Mediation, Protocol, Grace, and Susanna Wesley United Methodist Church

So, it’s not often that the United Methodist Church makes national and local news. However, you or your friends may have read or seen something over the weekend that raised some questions for you. I want to make sure that you are informed and can respond well to people who bring up the topic.

On Friday, the Council of Bishops shared a press release – United Methodist Traditionalists, Centrists, Progressives & Bishops sign agreement aimed at separation – which included a document that sought to resolve some of our denomination’s differences and would result in a split of the global United Methodist Church

I encourage you to take a look at the original document – Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation (PDF) as well as the Frequently Asked Questions. I find this document noteworthy because it was unanimously agreed upon by persons from across the theological spectrum. While some news reports may lead you to believe that this is already approved, it is not. The United Methodist Church makes decisions as a global denomination every four years at a meeting called General Conference. This document will lead to one of many proposals that will come before the General Conference, which meets this May in Minnesota.

For me, it is clear to me that we must welcome all people into the entire life of the church. I want to serve in a church that does not have any restrictions or limitations for LGBTQ persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I also want to live in a church in which there is space for people who disagree. While I am not excited about an amicable separation, I believe that what is proposed by the protocol may be the best option for our denomination at this time. I trust that God’s Holy Spirit continues to help individuals and organizations make progress toward the perfect love of God and neighbor.

I have had conversations with people connected with Susanna Wesley United Methodist Church, who are both more progressive and more traditional regarding these questions. There are people with theological differences present each Sunday in worship. Being able to worship and seek God together is part of what I love about this church. We are trying to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who are committed to the scriptures and devoted to our tradition as Methodists. We desire to be a diverse community of faith, where God’s love is in action.

One of our all-church goals this year is to implement a series of educational and engagement activities to inform the congregation regarding LGBTQ issues and proposals coming before the UMC at the 2020 General Conference so that we can clarify the congregation’s position and values regarding inclusion. With that in mind, I want to make three invitations to you.

First, starting Sunday morning, February 16, we are offering a study called Faithful and Inclusive – the Bible, Sexuality, and The United Methodist Church. This course provides a perspective on understanding how United Methodists can be both obedient to God’s Word and fully welcoming to LGBTQ persons in the church. This six-session resource has been designed for participants to develop their perspectives on the Bible’s passages related to homosexuality. We will be going through this study as a large group with small group discussions. If your Sunday School class would like to pause during these weeks to be part of the study, I invite you to do so. If you are not part of a Sunday school class and would like to be part of the study, I invite you to do so.

Second, I encourage you to read the mediation protocol [link]. This document is the actual product of the mediation process. You can download a copy here or pick up a printed copy at the church.

Finally, I encourage you to be generous and kind with each other – both those with whom you agree and those with whom you disagree.

Would you like to be part of the conversation at Susanna Wesley United Methodist Church to clarify our congregation’s position and values regarding inclusion? Do you have more questions or concerns? I would be glad to share a conversation with you. You can call the church or email me directly at andrew@swumc.org to share your interest in helping our congregation make progress.

The United Methodist Church in April 2017

One Preacher’s Congregational Guide

Several of you have mentioned the recent articles (hereand here) in The Wichita Eagle about the United Methodist Church. You can find the most up to date denominational news here. In this article, I hope to share some background information, explanation of current events, and what might be next for our denomination and congregation.

Division in The United Methodist Church

For decades, there has been division in our denomination about how to interpret the passages in the Bible related to same-gender relationships. Our official position both recognizes God’s grace and the sacred worth of all people, and also considers the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching. The denomination does not currently allow for the ordination of lesbian and gay persons or for United Methodist clergy to officiate at same-gender marriages. However, there are a number of clergy, annual conferences, and jurisdictions which in practice, statement, or resolution have deteremined to ignore the portions of the Discipline which cause harm to LGBTQ persons.

As a global denomination, there are faithful United Methodists around the world that find themselves with different understandings of what it means to be faithful in these matters. Within the United States, there are congregations which find themselves in different places, as well as individuals within particular congregations who would find themselves to disagree.

An Episcopal Election and the Judicial Council

The current news is connected the election of a bishop last year. In June, Karen Oliveto, who was the pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church at the time, was elected bishop by the Western Jurisdiction. She became the first married lesbian bishop in our denomination and assigned as Bishop of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences.

In the closing moments of the South Central Jurisdiction, there was a petition to the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church which made their April 2017 docket:

IN RE: Petition for Declaratory Decision from the South Central Jurisdictional Conference concerning the application, meaning, and effect of ¶¶ 304.3, 310.2d, 341.6, 2702.1a), b), and d) of The Book of Discipline 2012 in regard to the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as bishop of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage or civil union.

You can find the official document here (PDF) or their entire April 2017 docket here.

A Ruling and Next Steps

The Judicial Council is expected to issue a ruling on this question on Friday, April 28. My understanding is that after the ruling Karen Oliveto will either beBishop or not be Bishop. No matter what ruling the Judicial Council issues, there will continue to be pain, division and disagreement in our denomination.

On April 24, the Council of Bishops called a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23–26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference will be “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward — a 32 member team appointed to lead the church forward amid the impasse related to homosexuality and examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options to strengthen the unity of the church. You can find the full press release here.

In 2019, the official position of the denomination will stay the same, become more accepting or something else entirely. There may continue to be a United Methodist Church, the denomination may dissolve or two or more denominations will form consisting of congregations of the current United Methodist Church. There are likely even more options.

Next Steps for First UMC El Dorado

There are faithful people within our congregation who disagree about these matters. This is similar, perhaps, to many United Methodist congregations across Kansas and Nebraska. So, what does this all mean for our life together as First United Methodist Church in El Dorado?

What it means is that we will continue to welcome all people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ as we worship grow, give, serve, and share.

We will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We will not create barriers for those who seek to live a faithful life as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting time to be a United Methodist.