is no longer cutting it in our world, as the church loses members left and right every year. Change keeps us focused on the goal. We need to be looking forward, developing leaders, reaching out to others in new and innovative ways.

But the keyword here is WE. In the responses I have heard from people who have talked with you, you have mentioned a new vision, a re-structuring. It is my understanding that vision comes from the community, is embraced by those involved, and shared with those affected. A vision is not a top-down mandate, where the one in charge tells others what their vision will be. Your words say vision—your actions say agenda.

Even if the vision you have for the children, youth, and young adult ministries of the Tennessee Conference is a wonderful, God-inspired vision, the path you have taken to "share" that vision has alienated the very people you should need and want as a part of that vision. I am appalled that not one of the persons currently active in children's, youth, or young adult ministry has to this point even been told officially of what has occurred. We spend a great deal of time and energy working to sustain and develop the ministries of this conference, and I personally feel completely shut out of the current process. The connectionalism of the United Methodist Church works when we use it to its fullest ability. It's a system set in place for the furthering of visions and plans. When you go outside of the system, it dilutes it, and renders it useless for the future.

I have experience with the political system of the United Methodist Church. I've been a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference twice now, a member of the Annual Conference for nine years, and served on the Annual Conference and Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference Youth organizations. My father is a pastor in this conference. I know politics are involved, and that we often hold our cards close when we don't trust the other people involved. But how are we to be in ministry with people we don't trust?

As I write this letter, 278 people have signed the resolution in agreement of having the positions reinstated. Whatever the vision for the future is, it is imperative that we have staff persons who see that the present transforms into the future. We cannot place a break in time by halting what is currently going on with vague plans in the future to start up again with something new. Ministry is an ever-flowing experience, and we all know change in the church happens slowly. While a new vision for the future may be called for and interpreted, we cannot dismiss the past and present for the sake of that future.

I hope that you will engage me in your conversations with those concerned about the ministries of the Tennessee Conference. In seeking God's will, we will, together, find God's presence and vision for our church.

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