The United Methodist Church is at a turning point in history. Churches in the Methodist tradition have been at a number of these points, such as 60 years ago when we received women into full ordination. Now, we have a new set of issues and concerns, and voices from both sides are beginning to talk about divisions in the church. I do not want the church I love to split. Our witness to the world will be best served by remaining together, in love and service to each other and the world. However, if we were to create a new structure in which we kept the Wesleyan tradition and did not remain the United Methodist Church, how would it look?
This past week I was invited to envision the future of the church as a house with two tables, where currently we have one. In this image, one table retains and enforces the current language of the United Methodist Discipline, and the other moves to a more progressive position in consideration of LGBT persons. Both tables remain under the same Methodist roof. This image is deeply troubling to me because the strongest witness of our church in the world is the open table where we share Communion together.
What if we thought about the United Methodist Church as a sailboat?
The Bible is our compass, pointing us towards the true direction.
Wesleyan tradition is our rudder, steering us in our journey.
Our worship, where our lives come into contact with the living God, are our sails, raised on the mast of faith.
The Spirit of God, the wind that propels us forward and sustains us in the mission of the church, sends us through the world, the ocean that reaches further than the eye can see.
We move through this world right now with one hull, joined together in a single denomination, propelled by the momentum of our calling and structure. Local churches are the crew that do the continual tasks of adjusting the sails and tending to the different ways that God continues to inspire us as we skim through the world.
Regularly, we gather together in our galley, around a single table, the table of shared Communion, the open table that invites all who are hungry and broken to come and feast together. We cannot lose this table.
But what if we need to reorganize our structure? What if we became a church with two hulls? What if we became a catamaran?
A catamaran is a sailboat with two hulls that each run through the water, joined together by the structure of the rest of the boat. It still uses the same compass, the same wheel and rudder system, the same sails that harness the wind and propel the boat through the water. There is still one galley, still one table.
But two hulls.
A ship with a single hull runs deeper; its strength derives from its design. However, a ship with two hulls requires a stronger and yet extremely lightweight structure that can skim over the reefs and rocks that lie beneath the surface, enabling movement to the far reaches of the ocean.
Each hull shares the weight of the whole with the other, while still maintaining its own form. Our structure would be founded on a progressive base and conservative base balancing each other, sharing structure, and gathering at our common open table.
Sent into the world by the power of the risen Lord through the wind of the Spirit in the wisdom of God, the church as a ship follows the direction of the Bible, our living compass. This remains the case whether we have one hull or two.
The mission, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, remains the same.
The images we use to talk about our future are critical. I offer this image of the church as a sleek and fast catamaran, a framework to use as we consider our witness in the world.
Rev. Kathy Randall Bryant is a pastor, married to a pastor, and the daughter of a pastor. After Duke Divinity School she served in local church ministry for 5 years as a provisional Elder in the Western NC Conference, now she’s taking a break from full-time ministry to be a full-time mother to her first child. She loves the United Methodist Church in all of its beautiful messiness. Find her on twitter @KathyRandall and more of her writing at KathyRandall.wordpress.com.