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A different vision

When it comes to the traditional "church experience," United Methodists are bombarded constantly with the message that we are in decline as a church and as a denomination. From Pew Research statistical analyses of declining church participation to anecdotal news stories comparing worship attendance to a CrossFit workout, the future appears dim. This negative messaging continues in news media, breaking down our country into red and blue states and divisive viewpoints. It all suggests despair for The United Methodist Church. It is depressing to consider such a negative outlook and suspicious worldview.

However, to see the work to which God is calling us in the world requires a different vision and an intentional choice to be part of this work. Through this vision, I see so many folks — United Methodists — answering God's call to faith, love and action and the transforming impact our church is making in so many communities.

As United Methodists from Kansas and Nebraska, though our geography makes us neighbors, it's our mutual calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ that unites us in our mission, and for that, I'm so thankful. In 2015 alone, I have been privileged to witness the amazing work that God is blessing in the Great Plains Conference. It includes:

The tireless efforts of many United Methodists in Nebraska to bring a legislative end to capital punishment — leading us to new discussions on restorative justice, healing and compassion.

More than 40 church communities throughout the two states – each committed to hosting a Syrian refugee family, despite heated media and political rhetoric.

A tiny, rural church in western Kansas, with an average weekly attendance of 22 people, contributing $10,000 to the pastoral endowment fund of a Native American ministry in another conference, demonstrating that even the smallest churches recognize their call to mission and the difference they can make in bridging diversity.

These combined efforts have led to an amazing, transforming impact — a different vision indeed!

Even as I celebrate these and other efforts, I remain fully aware of the challenges that lay before us in The United Methodist Church. I know these challenges are real, and for so many, they are personal. As we approach General Conference, they even appear somewhat daunting. However, God, as always, remains at work through our love, faith and prayers. I'm glad my eyes are open to it!

Courtney Fowler is the first lay leader of the Great Plains Conference and the first elected lay delegate to General Conference 2016. She lives in Manhattan, Kansas, with her husband and two daughters and is a member of College Avenue United Methodist Church. She works as a media coordinator.