November 28, 2018
Rev. William C. Bills
Bishop David Bard is inviting clergy and laity on the Mid-Michigan District to the Michigan Conference Center on Thursday, December 6 at 7:00 p.m. for a connectional conversation on The Commission on the Way Forward and the special General Conference of the United Methodist Church that will meet in St. Louis, February 23-26.
The Commission on the Way Forward was formed after discussion and debate over human sexuality, same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQI clergy became divisive and broke down at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Our bishops called a halt to the debate and voting at that conference. They then appointed a Commission of laity and clergy to study the issues and propose a way forward for our denomination. The Commission met nine times over a period of seventeen months. The Commission on the Way Forward is proposing three possible plans for vote to the General Conference in February. These will be the only agenda items before the General Conference.
The One Church Plan, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, would allow but not require United Methodist clergy to perform same-gender weddings where legal, and allow but not require annual conferences to ordain LGBTQ pastors. “The One Church Plan is built on the belief that it is possible to live with more space while we focus on our common mission,” the report states.
The Connectional Conference Plan would create “three values-based connectional conferences” in the U.S., and provide for central conferences to align with one of those connectional conferences or become one of their own. According to the report, the “Connectional Conference Plan addresses the reality of the UMC as it is now.” This plan would allow congregations and clergy to align with others who share similar values and theology.
The Traditionalist Plan would maintain the current prohibitions on the ordination of LGBTQI clergy. It would also prohibit same sex marriages in our churches regardless of their legality. This plan calls for strict adherence to the rules currently in the United Methodist Book of Discipline and strict enforcement of sanctions on clergy and congregations found to be in violation of the rules.
Our denomination’s Judicial Council has ruled that under the Constitution of the United Methodist Church these three plans are all subject to debate and amendment. Therefore, the plans as presented may not be the plans that are actually voted on. This presents the denomination with a significant amount of ambiguity heading into the February General Conference.
A number of congregations and clergy have already been meeting to put into place the necessary infrastructure to support a new denomination made up of traditionalist churches and pastors. Several congregations have recently petitioned their annual conferences and been granted their release from the denomination. At least one church that petitioned for release from the denomination was denied and has chosen to litigate the matter in court. The loss of a significant number of congregations, or an outright schism, could severely impact local churches and pastors. It could also dramatically affect general church institutions such as The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the General Board of Church and Society, The General Board of Global Missions, and more, as these institutions depend heavily on the financial support of local churches.
I encourage you to make every effort to attend this meeting with Bishop Bard on Thursday evening, December 6, at 7:00. The meeting will be held at The Michigan Area UMC Ministry Center, 1011 Northcrest Rd. in Lansing. Over the course of the next ninety days slightly fewer than 900 elected delegates from United Methodist Conferences all over the world will be making decisions that have the potential to greatly affect our congregation in East Lansing.