Thank you for your prayers as Armetta and I traveled to Shreveport to spend a few days at the Louisiana Annual Conference 2019.
This was my second Annual Conference and it was different in a few ways. The biggest difference was location. No longer held under the sports dome at Centenary College now Annual Conference will take place at the Shreveport Convention Center. The main reasons are (1) more space and (2) technology. Those organizing and leading Annual Conference can do much more with the space and technology available at the Convention Center (screens, lighting, sound, and so on). There is also much more room for booths and exhibits. In the main meeting area there was a much clearer division between “this is where voting delegates sit” and “this is where non-voting delegates and guests sit”. There was much greater concern that only voting delegates could be in the central area and would be able to cast votes.
I thought the speaker for “teaching moments” this year Rev Dr Gil Rendle was interesting and generally excellent. I was able to attend two out of the three teaching moments (presentations) and took notes. The main theme of his presentations was how to lead congregations in a changing world. More specifically that the culture around us has changed dramatically. Yes of course it has. But how? And how do we in response to this fulfill our mission from God to make disciples for the transformation of the world? One of his main points is that instead of jumping to “this is what we need to do” (solutions) we need to begin with conversations in which we find the right questions to ask. One of which is “what is our purpose?”
Notes_GilRendle_AnnualConference2019_1-3_2-3_no 3-3 yet (DOCX)
Notes_GilRendle_AnnualConference2019_1-3_2-3_no 3-3 yet (PDF)
Which sounds a little like what I have been sharing over the last few months. That before we jump to “this is what we need to do” we need to see differently. To ask God to provide us with vision. Who are we as a body of Christian believers? Who are we as Livingston United Methodist Church? What is our role in the town and parish of Livingston? That when we begin to ask even more “what is our purpose?” it might lead us to see better what we need to do and/or change. Or – and keep this in mind – in might not change what we do. However we understand better why we do what we do and that in turn gives us new energy and joy in our ministry together. I encourage our church to consider an informal process of asking questions and along the way seeking renewed vision of who we are and what is our role in this mission field (= Livingston).
Most people are not afraid of hard work. What can exhaust people us is not seeing more clearly the purpose of our work and ministry. The more important questions for us are not “what” but “why”.
An important note about General Conference 2019
I will try to keep this short and simple. Many of you know about the special called General Conference that took place in St Louis. This was a crucial meeting to help settle/resolve United Methodist Church teaching and practice regarding same-sex weddings and ordaining persons in same-sex relationships. I have shared elsewhere a little about discussion and debate up to this point, about the Commission on a Way Forward, about the plans being considered, and the One Church Plan.
In a nutshell this issue has taken up a great deal of time, energy, and attention. United Methodists (at least in the United States) wanted to see this resolved, largely so we could get back to focusing on our primary mission. The district has asked clergy to say something to their churches, so people hear about this first not from national media but from their pastor, and to direct church members to reliable information.
Short version = The One Church Plan did not pass. A Modified Traditional Plan passed. The vote was close, 438-384.
Longer version = Rather than attempting to describe the four days of General Conference 2019 I would direct you to excellent reports by Chris Ritter at People Need Jesus website = https://peopleneedjesus.net/category/general-conference/. His final report is especially important and helpful = https://peopleneedjesus.net/2019/02/27/gc2019-update-5/. I was trying to follow on social media what was going on, by 5:30 p.m. there were tweets that the Traditional Plan had passed, people wondered “what does that mean? what happens next? what are the details?” The final report by Ritter fills in important details about the Modified Traditional Plan that passed.
Here are my notes on the Listening Session with Bishop Harvey regarding (1) the Commission on a Way Forward and (2) the three plans and especially (3) the One Church Plan.
Listening Session on the Commission on a Way Forward and the One Church Plan – edited (PDF)
Listening Session on the Commission on a Way Forward and the One Church Plan – edited (DOCX)
The Commission on a Way Forward and the One Church Plan
As you are aware The United Methodist Church has for decades been involved in discussion and debate regarding sexuality (and by extension regarding marriage). It operates according to policies and procedures described in the Book of Discipline. Regarding same-sex relationships the Book of Discipline currently states:
G: We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching… (§161. II. The Nurturing Community)
Which basically means people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or queer (LGBTQ) are welcome to participate in the life of the church. However United Methodist pastors cannot conduct same-sex weddings. And persons who identify as LGBTQ cannot be ordained as elders or deacons. Some believe the statement/policy should continue and be enforced. Some believe it should be changed.
Every four years, the governing body of the UMC known as the General Conference gathers to evaluate our Book of Discipline and make changes if needed. At previous General Conference gatherings this subject has dominated discussion. Many feel the subject has hindered the effectiveness of the governing body. So at the last General Conference gathering in 2016 it was decided a special session would be held in February 2019 in an attempt to resolve the matter for the United Methodist Church.
The Council of Bishops commissioned a task force called “The Commission on a Way Forward”. It has spent two years trying to formulate a way forward that could adequately address the issue. Earlier this year this commission presented three possible plans to the Council of Bishops. My understanding is all three plans will be discussed and voted upon at the special session in 2019. I was present when Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey announced the Council of Bishops has endorsed what is called the One Church Plan.
A rough summary of the One Church Plan is that it allows:
- each individual Annual Conference (led by their Boards of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Executive Sessions) will determine whether persons involved in same-sex relationships may be certified, licensed, or ordained for service and leadership
- congregations will be able to decide their marriage policies and
- pastors will be able to determine whom they will marry.