Free Methodists from throughout the United States met in the Midwest on three late September days to worship, pray and learn how to implement their bishops’ call to “embrace all.”
West Morris Church in Indianapolis hosted the conference that explored this call from the bishops’ nine strategies (fmcusa.org/uniquelyfm): “We will improve our reach to the poor and disenfranchised and create a normalcy for multicultural ministry by rewarding and celebrating churches that minister to the hurting, broken and people unlike themselves.”
The Embrace All Conference opened with worship and a message from Kenny Martin, the lead pastor of John Wesley FMC in Indianapolis.
“There needs to be some restoration that must happen if we’re going to embrace all,” Martin said. “There are some churches that are wounded, and we need healing in the church that will flow across the land, because our nation is wounded and divided.”
John Wesley Pastors Estelle Martin and Donna Saylor then led the conference in prayers of repentance. Participants divided into groups of three people with one person praying for our nation, another for our cities, and another for our churches.
West Morris Senior Pastor Kristen Bennett Marble shared about how Old Testament prophets apply to us today. “Where is your hope?” asked Marble, who added that the prophets “spoke of the hope found in the Lord and His ways. … Where we are now is no worse than other times have been in the past, and the truth of the matter is when you look at history, oftentimes it’s in the greatest point of disaster that the church rises.”
Jaymes Lackey — the pastor of The Table in Thermalito, California — spoke about “Radical as a Way Forward: What I Have Learned from Being B.T. Roberts for the Last Seven Years.” Lackey revealed that he has been posting as the Free Methodist founder on Facebook to highlight “how radical he was about caring for the least and the lost and the last.” Roberts’ emphasis on the poor reflects Lackey’s own story.
“I grew up poor. I didn’t grow up in church. I grew up in a hard neighborhood,” Lackey said. “All the problems that my community had, they were in my house as well. I grew up with parents who struggled with addiction.” After attending a Free Methodist church to date a girl, Lackey received a Bible that he began reading “and what I found in the pages there changed my heart and mind forever. … My salvation is really rooted in coming to grips with my own poverty, finding Jesus in the middle of that, and a welcoming church.”
North Central Conference Administrator Alma Jasinski — who moved with her family from Mexico to the United States to serve as a pastor — shared about “How I Have Lived Immigration.” While some Americans view immigrants as criminals, she said, many immigrants are “serving the Lord with all our hearts, doing the best we know how.”
River Conference Co-Superintendent Amelia Cleveland-Traylor spoke about “The Road Forward.” She discussed how to work toward the church being “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).
“Many churches and organizations want to promote and facilitate racial reconciliation, but most of them are not actually ready to do it,” Cleveland-Traylor said. “They’re not prepared for the negative response and the backlash that naturally comes.”
Kathy Callahan-Howell, the pastor of Winton Community FMC in Cincinnati, shared her experiences planting and leading a multiracial church. In her message — titled “Divided by Faith: How Do We Live Faith Differently?” — Callahan-Howell said “taking a stand … isn’t easy, and it’s not popular.”
Theologian and author Howard Snyder said that Methodist founder John Wesley summarized the way of God’s kingdom as justice, mercy and truth, and we must help “our brothers and sisters live out justice in very practical ways.”
River Conference Co-Superintendent Michael Traylor said God is calling us to be prophets, but to be a prophet, “you have to know at the core of your being that there is a truth worth telling.”
Southern Michigan Conference Elder Laura J. Hunt spoke on “Navigating Gender in the Church” and highlighted statistics that reveal a narrowing of the gender gap in church attendance and also that women in the workforce do not want to attend a church where women are marginalized. Hunt also discussed gender stereotypes and dynamics of power.
“We must find ways to make room for women’s gifts and abilities in our churches, particularly in church leadership,” Hunt said.
Hunt’s message was followed by a panel discussion on mentoring women. Cathy Stonehouse, the Free Methodist Church’s former general director of Christian education and a retired Asbury Theological Seminary professor, said, “I don’t know a denomination that has a richer theology and history” of women in ministry than the FMC, but “most of our people don’t know this.”
Genesis Conference Superintendent Pam Braman said many people are uncertain of the reasons for women’s ordination, and Free Methodists “need to push in on the theology and say that we are biblical and here’s why.”
Jeffery Harrold, pastor of New Beginnings Community Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan, said women are often overlooked for ministry roles despite better credentials. “There are these sisters that God has placed here that really need to be able to exercise their gifts, and men just need to be able to check their privilege and check their ego.”
The conference also featured a panel discussion on the multicultural church.
“We should not have a church that’s geared just toward people like me or people like you. It should be a church that’s a reflection of heaven,” said Dukens Boliere, the pastor of Shekinah Worship Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Refugio Sanchez, the senior pastor of Santa Ana (California) FMC Lugar de Gracia y Amor, said his church decided six years ago to become more multicultural. “It wasn’t easy, but now I can say our church looks like a bouquet of flowers in the garden of God.”
Go online to fmchr.ch/fmcyt for video of the conference’s general sessions.1