I began my study leave on Thursday and saw the surprise announcement come through my e-mail on Friday containing a proposal by a diverse group of 16 United Methodist leaders to General Conference, entitled
Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. The proposal deals specifically with our denomination’s divided opinion on gay marriage and ordination. Of course, such a title would never go out that way on news headlines.
A myriad of news outlets reported that the United Methodist Church had decided to split.
This is not true. This proposal is the latest of more than a dozen submitted for consideration. It is interesting, partly because some of the members who wrote this proposal have been backers of other proposals. The good news is that church leaders from a variety of perspectives and parts of the world are trying to find a way forward, in hopes of avoiding the intense fighting of the General Conference of 2019.
General Conference can make decisions or even speak officially for the United Methodist Church. That body, which meets meets every four years with delegates from all over the world will meet in Minneapolis on
May 5-15, 2020. Because the proposal is a protocol (a way of getting there), there is much work to be done – figuring out financial implications, checking whether what it proposes is constitutional, and finding language that will communicate the best for our worldwide church. Over the next few months, this proposal will be tested and revised. And even after there is a decision, implementation will involve even more time. I had already noticed that the press was paying closer attention to us this time around.
Be advised: Take what you read in the news with a grain of salt.
So what does this mean for us? We will continue to grow into what God has called us to become as First Church. We will be a church that
“boldly spreads the love of Jesus Christ to bring hope to the world.” We are a church with a wide table where everyone is welcome to receive and share in the ministry of Christ. We are a congregation that has a passion for God’s Word, with people who grow from each other in our varied perspectives. We are a church on a dynamic mission to reach people more than ever. We have beds to build, LifeGroups and classes to start, youth to confirm, worship initiatives to implement, people to welcome to faith in Christ and our congregation, and a landmark effort to conduct which will reduce debt to free up more resources for ministry. This is setting up to be a terrific year of ministry and our focus must clearly be on our life and mission together.
During the season of Lent, we will have home gatherings (which I will lead) to help further inform people about what is to come at General Conference and to hear your questions and thoughts. Hopefully, things will be much clearer by then. In the meantime, pray for the United Methodist Church and for General Conference. The guidance of God’s Spirit is crucial.