A poli-sci geek’s reflections on the state of the UMC

By Spencer Hall Special Contributor I would like to start with a story about a woman running for county judge. Without money, sizeable staff or prior campaign experience, she began going door to door, eventually meeting a sizeable majority of her community in person. This process took months, and over time the visits resulted in volunteers who themselves went out, further spreading the word about her candidacy. Come election time, sitting outside a precinct and expecting to find high levels of national office excitement, I was amazed to see carloads of voters arrive to vote for her, often having to re-register party affiliation to do so. Somehow, one person had come from nowhere and outperformed all expectations. Spencer HallThe members of the Magazine Charge (Pioneer Memorial, Waveland, Magazine and Moore’s Chapel UMCs) allowed me to be their voice and vote at this year’s Annual Conference, for which I am deeply appreciative. My background is in political science, a passion that holds a great deal of influence on the way I view the world, as well as on my job as the Magazine Charge’s single lay member of this body. Arriving at Annual Conference only days into a mid-primary season break in election studies, and still in campaign study mode, I took to the Conference literature like a first semester student (I read it all, highlighter in hand and Wikipedia open). Upon blazing through the pre-Conference material, and in continued novice fashion, I quickly concluded that we were doomed as a church. After all, what winning candidate had ever striven for one new vote (or, in the case of our Next Steps Trajectory, one new baptism, profession of faith or worship attendee)? Moreover, candidates do not try to look like their community; they mobilize vote bases. And the big-tent strategy hadn’t worked since FDR. Like any studious freshman, I was restless, knowing that I had to share my knowledge and save the church from its ill-fated campaign strategy. I knew what we needed. We needed to bring in big data. We needed regression analytics on attendance figures. We needed to know how everything affected anything. In essence, we needed to stop running a church and start running a campaign, and it was these thoughts that flooded my mind the first day of Annual Conference. Luckily, even in my haze, I knew that my pastor (who also happens to be my mom) is smarter than I am. Following her advice, I took the time to listen, to stifle my inner wonk (he’s loud) and truly pay attention to what was going on at Conference. Yes, Adam Hamilton’s message about our rate of decline terrified me, and bringing the tellers in for a vote did send my mind racing to the existence of cleavages in the church. (Was it demographic? Maybe age? Geographic? I definitely needed to get a survey out and find out what was driving opinion on issues.) It was only several weeks after Annual Conference that it dawned on me what an amazing Church we have. The UMC battles malaria, feeds children, ministers to the sick and even takes time from global conferencing to do relief work. I can’t describe the pride I have in our denomination for so many things. It turns out that we are not a political candidate or party, and we are not just a church; we are United Methodists. In my panic over our dropping membership rolls and closed churches, I had the energy to run through the streets begging people to come to church, to save the church from extinction. I know now that I was rash to so quickly despair at our prognosis. We need the exact calm that was advocated in our sessions, the clarity and passion that were delivered in the sermons and the joy that was shared in the retiree videos. We have a great platform, we have a great staff, and theoretically, Jesus Christ would be our candidate, so that checks out as solid as well. All we need is the patience and diligence of that candidate for county judge, the poli-sci wonk equivalent to a mustard seed. That is all it takes to continue being the amazing denomination that we are for as many generations as can maintain such faithful persistence, pursuing lives of service and reaching out to one potential new Christian at a time. That, sisters and brothers, should give us all the hope and energy we need. Hall is pursuing a master’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He may be reached at sch011@uark.edu.