Dear First Church Family,
You may or may not have heard yet, but there is a special called General Conference for the United Methodist Church being held in St. Louis February 23–26. This special General Conference will begin to come to the attention of the nation through news media and social media platforms.
As you may know, General Conference meets as the highest ruling body of The United Methodist Church every four years (normally). General Conference is the only body who can speak for the whole United Methodist Church. At General Conference the Discipline (book of church law) is revised and adopted for the next four years. Our last General Conference was in May of 2016.
At General Conference in 2016, a number of votes were about to be taken mostly regarding whether or not to uphold the United Methodist’s current position on the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals (not currently allowed in the United Methodist Church) as well as whether weddings of persons of the same gender may be performed by United Methodist Clergy (also not currently allowed). While these issues have been passionately contested for almost 50 years in our denomination, the Council of Bishops recognized we have reached a threshold where if the issues relating to human sexuality were to be voted on, an irreparable division would most likely take place no matter the final outcome.
A last minute appeal was made to postpone all voting and discussion relating to human sexuality at the 2016 General Conference, establish a commission to propose a way forward for the United Methodist Church, and return to a specially called General Conference in February of 2019. This vote passed and has led us to today.
It would be impossible to give a full account in this letter all that has occurred since the last General Conference.
In order to offer us a more detailed history and explanation, I have invited Rev. Jack Henton to come and lead us in an informational session this Wednesday January 30th at 6:15pm (dinner will be served at 5:30pm). Since there are no decisions to be made for us as a congregation at this point, our time together Wednesday night will be primarily to listen to Rev. Henton and learn more about what is taking place in our denomination. I honestly have no idea where Rev. Henton stands on these issues and have full faith he will do an amazing job presenting for us what we need to be well informed about General Conference.
As your pastor, I would like to encourage all of us to commit to living together through this tumultuous time in the following ways:
Be quick to listen, critical in thinking, and slow to respond or repeat. There is going to be an increasing flood of information about this General Conference in the traditional media, social media, and in conversations. Whenever there is a lot of information coming out in a short period of time, it often becomes over simplified and often times is inaccurate at first, then corrected later. Give time for all the information to come out and prayerfully consider how you respond to or repeat what you hear.
Be Careful where you get your information. This is similar to #1. It is going to be very difficult for anyone to distribute information before and after this General Conference without intentionally or unintentionally tailoring it towards their desired outcome. In fact, there is already a whole lot of money being spent from all “sides” of these issues to impact opinions. While there is no completely unbiased source of information, the official news source for the United Methodist Church is www.umnews.org. If there is another official source for news established before General Conference, I will link to it from our website.
Don’t Join Teams. This issue in the life of our denomination has unfortunately already begun to mirror our current political climate. That is not good. There are a lot of people from all sides of these issues who want us to join “teams” based on our beliefs on these particular issues. I am so proud of our congregation in that we have so many people who hold differing beliefs passionately yet we all serve together as one family in Jesus. I do not at all think we should sweep these issues under the carpet never to be discussed. Once you join a team, you then separate yourself and the goal then becomes victory over the other team.
Assume the Best. There is a growing trend especially on places like Facebook and Twitter to attribute hateful and sinful motives behind the opinions and beliefs of people we disagree with. That makes it much easier for us not to truly consider where other people are coming from. Even if you wholeheartedly disagree with what someone believes, assume they are seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus. It is possible to seek to understand where someone else is coming from without feeling like you have compromised what you believe.
Do not become distracted. We at First Church are at a critical point in the life of our church. 2019 has to be a year where we all focus together on growing more passionately in love with Jesus and sharing that love with others outside the doors of the church. If our conversations and concerns become primarily focused on General Conference, we will not advance the ministry and mission I believe God has for us at First Church. I can absolutely assure you that the persons we are called to reach and serve together this year will not be attracted to a church more focused on denominational strife than the Gospel of Jesus.
Pray! Do not read that as some sort of optional cliche stamped on the end. We must radically increase our prayers for each other and with each other. To that end, I am going to begin this Sunday praying in the Sanctuary between 9:00 and 9:20 in preparation for our time of worship together. I hope I am not alone. Please join me. Even if it means waking up a little earlier and getting going earlier on a cold Sunday Morning.
You will more than likely not hear from me my particular opinions and beliefs going into this General Conference. There may be a time when I need to share what I believe. If at anytime you would like to have a conversation with me about this or any issue, please set up a time for us to talk in my office or over coffee.