Dear Centenary Family,
As you are probably aware, our denomination is holding a called General Conference that begins tomorrow and runs through February 26 in St. Louis. Delegates from all over the world will gather to consider how to move forward as a denomination in light of our long-standing disagreements over human sexuality. The specific issues that have dogged us for at least 40 years are whether clergy can perform marriages for same-sex couples, whether congregations can allow those marriages to take place in their churches, and whether annual conferences can choose to ordain lesbian and gay persons as ministers.
At the General Conference of 2016, a Commission on the Way Forward was formed to offer proposals to be considered by this called General Conference. As a result of their work, three proposals have come to the fore.
A traditional plan proposes to maintain our current stance. This would not allow same-sex marriages to be performed by clergy or hosted in our congregations and would continue the prohibition of the ordination of lesbian and gay persons. Since the work of the Commission on the Way Forward, some groups have advocated a traditional plan with more stringent enforcement, demanding that bishops be held accountable if they do not pursue charges against clergy who violate the law of the church.
A connectional conference plan proposes that churches be allowed to affiliate with other churches who share similar theologies around LGBT matters. This plan proposes that churches identify themselves as progressive, moderate, or traditional and affiliate themselves along those lines.
The one-church plan proposes that clergy be allowed to decide how they will approach marriage, congregations be allowed to determine their policies about marriage, and Annual Conferences be allowed to determine their policies about ordination. This plan has been endorsed by the Council of Bishops.
There are many nuances to these plans. After the study and discussion of the last two years, there is no indication of which plan will be passed. It is possible that nothing will change. The one-church plan appears to have the greatest level of support, but no one knows whether there are enough votes among delegates to pass this plan. And of course, as with any complex legislative process, some other possibility could emerge that is not yet anticipated.
From my reading and conversations one thing is clear-no one knows what the outcome of this gathering in St. Louis will be. However, there does seem to be a widespread feeling that the chances are high that there will be some kind of split or division within our denomination as a result of the action or inaction of this called General Conference.
In our discussions here at Centenary, several things have become clear.
We are concerned about the future direction of the United Methodist Church but not overly anxious.
We will carefully observe what happens at this General Conference, and then invite our congregation to consider how we might respond, given our own unique situation at Centenary.
We know who we are! As you know, Centenary was the first, of only a handful now, Reconciling Congregation in the Virginia Conference. We are clear that we desire to welcome all people and see ourselves as advocates of inclusion, acceptance, and justice.
This fall, with the assistance of some our retired clergy, we developed a statement in the form of a letter that was approved unanimously by our church council and charge conference. This statement summarizes the journey Centenary has been on for many years and how we see ourselves in relation to the issues facing our denomination at this point in our journey. We have sent this letter to all the lay and clergy members of the Virginia Conference delegation. I'm including this letter in the section below. I think it summarizes very well how we have come to see ourselves as a congregation.
There is a vast amount of information at varying levels of depth. Perhaps the best resource that will give you much information is to go to our Annual Conference's website: www.vaumc.org
You will see a link there where you can watch the General Conference as it is livestreamed. On the right-hand side of that page you will see a tab that says General Conference 2019 that will take you to a wealth of materials if you'd like to read more.
After the General Conference has met, we will find ways to come together to process the results. But I assure you, whatever happens this weekend, we will continue to do what God is calling us to do in downtown Richmond and beyond. We will worship God together, love and care for one another, reach out to new people with the good news of Jesus Christ, feed the hungry, work for justice, and continue to be a shining light of God's great love for all people.
I also want you to know that I believe, because of your faithfulness here in downtown Richmond through all the ups and downs our city has endured, we are now at a place where we have many wonderful opportunities to reach new people and to explore new and creative ways of being the church in the 21st century. I believe that because of the work you have done, along with many wonderful former pastors and lay leaders, we are positioned in a unique way to have a transformative impact on our city and the many, diverse people who are now returning to downtown Richmond!
It's not an easy time to be the church. But it may be that we are living in a time when we have an opportunity to be part of re-forming and re-shaping the church for the future.
I look forward to seeing you in worship Sunday and continuing the journey with you!
To: Virginia Conference Delegation to the 2019 Called General Conference
Dear sisters and brothers:
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
As you prepare for the hard work that lies before you at February's Called General Conference, we want you to know that the staff and congregation at Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown Richmond is praying for your wisdom, compassion, discernment, and endurance. We are grateful for your servanthood to our Lord on our behalf.
Centenary was the first congregation in the Virginia Conference to declare itself a Reconciling Congregation. After extensive prayer, study, and conferencing during 2008 and 2009, the church's Administrative Council adopted the following resolution on May 11, 2009:
Centenary United Methodist Church prayerfully strives to live in its urban community with open hearts, open minds, and open doors.
Affirming that each person is of sacred worth, we seek to be a fully inclusive church, believing that God's love in Christ extends to all persons, without exception.
It is our purpose, therefore, to be a Reconciling Congregation, extending hospitality and encouraging full participation of all, regardless of age, race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, educational or economic background and physical or mental ability.
We recognize that we hold a variety of opinions. We do not seek to erase our differences, but to journey together in faith toward greater understanding and mutual respect.
We believe that reconciliation to God and to one another is central to our mission and ministry.
Since May 2009, Centenary has been affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, and we continue to grow in our faith together as a Reconciling Congregation.
Whatever the outcome of the General Conference in February, and any subsequent action at the Virginia Annual Conference, Centenary United Methodist Church is clear about its call and its identity. While we hope and pray that the General Church will fully embrace all God's children regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, it is our intention to faithfully pursue that holy calling no matter the ecclesiastical structure surrounding us.
Thank you for your work and for your witness in the days before, during, and after the General Conference. You are in our fervent prayers, and we offer you our wholehearted support.
Yours in Christ,
The Charge Conference, November 11, 2018
Centenary United Methodist Church
411 E. Grace Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219