Pastor’s Ponderings, August 2018

The Way Forward

(2018 Annual Conference Report)

This year’s Rio Texas Annual Conference, as has been the case since the arrival of Bishop Schnase, was focused primarily on teaching and information sharing rather than reports and business.  Regarding teaching, Bishop Schnase and guest speaker Rev Sue Nilson Kibbey presented four outstanding plenary sessions focused on helping churches reach more people for Christ.  A large number of breakout sessions covering a wide range of subjects were also provided, allowing delegates to split up and learn more regarding topics of specific interest.

Regarding information sharing, there was a lot of good news to share.  Our Conference has continued to reduce bureaucracy and shift work and funding of ministries to local churches.  The 2019 Conference budget will again be lower than the previous year, reflecting a total “reduction” of $1,273,540 since 2016.

Regarding progress in making our churches safer for all, 4,200 of our clergy and members have completed or were in the process of completing Safe Gatherings certification as of the date of our June Conference meeting. We also now have 28 trained facilitators available to conduct local church training events, reducing the need for members to travel to other locations or participate in webinars in order to complete the certification process.

While there was much additional good news shared at this year’s Conference, including an almost million dollars given in Hurricane Harvey relief, Mount Wesley being financially secure with a bright future, and many other new and successful ministry starts, the biggest news was an update on the Council of Bishops’ recommendation for “A Way Forward” to resolve the conflict within our denomination over differing theological views over how the church deals with homosexuals.

For more than four decades our UMC General Conferences, held every four years, have been plagued and disrupted by a bitter fight over homosexual issues.  This continuing fight has distracted from our working together and diminished our effectiveness in making disciples for Jesus Christ.  At the last General Conference it came close to splintering us.

At that time our Council of Bishops was asked to create a Commission composed of representatives of the differing views to work together and find “A Way Forward” to be proposed to the Council of Bishops and then recommended to the General Conference at a special called meeting to be held in 2019.  The Commission prepared three plans as follows:

The Traditionalist Plan would strengthen both homosexual restrictions and mandate strict and enforceable consequences for those who break the rules.  Adoption of this plan would likely result in the immediate splintering of the denomination with many liberal leaning Conferences, churches and pastors leaving.

The Connectional Conference Plan would essentially restructure the denomination into non-geographical but theologically aligned Conferences and Jurisdictions.  This plan was seen as too disruptive; fragmenting the church.

The One Church Plan would preserve unity in the denomination, granting space for traditionalist to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past with explicit disciplinary assurances that no pastor or church could be compelled to perform ministries that represent a conflict of conscience, while also granting space for progressives to exercise freely a more complete ministry with LGBTQ persons by allowing pastors and churches to offer same gender weddings.  Essentially, the plan encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions, while preserving the leadership and connectional structure of the United Methodist Church, insuring that its foundations, universities, hospitals, and general agencies can continue to offer their ministries without significant disruption.

All three plans will be presented, but “The One Church Plan” is being recommended.  The General Conference will ultimately decide what is adopted by our denomination.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Should all sinners be welcome to encounter Christ, repent, and grow in faith in our churches, or all sinners except homosexuals?

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Pastor Harold