November 4, 2019
Dear members and friends of FUMC,
In this past weekend’s sermon, I talked about grief and loss and I shared with you some important information about our church and a proposed name change for First United Methodist Church. If you were in worship this past weekend, most of this will sound familiar as this comes directly from my sermon. If you would like to hear or read the sermon in its entirety, you can find it located here! I’ll also be sharing more about this proposed change in my weekly VLOG which can be found on our website and APP, as well as in the next two weekends’ sermons as we continue to talk about values in our church and in our lives.
The leadership for our church has been talking for several years about a church name change would better reflect who we are, and who we hope to become as a church. In research and personal interviews, we have learned that many who are outside the church are not familiar with denominations, which is most people in today’s world. We also hear that they will not visit the church, or consider going to one that begins with, “First…” I hear things like, “Do you think you’re the best? FU anything sounds funny and crude…what are you trying to say? Does the cross and flame symbol mean you are connected to the KKK?” I realized those of us inside the church may not see those connections, but I have heard all of those on multiple occasions from people not familiar with our church.
I want to be clear that this change would be only about our name. We will not be changing pastors, ministries, staff, our denominational affiliation, or the heart of who we are called to be as followers of Jesus, which is captured in our core values. Our primary identity in our vision statement will remain, “Being Jesus Christ to the World,” along with our mission of, “Building Community, Changing Lives and Bringing Hope.”
The Directional Team (formerly Church Council or something like an elder board in many churches) at their October 8 meeting, voted to bring before the entire church at our December 10 4:30 p.m. all Church Annual Meeting, also known as a Charge Conference, the name “Summit Church – a United Methodist Congregation.” If the vote is affirmative, the name change would take effect on January 1, 2020. Every member has a vote and every person has a voice and can ask questions at the Charge Conference.
There are numerous reasons this name was chosen after reflecting on many other names put forth by the leadership of the church. After spending much time in prayer, it was clear to our leadership that the name “Summit Church” captures our location in our region and who we long to become as we seek to be Jesus Christ to the world. There are many Biblical references to mountains. (Genesis 8:4, Exodus 19:17-20, Isaiah 2:2, 52:7, 54:10, Micah 1:4, 4:1, Nahum 1:15, Psalm 72:3, 94:1-5, 121:1-2, Matthew 5:1-7, 14:23-24, 17:1-3, 20.) Jesus often went to the mountains to speak, pray and connect with God. Mountains represent a place where people connect with God, giving us a metaphor of intimacy between humanity and God. “Summit” ties in well with the idea that our Christian life is a journey as the word “summit” can be a verb or a noun.
We believe this name can have longevity and is faith based. We hope the image will resonate with those who are spiritually questioning, and one of our core values is to connect with those who are wrestling with faith. Our church has changed its name at least 5 times in our 137-year history, the last being in 1968, so this is not the first time a name change has been considered or needed.
In the near term, we would remain a United Methodist Church and that would be on our sign in smaller letters underneath the name, “Summit Church.” If there is a change in the denomination that requires us to choose a different affiliation, we don’t envision this happening for at least 1-2 years and possibly longer. There is a strong possibility that we will be required to change our name in the next 4 years because of struggles in the wider United Methodist Church.
Paraphrasing Andy Grove: “Bad organizations are destroyed by crisis. Good organizations survive them. Great organizations are improved by them.” We want to focus on what unites us rather than what divides and stay connected with who we are and whose we are. Changing our name would allow us to stay focused on our vision and mission in the coming years. While the current season of divisiveness in the UMC speeds up the timeline for a name change, we do not want to respond to what may happen in the future, but proactively cast vision.
Further questions about this name change proposal can be directed to Directional or Adaptive Team members or church staff. You can find these persons listed on our website here! They also will be present the next two weekends in worship, wearing lanyards so you can identify them and ask them questions.
Here’s where I want to get personal with you. I have been the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Durango for 17 years and every church I have served has had Methodist in its name. I feel grief over this change myself, and I know I need to sit with that for a bit. Eventually, as your pastor, I must decide if I will let changes such as these tear me down or help transform me into a better pastor and leader for this congregation moving into the year 2020 and beyond. I want to be clear that I value being part of a structure where there is accountability for me, and we will always be connected to some large church body that helps provide that. I also have accountability to our Directional Team, and as I said earlier, we still will be part of the United Methodist Church until something happens with our denomination in the next few years.
What I do know is that SOMETHING will happen and there will most likely be a splintering. We have no control or even much input in those decisions. I wish that were not the case, but as with other areas of our culture today, there are extremes which seem to control the conversation and make it difficult to have fruitful discussion. I do know that if we spend much time and energy on what is happening at a denominational level, we will lose focus on what God is calling us to do here in this community. This is the main reason you don’t hear me talk about this in weekend sermons. We will have opportunities in 2020 to hear more information what is happening in the wider UMC in other settings outside of worship for those with questions.
One of the reasons for this name change is to help keep us focused on what brings us together as a church in this community and not get embroiled in what is coming. We will talk more about this name change in the next couple of weeks, but what I know is that some of you will be saying, “Sounds fine…great, let’s do it!” Many of you are not here because we are Methodist, but because we are a great church and we have values that you value, and those things will not change.
Some, however, like me, will have some grief, and that’s okay too. If we look to the example of Jesus, more than anything else, we learn that prayer is at the center of following Christ, both in times of grief and times of joy. As I shared this past weekend in my sermon, Jesus said that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. Some things must die, so we can get unstuck and experience life to the full. That’s why loss and grief for some of us is the best thing that has ever happened. Yes, it is horrible. We find ourselves face down before God, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are overwhelmed. We’re at our limit. We feel like we’re going to die, but God wants us to know that this is the way that leads to resurrection. But before that resurrection comes, remember there’s a burial and there’s a waiting and there’s a transition.
Because of this Gospel truth, I don’t worry about denominational upheaval. God will be God and there will be a church and we’ll be fine. Here is a truth that many don’t want to admit in our UMC system. The United Methodist Church has been declining EVERY YEAR since it was formed when the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Churches combined in 1968. Our local church has been an exception to that trend over the past 15 years. I am convinced that the only way to life is through grief and loss and that is true of our denomination and in our local church setting here at FUMC.
Whether it’s in the church, or in our personal lives, we must often choose to let go if we want to experience transformation. The promise from Christ is that it is only when something dies that it will produce many seeds.
I want to be a follower of Jesus who invites the losses and griefs of my life to cause my heart to become soft, malleable and open to God. I believe God will use pain to grow and transform my soul, if I am open to the Holy Spirit. It is then that we can become a gift to others. I wish there was another way for transformation to happen, but our faith teaches us that our journey with Christ that brings lasting and life-giving change only comes through the cross, which ultimately leads to resurrection.
I look forward to sharing in this journey in the years ahead.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Jeff Huber