GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019 TOWN HALL (APRIL 25, 2018)

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6

CALENDAR OF ACTIVITIES FOR THE 2019 GENERAL CONFERENCE

  • A WAY FORWARD COMMISSION
  • COUNCIL OF BISHOPS
    • April 29-May 4 2018 Meeting to discuss the Way Froward proposal
    • July 2018 – Council of Bishops share their proposed legislation to General Conference delegates
  • JUDICIAL COUNCIL
    • May 22-25 2018 – Meeting to address the Council of Bishops’ questions about possibility of any petitions and amendments for the General Conference
  • GENERAL CONFERENCE
    • February 2019
  • ANNUAL CONFERENCES
    • Summer 2019 - Annual Conferences across the UMC will meet and vote to ratify the constitutional amendments of General Conference if they are any part of the approved proposal.  

SKETCHES/OPTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

  • NOTE: The Council of Bishops have not determined which sketches they will present to the General Conference delegates. The Bishops propose that all three initial sketches from the A Way Forward Commission be considered, they could send Sketch 2 and 3 or they could offer an amended proposal.
  • The “A Way Forward Commission” eventually proposed these two sketches.
  • THE ONE-CHURCH MODEL: Under this plan, each conference would be able to decide whether to ordain LGBTQ individuals as clergy. Each pastor would be able to decide whether to perform same-sex weddings or unions. Each local church would be able to decide whether to allow same-sex weddings in its sanctuary or receive an openly gay pastor. Those who could not in good conscience participate in same-sex weddings or ordination of LGBTQ clergy would not be required to do so. Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — could maintain their own standards on ordination and marriage. The model would essentially make legal what is already happening in some parts of the connection.  The One Church Model gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. The One Church Model provides a generous unity that gives 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 MODEL: Under this plan, United Methodists would share doctrine, services and one Council of Bishops, while also creating different branches. 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. In this case, contextual means allowing churches flexibility in ministry with LGBTQ people as best fits their mission field. Annual conferences would decide with which connectional conference to affiliate. Central conferences would remain as they are or could choose to affiliate with one of the three connectional conferences. This model likely would require amendments to the denomination’s constitution.
  • Each sketch includes “a gracious way of exit” for those who feel called to exit from the denomination.  If a church finds its conscience impinged, we will allow a gracious exit.  How that happens with unfunded liabilities is important, as we still have shared responsibilities in our connectional system.
  • In January 2018, the “A Way Forward Commission” had considered another sketch/option. That sketch proposed that the current Book of Discipline language stay the same and that we would then place a high value on accountability. Eventually, the Commission narrowed their proposal down to the two sketches that they presented to the Council of Bishops.
  • These sketches show how prayerfully and seriously the commission has taken their work. They have sought to listen, brainstorm, and find a way forward for our church, but that way is still an unknown. Some aspects of these two sketches could find their way into the final report, or they might head in a different or new direction.

CURRENT BOOK OF DISCIPLINE “SOCIAL PRINCIPLES” REGARDING HUMAN SEXUALITY

We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

 “the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching….We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.¶ 161.G 

Marriage is still defined in the UMC as “between one man and one woman.” ¶ 161.C  While same-sex couples are welcome in the UMC, our ministers are not allowed to permit same-sex union services, nor can such services be held in our churches. ¶ 341.6: Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.  

“Self-avowed, practicing” cannot receive ordination in the UMC. ¶ 304.3: The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church. 

GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019 MISSISSIPPI ANNUAL CONFERENCE DELEGATION

Lay delegates: Timothy Crisler, Turner Arant, Ann LaSalle, Ann Harrington, David Beckley and Lauren Sledge.
Clergy delegates: Mattie Gipson, Stephen Sparks, Fred Britton, Zach Beasley, Mitchell Hedgepeth and Bob Rambo.
 
Reserve delegates
Lay: David Stotts
Clergy: Leanne Burris
 

BISHOP LETTER TO THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE REGARDING COUNCIL OF BISHOPS RECOMMENDATION TO THE GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019

Holy Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,
 
I write to you as The Council of Bishops concludes our spring meeting. I want to thank so many of you for your prayers that I and other bishops felt supported by as we met. Your prayers, coupled with the prayers uttered in our midst opened us to a dependence on the Holy Spirit that we needed. Once again, thank you.

We agreed to release our report to the Special Called Session of General Conference and its delegates no later than July 8, 2018. We choose this date so that the report could be edited and translated into our official languages used by the delegates during the Session of General Conference. The following is what we adopted:

Motion

Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:
 
     • All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and The Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the commission and the council.
     • The council’s recommendation of The One Church Plan.
     • A historical narrative of the council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.
 
Rationale 

In order to invite the church to go deeper into the journey the council and commission has been on, the council makes all the information considered by the commission and the Council of Bishops available to the delegates of the Special Called Session of General Conference and acknowledges there is support for each of the three plans within the council. The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans. The majority of the council expressed a preference for The One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church. 

It is critically important to understand that three official actions are included in this one formal motion and rationale.

  1. The Council of Bishops is forwarding three complete plans as part of its report to the General Conference: The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan. This means the General Conference will have all three plans in front of them for consideration, and has the right to adopt, reject or amend any of them.
  2. In a series of conversations and polls, the preference of the majority of active bishops on the council was to recommend one plan to the Special Called Session of General Conference and for that recommendation to be the The One Church Plan. Not surprisingly, there was significant support for the other two plans as well.
  3. The council is going to share the full body of the commission and council’s work in order for the delegates to have the resources they need as they decide the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.  

Ultimately, it is extremely important that you are aware that the Special Called Session of General Conference - and not the Council of Bishops - will chart the way forward for our Church next February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis.

I will be working closely with our delegation as they discern where they believe the Holy Spirit is leading the church. We are scheduling a series of meetings across our annual conference to provide you with opportunities to increase your knowledge base around this and to ask questions. I urge you to pray for all the delegates of this Special Called Session of General Conference, on a daily basis. 

God is still calling us to “...make disciples of Jesus Christ.” This Great Commission is ours to fulfill now and forever.

Thank you for the great joy I receive from serving as your bishop and the partnership I feel as I walk among you.

Click here to read the recommendation from the Council of Bishops in its entirety.

Yours in Christ,

Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.