We are away this week with several members of Trinity at the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Lakeland. It's been wonderful to connect with friends across the conference including several former pastors of Trinity (Aaron and Lenora Rousseau, Dan Johnson, Esther Rodriguez, David Allen and Mark Becker).
Many of you have asked us about a recap of where we are as a denomination regarding ministry with LGBTQ+ persons. Yesterday afternoon we completed the election of delegates for General Conference 2020 in Minneapolis, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to review and update you about our denomination and the Florida Conference of the UMC. You may remember that at General Conference (the legislative body of the global United Methodist Church) 2016 in Portland, it was decided that, since as a denomination we have been divided about interpretation of Scripture and our theological task, and discussion around LGBTQ+ continued to dominate our decision-making, we would invite our bishops to lead us forward to move beyond the impasse.
The Council of Bishops (the pastoral and leadership body of our church) then established a Commission on a Way Forward comprised of 32 clergy and lay persons from across our global church and across the theological spectrum to be moderated by three Bishops, including our own Florida Resident Bishop Ken Carter. The Commission met for eighteen months building relationships, doing in-depth study of Scripture and learning about sexuality, practicing spiritual disciplines together, and doing the hard work of developing different possible options for how to move forward.
Ultimately, they offered three possible plans: the
One Church Plan
Connectional Conference Plan
(click on the plan to learn the details of each plan). The Commission unanimously recommended the One Church Plan as the direction for our global denomination. This plan, they believed, would offer the ability for clergy and churches to serve their communities as they felt led in their unique contexts.
The One Church Plan would have removed from our Book of Discipline the statement saying, "Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." It also would have given local churches the ability to decide whether or not to allow same gender weddings to be officiated on their church property and given individual clergy the ability to determine whether or not to officiate same gender weddings. It also would have allowed each Annual Conference (in the US) or Central Conference (outside the US) to determine whether or not to ordain LGBTQ+ persons and for local churches to determine whether or not to receive LGBTQ+ persons as their clergy.
fter the Commission on a Way Forward unanimously recommended the One Church Plan to the Council of Bishops, the Council of Bishops then came to consensus to recommend the One Church Plan to the specially called General Conference in 2019 in St. Louis. As your pastors, we were also very hopeful that the One Church Plan would pass.
General Conference was extremely contentious and difficult all the way around. While two-thirds of the United States delegates voted in favor of the One Church Plan, a slight majority of the global body chose to reject the recommendations of both the Commission and the Bishops and adopted the Traditional Plan. This plan retains the language about homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, retains the prohibition of clergy to officiate same gender weddings, and forbids the ordination of LGBTQ+ persons. It also strengthens the punitive measures against clergy who disregard these prohibitions up to and including loss of ordination credentials. These changes were upheld by the United Methodist Judicial Council (the judicial body of our global church) and are scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2020.
In response to this decision, we have witnessed many individuals, churches, and even conferences reaffirming their commitment to work for a more inclusive church. At this time, we are once again in the season of electing delegates to General Conference 2020 from each of the Annual Conferences (in the US) and the Central Conferences (outside the US).
This week the Florida Conference has sent a clear message that we long for a more open and inclusive church. The body completed our elections yesterday and have selected 8 clergy and 8 lay persons to General Conference, 8 clergy and 8 laity to attend Jurisdictional Conference (where we elect bishops), and an additional 7 clergy and 7 laity to serve as reserves. All 46 of the delegates elected identify as centrists and progressives who are opposed to the Traditional Plan that was passed. Several other conferences across the US have had similar results in their elections, and there are more Annual Conferences to come in the next few weeks.
What does all of this mean for our denomination? That we are still in a time of waiting and uncertainty about the future direction of the United Methodist Church. We invite you to join us in continuing to pray for the Church, that we might have a future filled with hope. What does this mean for Trinity? That in the meantime, we will continue to be a congregation committed to welcoming and including all, doing all the good we can, and passionately growing deeply devoted followers of Christ.
As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, we invite you to join us in praying for a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit, leading us to be bold in our witness to love God and love our neighbor with our whole heart.
Grace and Peace,