I continue to hear about the great work you - the churches of the South Georgia Conference - are doing in your communities and out in the world. While you are working faithfully in your local setting, I have been working with fellow United Methodist bishops and members of the Commission on a Way Forward to discern what the way forward looks like.
A special meeting of the Council of Bishops was held last week to receive an updated report from the Commission on a Way Forward. The meeting also included time for us to dig more deeply into our own assessment of each sketch and to identify additional work for the Commission to do before the final report is presented to Council of Bishops at our April/May meeting.
Here are my reflections on this special meeting and the overall process.
Timeline for A Way Forward
March 19-22, 2018: Commission on a Way Forward, Meeting #8
- I am constantly reminded of what it means to be a global church. Each meeting brings together United Methodists from the five jurisdictions in the U.S. and from the central conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. What a blessing to see how the Holy Spirit is at work all over the world!
- The 12 million members of the global UMC are ready to resolve the impasse arising from differing positions about the statements in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality. Our members want to move forward in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This is why the laity and clergy delegates to the 2016 General Conference asked the Council of Bishops to propose a way forward that would resolve the impasse.
- In response to this request from the laity and clergy, the Council of Bishops formed a 32-person Commission on a Way Forward composed of persons who represent different perspectives on this matter. First, the Commission had to learn how to work together when they have such differences. The fact that they have done that is no small accomplishment. Next, the Commission shared the three sketches on which they are working. Feedback has been received from all over the denomination, including much input from the South Georgia Conference.
- Overview of the three sketches: The first sketch, often called the Traditionalist or Covenantal Sketch, would retain the current language in The Book of Discipline and provide greater accountability in observance of the current position. The second sketch, often called the Centrist or Contextual sketch, would remove the current language in The Book of Discipline and give each annual conference the opportunity to choose whether or not it would retain the current position on homosexuality. Once the annual conference decides its position, an individual church that disagrees with that position may transfer to a conference with which they are in greater agreement. The third sketch, often called the Multi-Branch sketch, provides for a Traditionalist branch, a Centrist branch, and a Progressive branch. In this sketch, each annual conference would choose the branch that best expresses their faith position. Individual churches that wish to do so may transfer to a branch that better expresses their faith position.
- Paying attention to the feedback being received, the Commission is now in the process of moving from general sketches to more fully developed models. The meeting this past week gave the bishops an opportunity to identify important elements that need to be part of those models. The Commission will meet one more time before their presentation at the Council of Bishops meeting at the end of April/first of May.
- The Centrist and Multi-Branch sketches were the focus of attention at last week’s Council of Bishops meeting. The Council was updated on how the Commission is approaching those sketches. The bishops had lots of questions and input for the continuing work of the Commission. There are still conversations taking place across our denomination on all three sketches.
- The Council of Bishops meets again April 29-May 5. At that time the Council will receive the final report from the Commission on a Way Forward. The Council will then decide whether to recommend one model, two models, or several models.
- I am glad the South Georgia Conference is studying all of these sketches. We do not know whether the Council of Bishops will recommend one of the current sketches or a new sketch that combines elements of each of the current sketches. So I commend our lay leaders, our district superintendents, and our General Conference delegates for the serious study they are giving to each sketch. After all, there are many others around the country who are developing their own proposals. Being well informed on the sketches will position us to be able to assess any and all proposals for a way forward.
- The study we are doing in South Georgia also involves identifying the key elements of being United Methodist so we can assess all sketches or models against our own core values. Thanks to all those who are participating in district dialogues aimed at identifying these core values.
- How soon will the recommendation(s) of the Council of Bishops be available? I was hoping that we might have them by our June Annual Conference session. However, I recently learned that additional time will be needed to translate the recommendation(s) from English into several other languages so that United Methodists outside the United States will be able to read and study them. The following timeline indicates that the final report of the Council of Bishops must be released no later than July 8.
Purpose: Based on the Council of Bishops feedback, the Commission will create a final draft report to send to the Council of Bishops.
April 29 – May 4, 2018: Council of Bishops Meeting
Purpose: Receive the final draft report from Commission on a Way Forward. Consider, amend, and vote on final report to go to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. Additionally, the Council of Bishops will draft talking points for Bishops to use at Annual Conferences as well as a press release to release to the church.
May 14-17, 2018: Commission on a Way Forward, Meeting #9
Purpose: Receive final report from the Council of Bishops and plan for the Commission to support Bishops and provide presentations to Delegations as needed.
May 18, 2018 (no later than): Final Report Completed
Final report is sent to publisher and translators to translate and put into full electronic release format (total time needed to translate and paginate will be based on size of report)
May 23-25, 2018: Judicial Council Meeting
July 8, 2018 (no later than): Final Report Released
Final report in full release format is officially sent to the Secretary of the General Conference and released electronically by the Council of Bishops to the whole church.
Summer and Fall of 2018: Preparation
Delegations meet to read report and prepare.
February 23-26, 2019: Special Session of the General Conference
Laity and clergy delegates will prayerfully consider and act upon a way forward.
I continue to ponder the question: What is Christ’s way forward for doing mission and ministry in the worldwide United Methodist Church?
My conviction is:
No one is going to come into our conference and force upon us a particular way forward. We will be the South Georgia Conference before 2019, and we will be the South Georgia Conference after 2019. The responsibility we have is to discern the way forward that best enables us to be Alive Together in Christ. The laity and clergy delegates to General Conference 2019 will be the ones who consider all models and who make the determination as to which model best supports our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Among those decision makers will be our own laity and clergy delegates from South Georgia. We will be well represented by our elected delegates.
My question is:
What model will enable us to focus our full attention on connecting people to Jesus Christ so that they become disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?
My dream is:
As the clergy and laity of the South Georgia Conference are actively engaged in studying all available models for a way forward (July 2018 - February 2019) I hope that we will experience a true sense of revival in our conference.
My prayer is:
Dear God, whose purpose is to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus Christ, we pray that you will use this process to surprise us all by finding the way forward that will best help us fulfill the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In his name we pray. Amen.
As we continue the conversation around the sketches that have been put before us, I value your input as I seek ways to address our Annual Conference. I want to be faithful, as your episcopal leader, to hear your voice. Please know that I value your input. We will use your feedback to help guide future conversations.
Click here to provide input.
Alive Together in Christ,