Friends, in visiting with some of you about General Conference and the greater United Methodist Church, I am hearing good questions being asked about our denomination. In my years of ministry, I have learned that when a few are asking question, it might mean there are others asking the same kinds of questions. So, today for my reflection I’m going to share information about our denomination and General Conference that some are asking.
First of all, we (The United Methodist Church) are a global church. John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism was an Anglican Priest in England. He did travel to our continent / nation once, but didn’t have a particularly positive experience, so he returned to England. However, the faith movement that John Wesley started has truly encircled the globe in that the UMC is present and at work in more than 136 countries around the world. Currently, the most explosive growth in the UMC is taking place in the continent of Africa.
The UMC has a constitution and in many ways is structured similar to our own government. The Book of Discipline is the “rule book” for our denomination and can only be changed by action of the General Conference. General Conference is the gathering of lay and clergy delegates from all around the world that meets every four years to care for the “business” of the global church, as well as set the direction and focus of the denomination. This global gathering is when amendments and updates are made to the Book of Discipline. A side-note about General Conference is that the Bishops of our denomination are not allowed voice or vote at General Conference. Their official role is to “chair” or lead the sessions.
This most recent General Conference was a “Called Special Session” to deal with the issue of homosexuality, an issue that has been growing in intensity since first being introduced into the Book of Discipline in 1972. The Traditionalist Plan that was adopted at the recent General Conference, had several amendments attached to it. As I understand it, the Traditionalist Plan, including the amendments, has been referred to the Judicial Council of the UMC (the Church’s Supreme Court) to rule on the constitutionality of the plan and amendments. I believe the Judicial Council will meet in April. Currently nothing has changed in the Book of Discipline. The Traditionalist Plan is not set to be enacted until January of 2020.
In our church, Downtown Mitchell First UMC, there are people in our church family that agree with the Traditionalist Plan and there are those that disagree with the Traditionalist Plan. The same can be said of most social issues of our day. The beauty of our church is that long ago it was determined that our church would be a place where we want everyone to feel welcome and know they are loved by God. This message has not changed.
I would ask for patience as it is determined what exactly the Traditionalist Plan will mean for our denomination and our church. Again, at this point nothing has changed and nothing new has been enacted. But more than patience, I would ask you to continue to pray for our church (as we do ministry), our Bishops (as they provide leadership), and our denomination (as we continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ).
We have just begun the season of Lent. This is a season of prayer, reflection, and self-denial. May we truly be open to the whispers of the Spirit as we all look to the future of where God leads us. Yes, in some ways it feels like we’re in a wilderness trying to find our way. However, the story of God tells us that when there’s wandering in the wilderness…there’s a promised land on the other side. May it be so for us!
P.S. If you’d like to visit with me more about this, please call me and let’s set up a time. I’d be glad to visit.