The Future of Our Denomination

From Kathy…

As most of you know the 2016 General Conference (Worldwide) of the United Methodist Church made the decision to establish a commission on A Way Forward to deal with the denomination’s impasse on issues related to human sexuality. The commission was appointed by our Bishops and developed 3 models for the special session of the General Conference to consider. A complete report (all 93 pages) can be found here:  http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/news_and_statements/documents/Way_Forward_Report_-_Final_-_ENGLISH.pdf  (It can also be downloaded in French, Portuguese and Swahili)

The special session will be held February 22-26 in St. Louis and the sole item is receiving and acting on the report of the Commission on A Way Forward. However, the United Methodist Judicial Council has ruled that the General Conference may receive reports from other agencies on this matter. So, there will be additional reports on this specific matter that will be considered. The General Conference operates under Robert’s Rules of Order, so it is possible for various plans to be substituted as the main motion.

Summary of the three plans taken from UM News website:

  • One Church Plan (recommended by the Council of Bishops): The one-church model would allow different United Methodists in different places to make different decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates everywhere throughout the worldwide church. This plan would remove restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and give conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to “uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.”

United Methodists in central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe would retain the authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and could continue to include their traditional language and values.

This plan would also protect the rights of United Methodists whose theological convictions will not allow them to perform same-sex weddings or ordain LGBTQ people.

Kathy’s comments: This means Annual Conferences would decide on whether or not to ordain LGBTQ clergy. Local Churches would decide whether or not to allow same sex weddings in their sanctuary. Pastors would decide whether or not to perform same sex weddings. Personally, I could live with this although I yearn for a denomination that is totally inclusive at all levels in all places

  • Traditionalist Plan: This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations of church law.

 Kathy’s comments: This is not an acceptable plan. It denies that all of God’s people are a sacred creation of God. Almost every pastor I know including myself would have their credentials taken away. The church would have to have the qualities of a police state to enforce this plan.

  • Connectional-Conference Plan: This plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three connectional conferences would function throughout the worldwide church and the five existing U.S. jurisdictions would be abolished.

Adaptations to the Book of Discipline would be allowed by each connectional conference. Annual conferences would determine their affiliation with a connectional conference. Local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference could vote to join another conference. This plan would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution.

Kathy’s comments: In some way this is similar to what the Episcopal Denomination has done. For example there are Episcopal Churches in California’s central valley that are a part of a Diocese in Africa. Some people have called this schism with permission.  There would still be one Council of Bishops and probably one Board of Pensions but I am not clear about things like UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief)-whether there would just be one or three. This sounds very complicated and would take years to live into and take vital energy and attention away from addressing problems such as poverty, racism, making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, etc. It would also be nearly impossible to implement as it would require several constitutional revision which involves a lengthy voting process in the Annual Conferences.

Another matter of concern for any proposal: would it allow an exit ramp for existing congregations. An exit ramp allows churches who cannot agree with whatever decision is made to leave the denomination with their church buildings and property. In the past, generally, churches that decided to leave the denomination either had to buy their property from the Annual Conference or leave without it. In our connectional system local churches hold the property in trust for United Methodist ministry in that town/city/area so if a church left the denomination they could not take the property without adequate compensation to the Annual Conference.

A major concern that I have for any of these models is for young people who grow up in a church like ours and think they will find openness and acceptance in another church in another town only to discover that may not be true.  I am truly convinced that the gospel calls us to welcome and include everyone.

The model I believe is most faithful to God’s call on our lives is one first put forth by the Reconciling Ministries network. The Simple Plan, as it is called, deletes language regarding LGBTQ persons and makes no additions of language of any kind. While any language can be added on the floor or in committee at General Conference for clarity, the primary purpose is to remove the language that excludes LGBTQ persons from full participation in the church. It has a variety of effects on the levels of church involvement. Prior to 1972, the United Methodist Church did not have any harmful language in our discipline concerning the LGBTQ community so removing this language returns us to our roots and honors all of us as sacred creations of God.

Here is the official website for this General Conference: http://www.umc.org/topics/general-conference-2019-special-session

There are other groups who are quite active in the lead up to the special session of the General Conference. The Wesley Covenant Association (WCA) is a recently formed group of people who support the Traditional plan, have also suggested dissolving the UMC as well as other suggestions. The Uniting Methodists Movement https://wesleyancovenant.org/   I find many of their actions and proposals contrary to the love and grace that the gospel of Jesus extends to all peoples.

Another Group is the Uniting Methodists. Their website: https://unitingmethodists.com/ Although I appreciate some of what they believe I find it still doesn’t make the gospel of Jesus available for all.

The Council of Bishop’s has placed a high value on unity within the body of Christ. Although I value unity, I place a higher value on God’s inclusion of all people in the life of the church.

Pastor Chelsea and I welcome your questions regarding this upcoming special Session of the General Conference. We are hoping to offer a circuit wide seminar/workshop to help us prepare.  I also serve as reserve clergy delegate (an alternate delegate) and will be attending the special session of the General Conference. I covet your prayers and your questions. I am making plans to provide frequent updates on what is happening on Asbury’s Facebook page.

Our General Conference Delegation has been meeting monthly to prepare and is in close contact with delegations from other Annual Conferences especially those within the Western Jurisdiction.  We don’t know what the future holds but we know God’s spirit goes with us.

I think it is also important to know the United Methodist Church is not the only Methodist denomination or only Wesleyan denomination. There are 81 denominations who are member of the Methodist World Council http://worldmethodistcouncil.org/about/member-churches/statistical-information/

There are 17 denominations that are part of the Methodist/Wesleyan movement in the United States.  Even within the United Methodist denomination divisions and mergers are a part of our history as this diagram illustrates:

And the people have felt the guidance of God’s spirit in each of these expressions of church.

I encourage your prayers for our denomination as we prepare this year and gather next year to decide about the future of our denomination.  I am taking time to share this with you now because whatever is decided will affect Asbury and I want you to be informed, thoughtful and aware of what is happening. I also want to affirm that Asbury UMC will continue to be the loving, welcoming, Christ-centered community of imperfect followers of Jesus that it has always been.

As always, I am happy to talk with you about this or any other matters.

Blessings, Pastor Kathy

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