We are in a season of conversations. Of course, lots of conversations were already going on in preparation for General Conference 2020. However, the recently released Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation has certainly multiplied the conversations around the connection.
The group of sixteen designers of the Protocol expressed their amazement that they were able to agree on it. The initial response was a sigh of relief from those who see it as a hopeful sign that GC2020 can avoid the rancor and contentiousness of GC2019. More recently, however, many have had time to give thoughtful consideration to the Protocol and have identified some of the issues that it raises and some of its inadequacies. Still, I think most are viewing it as a framework for conversation intended to help GC2020 be as productive as possible.
The South Georgia Conference is very much involved in this season of conversations.
The leaders of our own delegation have sponsored two gatherings of delegation leaders from around the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Then, in January, I joined several members of our delegation in a panel discussion at Winter Conference where we focused on the Protocol (Read more | Watch the panel discussion). The delegation as a whole met on February 5 and released a statement. Jim Cowart, Bill Hatcher and I also made a video updating the conference on the Protocol.
I am also involved in ongoing conversations with a number of bishops. These conversations include looking for ways to address the concerns of those who do not feel included in the provisions of the Protocol. This is a sizable group of United Methodists who often describe themselves by saying, “I am a traditionalist, and I want to remain in The United Methodist Church.” I am aware of at least one proposal being developed that would address this desire. I will keep you posted as this option is further developed.
Another conversation concerns the item in the Protocol which provides for the formation of a new traditional Methodist denomination. The question is, “What would a new traditional Methodist denomination look like?” Much thinking is going on around that question. Collaboration is also occurring among groups who feel it important that such a new denomination would need to be connectional (rather than congregational), missional (rather than bureaucratic), and Wesleyan (intentionally embracing our Methodist history, doctrine, and polity). I will share updates on this conversation as more details come into focus.
The point of all this is to be aware that South Georgia is actively represented in all that is going on in this season of conversations. The Leadership Forum Task Force meets on March 31 and will be assessing each of these conversations in terms of its effect upon South Georgia.
In the meantime, I want to thank you for keeping your efforts focused on vitality in the local church. Your local church is the primary arena where disciple-making occurs. Thank you!
Alive Together in Christ,
R. Lawson Bryan
During a Winter Conference panel discussion, Bishop Bryan and several members of South Georgia’s 2020 General Conference delegation shared their thoughts about the recently released Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, the possible future of the South Georgia Conference, and General Conference 2020. Held Wednesday, Jan. 29 at Nalls Auditorium at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island, much of the dialogue focused on the Protocol. Read more
Watch a video of the panel discussion (Please note: Video was shot before the Protocol legislation was released.)
Since January 3 you may have seen headlines announcing that a decision has been reached to split The United Methodist Church. As most have figured out by now, those headlines were wrong and misleading. What’s the truth? The top legislative body of The United Methodist Church, the General Conference, meets every four years. The next session of General Conference is May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, MN. This is the only body that can speak officially for The United Methodist Church. Therefore, petitions and proposals are sent in for consideration. Among those are several plans aimed at ending the impasse over issues related to human sexuality. One of those plans, “A Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” has been the cause of the most recent headlines.
This Protocol was worked out by an unofficial group of 16 people, each representing progressive, centrist and traditional groups. The Protocol is one more attempt to resolve our impasse and move us towards a future of vitality in serving Christ. It is a proposal, not a decision. That is where the headlines got it wrong. Nothing has been decided because General Conference has not yet met. The Protocol is being studied in order to understand its implications.
The South Georgia Conference Leadership Forum Task Force met January 13 to discuss the Protocol. Task Force members also watched a one-hour livestream presentation by the group that designed the proposal. We recognize that the Protocol is a mediated compromise among representatives of several groups. After hours of reflection, filled with recognition of pros and cons, the Task Force members concluded that this Protocol is a viable proposal and could be a catalyst to end the impasse and propel us into a vital future.
Therefore, the Task Force is doing scenario planning around each option available to us in the Protocol. This work will be presented to the Leadership Forum in April, along with a recommendation for a process that would enable the South Georgia Conference to write our own story by choosing the option that best enables us to remain Alive Together as an annual conference. The Leadership Forum will decide what to recommend to the annual conference and what to recommend as a timeline to be followed. The goal would be to avoid a hasty decision after General Conference and to provide adequate time for each of our 588 churches to fully participate in the decision-making process through their elected laity and clergy representatives.
In all of its deliberations, the Task Force is mindful of the strong desire to maintain our unity as an annual conference and our global connectional identity with as many other Methodists as possible.
To foster honest communication, please use this link to ask any question for which you would like more information. The Task Force will be working on a list of FAQs in the coming weeks.
The work of the Leadership Forum Task Force is not being done in isolation. The Task Force is collaborating with other groups: the laity and clergy delegates to General Conference, the Cabinet, and the Compass Group. Plans also include opportunities for communication with laity and clergy through video updates and in-person presentations.
Even as this work proceeds, I ask us all to remember that what each community in South Georgia really needs is an enthusiastic, hope-filled, disciple-making Methodist church. Let’s write our own story in 2020. Will it be a story of radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity? Help your members discover their spiritual gifts, bless them, and then unleash them in your community as well as in the congregation.
As I have said for nearly four years, we are the only ones who can define what “together” means for South Georgia. We get to choose our own future. God has placed us here to spread the blessings of John Wesley and the Methodist movement. No denominational conference can do that for us. So the question is: what story is the Holy Spirit nudging us to write in 2020?
Alive Together in Christ,
R. Lawson Bryan
The old year ends and the new year begins during the 12 days of Christmas (from Christmas Day to Epiphany Day on January 6). This seems particularly fitting since the coming of Jesus marks the culmination of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Standing on the shoulders of our Hebrew heritage, we hold the Christ Child and, like Mary and Joseph, move forward into a new future.
Certainly, we wonder about what this new year will hold for us. As United Methodists we are aware that 2020 will be an historic year with General Conference in May, our South Georgia annual conference in June, the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July, and, if needed, a special called session of annual conference in August to make any decisions necessitated by the outcome of General Conference. I encourage us to view this year not as a time of uncertainty but as a time of great certainty. The way to do this is to recognize that while the General and Jurisdictional Conferences are extremely important, the annual conference “…is the basic body of The United Methodist Church.”
As the basic body of the Church we can make a conscious decision to write our own story. Writing our own story means that we will respectfully receive and reflect upon whatever comes from GC2020 for it represents the work of our elected delegates, but we will not be defined by it. What will define us? Well, that is what you have been teaching me over the past three and a half years. Here are just a few examples of what I have learned from you about the story we want to write in 2020:
This list is suggestive, not exhaustive. What would you add? What will be your story in 2020? What will be your local church’s story? What will be our story as an annual conference? Ten years from now I hope others will look back to 2020 and ask, “How did South Georgia do it? They remained connected, wrote their own story, and found their way forward together.”
To help write the South Georgia story, the Leadership Forum Task Force will continue meeting and reflecting on all the matters that will come before General Conference 2020. In fact, the next meeting is set for January 13. The Task Force will be asking, “What plans and/or proposals align best with the story we are writing in South Georgia?” Then, the Task Force will seek to provide a process that each local church can use to understand the outcome of GC2020 and its implications for our annual conference. In addition, we will invite other annual conferences to join us in strategic conversations aimed at maintaining the connectional identity that is so important to us as United Methodists. Drawing on all these resources, we will work together as an annual conference to discern what we might call “the South Georgia plan”— the path that best enables us to remain Alive Together in Christ.
The key to having a happy New Year is to make a conscious decision to write our own story. Let us determine now that we will give ourselves time to pray, communicate, ask questions, pray, understand implications, have strategic conversations with other annual conferences, and pray some more – so that any decisions we make will be responsive rather than reactive.
I am grateful to be Alive Together with you in the story that Christ is writing in South Georgia.
Happy New Year!
R. Lawson Bryan
Grace and peace to you as we begin a new year Alive Together in Christ.
A new proposal for the future of The United Methodist Church has been released This new proposal is the fruit of a mediation process undertaken by 16 United Methodists entitled, “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.”
This eight-page document represents work done by a group of United Methodists from across the world who represent many (not all) of the important streams of our church. This work was done in collaboration with Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, a noted mediator known for his work with the September 11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, the Virginia Tech and Boston Marathon victims, and the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Mr. Feinberg, who is not a United Methodist, offered his professional guidance pro bono.
Those who worked on this new plan represent many of the groups who have previously released their own plans. It appears to me that this new plan represents an agreement among a wide variety of groups.
It remains to be seen how much traction this new plan will receive across our diverse, global denomination. Ultimately, it is the General Conference delegates who will decide on the adoption of any plan.
As the South Georgia Conference, we can make a conscious decision to write our own story. We will respectfully receive and reflect upon whatever comes from General Conference 2020, for it represents the work of our elected delegates. and will evaluate it in terms of what fits best with the story we are writing in South Georgia.
The Leadership Forum Task Force will be meeting on January 13. A major topic of this meeting will be devoted to studying the Protocol. After that meeting, you can expect to receive an update from the Task Force providing details about the Protocol and the Task Force’s response to it.
In the meantime, you may find it helpful to read the following information:
I am thankful for you as together we write our own story in South Georgia! (https://www.sgaumc.org/newsdetail/let-s-write-our-own-story-in-2020-13135794).
United Methodist Traditionalists, Centrists, Progressives & Bishops sign agreement aimed at separation
A diverse group of representatives from United Methodist advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops from around the world has collaborated on a proposed agreement for the separation of The United Methodist Church (UMC) that has the unanimous support of all the parties involved.
The agreement, the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, was achieved on December 17, 2019, and announced today.
The action comes amid heightened tensions in the church over conflicting views related to human sexuality after the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference failed to resolve differences among church members.
Legislation to implement the Protocol statement — an eight-page document detailing the terms of a split of the 13+ million-member denomination — is expected to come before the United Methodist General Conference for a vote at their legislative meeting in Minneapolis, Minn. in May 2020.
The 16-member group came together as an outgrowth of a consultation initiated by bishops from Central Conferences located outside the United States. The parties sought assistance from prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Feinberg, who served as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, along with a number of other complex matters, agreed to provide his services pro bono.
Meeting over several months, the unofficial group reached an agreement by signatories associated with all of the constituencies within the UMC for a mutually supported pathway for separation, bridging differences among other plans to be considered by the General Conference. “The undersigned propose restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person,” says the Protocol Statement.
The document’s signers include representatives from Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and the United States, and include persons representing UMCNext; Mainstream UMC; Uniting Methodists; The Confessing Movement; Good News; The Institute on Religion & Democracy; the Wesleyan Covenant Association; Affirmation; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Reconciling Ministries Network; and the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus; as well as bishops from the United States and across the world. The representatives have pledged to work together to support the proposal and develop legislation to implement it.
The Protocol anticipates the formation of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Once formed, the new church would receive $25 million over the next four years and give up further claim to the UMC’s assets. An additional $2 million would be allocated for potential additional new Methodist denominations which may emerge from the UMC. Acknowledging the historical role of the Methodist movement in systematic racial violence, exploitation and discrimination, the Protocol would allocate $39 million to ensure there is no disruption in supporting ministries for communities historically marginalized by racism.
Under the Protocol, conferences and local congregations could vote to separate from The United Methodist Church to affiliate with new Methodist denominations created under the agreement within a certain time frame. Churches wishing to stay within the UMC would not be required to conduct a vote. Provisions exist for entities that choose to separate to retain their assets and liabilities. All current clergy and lay employees would keep their pensions regardless of the Methodist denomination with which they affiliate.
Under the Protocol, all administrative or judicial processes addressing restrictions in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings, as well as actions to close churches, would be held in abeyance until the separation is completed. The Protocol also references a plan which calls for a special general conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Special Session would be to create regional conferences, remove the current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, and to repeal the Traditional Plan.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Bishop John Yambasu (Sierra Leone) stated, “All of us are servants of the church and realize that we are not the primary decision makers on these matters. Instead, we humbly offer to the delegates of the 2020 General Conference the work which we have accomplished in the hopes that it will help heal the harms and conflicts within the body of Christ and free us to be more effective witnesses to God’s Kingdom.”
The signatories to the Protocol have provided a FAQ document to provide additional information about the agreement. Comments and questions may be directed to the signatories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A livestream event will take place on Monday, January 13 at 9:30 am, to provide further clarity and explanations of the plan by members of the Mediation Team. (Learn more about the livestream.)
This statement is being released by the Council of Bishops Office on behalf of the Mediation Team members.