For the past four decades, our denomination has struggled with the issue of human sexuality more particularly how and whether we are going to include LGBTQ persons in ministry and the life of the church. Since then, this topic has divided clergy and laity alike. In 2016, during the last General Conference in Portland, Oregon, this was a hot topic that dominated the conversation such that the General Conference requested the bishops to form the commission now called “Commission On A Way Forward”. This commission is composed of 32 clergy and lay members from all around the world. The primary goal of this commission was to study this issue of human sexuality and find new forms and structures that would allow unity in a church that is deeply divided. The commission was also charged with completing an examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. And then, the commission was asked to bring a recommendation back to a special session of the General Conference to be held on February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri to determine the future of our denomination.
Since the last General Conference, the Commission on a Way Forward has been meeting. It recently completed its work and in May 2018, the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward met in Chicago; and the following are the three plans that are suggested:
2. The Connectional Conference Plan: This plan is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops. The five U.S. jurisdictions would be replaced by three connectional conferences, each covering the whole country, based on theology and perspective on LGBTQ ministry; that is, progressive, contextual and traditional branches. Annual conferences would decide which connectional conference to affiliate with. All local churches that would choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference would vote to join another conference.
3. The One Church Plan: This plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds an inclusive language to assure pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals. The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of the mission. It provides conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality while retaining the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church. This plan also allows central conferences to retain their disciplinary authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and continue to include traditional language and values while fulfilling the vision of a global and multicultural church.
After a prayerful process and discernment, the Council of Bishops drafted their recommendations to be submitted to the Special Session of the General Conference. However, the majority of the Council recommends the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.
Now, this issue is very complex and emotional. As your pastor who love you so much, I acknowledge our denomination is facing uncertain times. This can be a trying and challenging moment for many. But I am also aware that the church of Jesus Christ has tended to flourish during challenging times in history. So, as the time draws closer for the special General Conference in February 2019, I urge the whole congregation of Stoddard United Methodist Church to (1) not be alarmed and lose hope for our future; but stay calm and united; (2) pray for our denomination for God’s will to be done; (3) look to God, and not people. God has been with the people called Methodists for years and I trust He has got a good plan for all of us. Finally, I am inviting you to think clearly about who we are, who we want to be and what the outcome from the special General Conference might mean for Stoddard UMC.
In His Service,