General Conference 2019

Dear Centenary Family,

As you may know, the called General Conference in St. Louis adopted a plan for our denomination called the Modified Traditional Plan. We hope in the not too distant future to have some opportunities as a church family to process the actions taken by the General Conference and discern prayerfully what this means for us as a congregation.

The intention of the plan adopted by the General Conference is to make our Book of Discipline's current approach to the way our church responds to LGBTQ persons even more rigorous than it already is. It does this by specifying sanctions against those who would violate the policy of the denomination by performing same-sex marriages, allowing them to be held in our facilities, or supporting the ordination for ministry of LGBTQ persons. While I certainly respect the anguish that persons with traditional beliefs around human sexuality may feel as the church has wrestled with these matters, I have been particularly saddened by the visible harm and pain our church's recent statements and actions have caused to LGBTQ persons.

I am also very concerned about how these recent actions impact young people. Amy and I recently heard from friends who are our age whose adult daughter was raised in the United Methodist Church. She did not even consider attending a United Methodist Church when she and her husband were looking for a church home in their city because of the United Methodist Church's position on LGBTQ acceptance. I fear that our denomination, with its recent actions, is also alienating a large number of younger people.

There is much that is still unclear about exactly where we are. The General Conference also adopted a motion to refer all the work around this traditional plan to our Judicial Council for review. Much of this plan had been ruled unconstitutional before and during the General Conference. I'm eager to see how their ruling may influence the implementation of this plan.

However, regardless of how these matters sort themselves out in the coming days and weeks, it is clear that the process followed and action taken at this General Conference has been very painful, particularly for LGBTQ folks who, with good reason, feel that our church is purposely acting to exclude them from the life of the church. To be fair, those who support the traditional approach claim that this is not their intention. Rather, they believe their approach as more aligned with their reading of Scripture around this difficult issue.

There are several things I would like you to keep in mind.
1)      One of the factors shaping this outcome was the participation of international delegates, especially delegates from the church in Africa, who comprised about 30% of the delegation. If this had been voted on by the U.S. church alone, the One-Church plan would have prevailed rather easily.
2)      The One-Church plan was an attempt to help us stay together while holding different opinions. It did this by allowing decisions about marriage to be made by individual clergypersons and local churches while allowing individual Annual Conferences decide how they would approach matters of ordination.
3)      In the growing number of accounts of this General Conference in the media, you will read that this was a win for conservatives and a loss for progressives. That is not accurate. The One-Church plan was widely supported by moderates and progressives within the denomination. Even some traditionalists, who would have preferred to see no change in our current policy, believed they could live with the One-Church plan, feeling that the sanctions proposed by the Modified Traditional Plan were simply too draconian.
4)      One outcome of the actions taken at yesterday's session of the General Conference is increased conversation among clergy and congregations who do not want to be part of a church that does not fully welcome LGBTQ persons. On one hand, many of these persons are not ready to leave our denomination, while on the other hand do not intend to live in support of traditional plan that has been adopted. That means that there are ongoing discussions about how churches that want to be inclusive and hospitable to LGBTQ folks might work collaboratively in the days to come. These are conversations I believe we will want to pursue.
5)      In the meantime, I would like to remind you that we here at Centenary are Virginia's first Reconciling Congregation. While we have been respectful of the church's policies to this point, we nonetheless are unequivocal in our desire to welcome all people as God's children and be in ministry with people regardless of their "age, race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, educational or economic background, and physical or mental ability."
6)      As I suggested in my sermon this past Sunday, in spite of all of these challenges and difficulties, I believe Centenary is wonderfully positioned for mission and ministry in the 21st century. I hope and pray for days of growth in number and impact as we continue to be who we are and proclaim the good news of God's love for all people here in downtown Richmond and beyond.
I recognize that even here at Centenary, we have different opinions. Centenary is a welcoming place and we are trying to be a place where we love one another, even if we ourselves may have different theological points of view. That is one thing I cherish about Centenary. So, I hope we will hold one another close in the days to come and that we will allow ourselves to think compassionately and imaginatively about the future God is inviting us into. Much is still unclear and uncertain. But we are sure, as the Apostle Paul writes, that "faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." (I Corinthians 13:13)
I consider it a privilege to walk with you as your pastor into God's future for us.


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