Joy, hope, and energy amid the struggle

Secular news coverage makes it seem like the United Methodist Church is on its deathbed, but I’ve seen something different

John I. Carney
9 min readDec 14, 2023

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The author (John I. Carney) and Rev. Chip Hunter are seen in a low-angle selfie with the 40-foot-tall Memorial Cross at the University of the South in Sewanee towering over them.
One day, Chip Hunter and I were killing time between scheduled conferences and we did a little sightseeing. This is the Memorial Cross, on a mountain overlook at the University of the South in Sewanee.

There’s a famous — and slightly mis-worded — Mark Twain quote: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Twain did say something similar to that, but according to Mental Floss it was in the context of a paragraph and the actual wording was a little less pithy:

“I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

There’s been a lot of news coverage about disaffiliations from the United Methodist Church. I discussed that issue in a post last summer. Most of the disaffiliations, sadly, have been based on fear and misinformation, in some cases being spread recklessly by people with axes to grind. I won’t repeat that whole explanation here.

If all you were reading were the outside news reports, you might think that the UMC — which had, like other mainline denominations, already been suffering from declining attendance in the U.S. — was somehow at death’s door.

But I have just spent two and a half months visiting the vast majority of United Methodist churches in my region, and I’m pleased to tell you that there’s something else going on.

I am the lay leader for the Stones River District of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference of the UMC. The district is led by our district superintendent, the Rev. Chip Hunter. Let me clarify that anything I write here is my own personal opinion or observation; I do not speak for the district or the conference or the denomination.

Each year, a United Methodist church (or, in some cases, a two-point or three-point “charge” of small, rural churches that share the same pastor) holds what is called a charge conference — a business meeting, which must be chaired by the district superintendent or another ordained elder of his choosing. At this meeting, the administrative leaders of the local church are…

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike