How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. Psalm 133:1
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Risen Christ.
It is with some irony and hope that I write this update regarding the Commission on a Way Forward to you. It is ironic because fifty-years ago on April 23, 1968 The United Methodist Church came into being and now we are debating if we can remain united. I am hopeful because in this Easter Season, we celebrate the new creation emerging from the old.
As you recall, in an effort to avoid schism, the 2016 General Conference asked the Council of Bishops (COB) to propose a way forward that would maintain the unity of the church without uniformity around human sexuality. The COB formed a commission to devise a plan. Last month in Dallas, the COB met to consider two models for moving forward. Both of these models would remove the prohibitory language in the Book of Discipline regarding self-avowed practicing homosexuals. (This is disciplinary language left over from the 1970s.) The two models are:
- The one-church model would 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.”
- The multi-branch, one-church model would include shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice. The five U.S. jurisdictions would be replaced by three connectional conferences, each covering the whole country, based on theology and perspective on LGBTQ ministry — progressive, contextual and traditional branches. Annual conferences would decide with which connectional conference to affiliate.
The focus in both of these models is annual conference autonomy in deciding issues of human sexuality. Next steps include these two models being sent back to the Commission for refining based on the COB’s February meeting.
The Council of Bishops gives cautious optimism. Our own Bishop Dyck when I asked her, responded:
I fully support the work of the Commission on the Way Forward. It is my hope that the delegates to the special General Conference 2019 will recognize that the Commission’s hard and careful work (meeting for over 35 days in the last 1 1/2 years) represents a majority of people in the United Methodist Church across the world as opposed to any one segment. A future with hope for our church must be based on unity in one mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ as opposed to unity based on agreement on one issue. Agreement isn’t the foundation of our faith; mission is the foundation of our faith. (Emphasis added) I urge United Methodists to pray for the Council of Bishops as we make our recommendation to the special General Conference 2019 and the delegates who act on it.
April 29-May 4 Council of Bishops Meeting
May 14-17 Final meeting of The Commission on a Way Forward
July 8 Legislative Deadline for General Conference Special Session
February 23-26, 2019 Special Session of Annual Conference, St. Louis, MO
May we at First Church pray and discern how we will continue to be the Church of Jesus Christ by making disciples for the transformation of the world.
In the hope of the Risen Christ,
Reverend Joseph A. Johnson