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Yesterday I spoke in Syracuse, New York to a breakfast of the Renewal and Evangelism group in the Upper New York United Methodist Conference.   About 140 people attended, and I primarily told about my new book METHODISM & POLITICS IN THE 20TH CENTURY, with a brief update about the recent General Conference.

Afterwards I attended a morning session of the Upper New York Annual Conference.  Previously divided among 4 different conferences, this area now comprises nearly all of New York state except the New York City area.  Bishop Marcus Matthews presided, and he graciously asked me to briefly speak to the gathering after an introduction by Rev. Larry Baird of the Renewal and Evangelism group.  Larry is a former district superintendent who served this year and in the past as a General Conference delegate.

Earlier in the morning the annual conference Bible study was delivered by Rev. Tiffany Steinwert, a United Methodist minister who is chapel dean at Syracuse University.  She is outspoken about LGBTQ issues, which she obliquely touted towards the end of her talk, while urging theological pluralism.  Read more about her here:  http://sumagazine.syr.edu/2010fall-winter/supeople/steinwert.html.

Afterwards, during a presentation by the conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women, a clergy member from the floor bemoaned the LGBTQ cause’s failure at the recent General Conference.  Numerous delegates wore rainbow stoles in solidarity with that cause.  I was told that in a vote by the annual conference last year, about 45 percent supported United Methodism’s current biblical stance, while 55 percent were opposed.  The previous Western New York Annual Conference, before the merger, leaned evangelical, while the other three merged conferences were more liberal.

As United Methodism becomes more global and evangelical, it will be fascinating to watch the impact on more liberal areas like Upper New York.  Meanwhile, the Renewal and Evangelism group, still relatively recently formed, seems strong and has impressive, enthusiastic leadership affirming evangelical, Wesleyan beliefs.  Some of them are among the over 60 clergy in the conference who graduated from evangelical Asbury Seminary.  We can pray for their witness and ministry.