Love does not insist on its own way.– 1 Corinthians 13:5
The end-of-the-year statistical reports for the Alexandria District churches are almost complete. All churches have reported but one. So we do not have total for the district, but we do have indications of churches that have seen increases in average worship attendance and/or professions of faith in 2019. Overall, we will see a decrease in both, but the exact amount of the decrease awaits the last church getting its report in! It is not surprising that 2019 was a difficult year for United Methodist Churches, due to a big dose of negative publicity that arose from the February 2019 called General Conference in St. Louis.
In spite of that challenge, however, we have seen notable gains among our Alexandria District churches in 2019. Eight churches had increases in both average worship attendance and professions of faith (Cokesbury, Gainesville, Grace, Kingstowne Communion, New Life International at Fairfax, Roberts Memorial, Sudley, and Trinity). Fourteen other churches had increases in average worship attendance (Good Shepherd, Haymarket, Mount Vernon, New Life International at St. Andrew’s, New Light, Saint George’s, Saint John’s, Saint Thomas (Manassas), Springfield, Sydenstricker, Washington Farm, Wesley, Wesley Chapel, and Woodlawn-Faith). Fifteen other churches had increases in professions of faith (Asbury, Bethel (Fauquier), Bethel (Woodbridge), Beverley Hills, Christ, Cranford, Del Ray, Dumfries, Fairfax, Fairlington, Messiah, Old Bridge, Orlean, Saint Matthew’s, and Warrenton). A total of 37 out of 56 congregations had an increase in 2019 over 2018, in one or both of these key indicators.
For 2020, our goal continues to be to make more disciples of Jesus Christ next year than we did last year. These two indicators (worship attendance and professions of faith) are among the best we have to measure how well we are doing. I encourage us to continue to seek new ways to make more disciples, as well as to find new ways to measure how we are doing it. We will need to experiment, risk, learn from one another.
Financially, the Alexandria District churches fell off significantly for our connectional ministry apportionment support in 2019, due to decreased giving in a few churches. In both 2015 and 2016, we contributed 89.7% of what we were apportioned. In 2017, we contributed 92.5%. In 2018, we gave 82.0%. In 2019, we gave just 73.5% Across the entire Virginia Conference, apportionment support decreased from 89.9% in 2017, to 88.0% in 2018, to 84.4% in 2019, a 3.6% decrease. Thank you to all of the churches who faithfully supported the connection-wide missions and ministries through the payment of apportionments.
As we look ahead in 2020, we have reason to hope for a better outcome at the General Conference in May in Minneapolis than we had last February in St. Louis. Early in January 2020, an unofficial group of denominational leaders released a proposal called “Protocols of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” This document was drafted, with the help of mediator Kenneth Feinberg, with participation from leaders of the traditional, centrist, and progressive parts of the church, as well as persons from Africa, Europe, Philippines, and the United States. It includes the authors of several other plans which were submitted last September, and all of those authors have agreed to lay aside their original plans in order to support this new protocol. Instead of being assertive about the plans that they wrote, all sides have agreed to not insist on their own plans but to make sacrifices and compromises to arrive at a plan that competing sides agree on.
News media coverage of the release of this “Protocols” document early in January was more sensational than necessary, stating alarmingly that the United Methodist Church was about to split! That’s good headlines, but it is not accurate. The protocols do not call for a split between opposing sides, but rather for a separation that all sides have agreed to. The agreement is about bringing a space of peace where there has been conflict, by creating a new expression of United Methodism and providing financial support to do so. It is not contentious or acrimonious as the word “split” implies. Rather, it is a way of finding reconciliation over long-standing disagreements and of extending grace and blessings among those who have been disagreeing. I plan to have a series of lunches with the active clergy on the district to discuss the implications of these protocols, should the General Conference adopt them in May. I also plan to have a series of evening meetings with lay leaders on the district for the same purpose. To me, these protocols offer more hope for the United Methodist Church to move forward in our mission without a repeat of last February, which was a disaster. Indeed, if the protocols are adopted in May at General Conference, we may well be able to redouble our focus again on making disciples without being consumed by our disagreements on LGBTQ inclusion.
I invite all of us to keep praying. In these days of increasing political polarization, may God help the United Methodist Church to find the way of peace, as a witness to how we can live by the power of love, which Jesus has given to be the hope and the salvation of the whole world.
Grace and Peace,
Attached is a fascinating description of our current mission field, with theological, sociological, and pastoral insights that resonate well for our Northern Virginia mission field. It comes from the Texas Methodist Foundation, and is written by Lisa Greenwood. I commend it to you: https://www.tmf-fdn.org/assets/uploads/docs/Mixed_Ecology-Final.pdf