The opening introduction and prayer was led by the Rev. Gray Southern.
Rev. Julie Hager Love opened with a responsive reading reflecting upon the Covenant for the Commission on the Way Forward found on their website. As they began their work, she shared that there was a group of resources compiled by Gil Rendle about “reading the signs.” She went on to speak about the mission, vision, and scope of their work.
Rev. Love began by emphasizing that, while the initial work of the Commission has been completed, the work is far from over. She encouraged leaders to model how to live together in love between now and February 2019. The Commission took seriously their formation and established a Missional Framework and a Theological Framework to guide their efforts and time together. From there, they offered the bishops three models:
- The One Church Plan
- The Connectional Conference Plan
- The Traditionalist Plan
It is vital to note that the report did not come from like-minded people. It also was not the product of parliamentary procedure. Even with prayerful conversation, there was anger, hurt, and celebration. No votes were taken as they sought to work in a manner that is conciliar.
The UMC stretches across the globe and encompasses a wide diversity of people. The Commission sought to be as unified, connectional, responsive, global, and agile as possible.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward—Council of Bishops
The Council of Bishops collaborated with the Commission and evaluated all of the options. The 2016 General Conference asked the Council of Bishops to lead the UMC in forming a NEW way forward. We’ve been engaged in these conversations since the 1970s. She spoke of the unprecedented engagement by the bishops in discernment and conversation about the work of the Commission as they have been in constant dialogue about these issues. She led conversations across the conference about these issues.
The Council of Bishops dedicated their May meeting to considering the Commission’s report. They are clear that the General Conference bears the responsibility for making the decision. They also took seriously the request to lead the church as they were charged by the 2016 General Conference. They established three essential ground priorities:
- Global—light to the nations (Isaiah)
- Unified—Being ONE church
- Make disciples in as many places as possible/Indigenous—ministry effective in every area the church touches.
Bishop Ward reminded us that, “The spirit of charity takes into account limited human understanding.”
She concluded with an overview of the One Church Plan by emphasizing that it requires no one to change.
Along with the work of the Commission, the work of the Council of Bishops is now released to the General Conference for them to act upon. Additional information will be released on or about July 8 for local church consideration. It will provide details related to the process, the procedure for each option and how it would impact the church.
Now you may constructively address your conversation with your GC delegates. The DS’s will poll their areas to discern whether more conversation is needed. The delegates and the bishop are willing to visit districts the third week of July and possibly later for those where more conversation is requested.
Rev. Love, Rev. Southern, and Bishop Ward opened the floor for questions and comments.
Who will make decisions for the local church, the pastor or the congregation? Does the congregation have the authority to overrule the pastor?
- There will be dialogue. There will need to be sensitivity of the cabinet during the appointment process. This would be addressed in the pastor and church profiles.
- The church would decide about hosting ceremonies.
- The pastor would decide about presiding at the ceremonies.
Concern related about whether there would be coercion related to living out their convictions. How does holiness play into the OCP and not requiring change in practices and opinions?
- There have always been some tension and yet we have been able to live together in that tension.
Was the question ever asked whether we should stay together? Yes.
- The overwhelming consensus of the Council of Bishops was to maintain the global connection. One of the principles was to remain “as unified as possible.”
Can we host a panel discussion to provide additional information about the three proposed plans?
- The delegation will make themselves available in response to the request.
Will the Book of Discipline changes and language be available for consideration?
- The General Conference will make that language available once the decision is made.
Will this allow for the ordination of LGBQTI?
- As it is currently, it will be up to Board of Ordained Ministry and the annual conference.
- Pastors would be able to choose to perform same sex weddings.
If a pastor acts according to their conscience and if it is contrary to their annual conference/local church, would they be disassociated?
- The language says that persons and churches are “not compelled” to perform these practices contrary to their convictions.
Will there be guidance about how to share information with local churches?
- Information is provided at UMC.org, and NCCUMC.org. If you wish to have additional conversations after the material is released in July, let your DS know.
Finally, the bishop commended the book The Anatomy of Peace and encouraged us to pray daily from 2:23-2:26pm and fast Thursday evening through 3pm on Friday for General Conference 2019.