Day 3- Legislating Faithfulness


by Amy Coles

Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I see that our voyage will suffer damage and great loss, not only for the cargo and ship but also for our lives.” 11 But the centurion was persuaded more by the ship’s pilot and captain than by Paul’s advice.12 Since the harbor was unsuitable for spending the winter, the majority supported a plan to put out to sea from there. They thought they might reach Phoenix in Crete and spend the winter in its harbor, which faced southwest and northwest.

41 But they struck a sandbar and the ship ran aground. The bow was stuck and wouldn’t move, and the stern was broken into pieces by the force of the waves. Acts 27:10-12, 41 (CEB)

coles1As the voting results regarding “Rule 44” were displayed, my heart sank.  The General Conference had voted down the possibility of addressing particular subjects “through a group discernment process leading to a plenary decision.”  After two mornings of debate, which is an extraordinary amount of time considering the volume of work we must cover, we’d chosen to continue to set the course of the church through voting, guided by “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

On one hand, it made sense.  Pulling together 864 delegates from across the world and expecting them to trust each other is a bit of stretch.  Yet on the other hand, how would we ever build that trust if we didn’t allow ourselves to be placed in situations where we might talk with one another, seeking to hear each other’s point of view in the hope that in the midst of the conversation, the voice, the direction of God might become clearer to us all.

In the New Testament, the only recorded majority vote, found in the 27th chapter of Acts, ended in a shipwreck.  Paul, a prisoner on the ship, sought to warn the centurion guarding him of impending danger if they continued on their voyage.  The ship’s pilot and captain felt differently, and when they put the matter to a vote, the majority supported moving on to Phoenix in Crete.  In doing so, they were buffeted about in a storm, running aground in Malta.

It was a fitting image for how I felt as I saw the bar graph showing 355 “yes” and 477 “no” flash on the screen.  In my opinion, we’d ignored the wisdom of those who were calling us to risk following a different path.  Hearing claims of “we’re not ready,” I wondered about the familiarity and “safety” of just remaining stuck.   I questioned whether I’d return to Charlotte from Portland with the news, nothing much changed.

coles2Thankfully, there’s something deep in my soul that will not allow myself to languish in that kind of defeat for long.  I resonated with Bishop Palmer when he proclaimed as a part of the Episcopal Address, “I refuse to live into discouragement and despair.”  While the “body” may have defeated a “process” for group discernment, they didn’t have the power to keep me from taking the initiative to seek out others for conversation, for prayer, for discernment.  While our vote to “keep doing it the way we’ve always done it” may have, for a time, ensured that we stayed stuck in the muck and mire of maintaining the institution, I believe that where two or three are gathered, the Spirit’s presence among us can break us free for new and exciting opportunities for ministry in this world.

As is so often the case, I get caught up in thinking that we can and should legislate faithfulness.  Not so!  It’s about acting faithfully and trusting God with the outcome.

In the days to come, I’m committed to learn from my sister from East Congo what it takes to grow a church from 12 to 78 in a year.  I want to talk with my brother from the Mozambique and learn how they train lay speakers there.  I will take time to learn about intentional communities in Florida in which young adults seek to discern where God is calling them to serve, and I’ll investigate specific ways that the church can lead the way in taking care of the fragile earth on which we live.

I continue to have hope for our work here in Portland.  We covet your prayers, that we might be open the Spirit’s guidance in setting the next course for this missionary journey we call The United Methodist Church.

Rev. Amy Coles is the assistant to the bishop for the Western North Carolina Conference, and a clergy delegate to General Conference.

Resources for Vital Congregations



Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor

GBHEM Leadership Resources


Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church

Englewood Book Review

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Ted Talks: The Golden Circle

Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability

Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability

Design Thinking

Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians


Be A Disciple

A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations


Living As United Methodist Christians

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials

Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today

John Wesley Sermons: Anthology


Get Their Name

Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit

Canoeing the Mountains

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People

Community: The Structure of Belonging


Institute for Emerging Issues

Congregations 4 Children


The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants

The Duke Endowment


The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:

  • Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
  • Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.

We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at


  • Resources
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