By Rick Wolcott*
A Special Session of General Conference has been called for February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. Its purpose is to act on a report by the Council of Bishops based on proposals from the Commission on a Way Forward. The Commission was created by action of General Conference 2016 and was tasked with completely examining, and possibly revising, every paragraph of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church concerning human sexuality, and exploring options to help maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.
Per ¶14 of The Book of Discipline, “Such special session of the General Conference shall be composed of the delegates to the preceding General Conference or their lawful successors.”
“Last year Youth Annual Conference passed a resolution that went to Annual Conference asking for a new delegation that would have better representation of young people,” said Kaye Wolfinger, EOC director of Young People’s Ministries. “That was denied at Annual Conference but the solution was that conversations could be had with CCYM so their voices could still be heard and understood.”
Members of CCYM conversed and fellowshipped with EOC delegates during lunch at Doylestown UMC (Canal District) on February 24.
Allen Laferty, a lay member of Crestline First UMC (Mid-Ohio District) whom delegates elected to be head of the EOC delegation, said the youth at his table wanted to know why General Conference hadn’t previously made a decision in regards to the Church’s position on human sexuality.
“They felt it was an easy decision to be made and could be carried out rather quickly,” Laferty said. “I tried to explain that it wasn’t that simple, that The United Methodist Church is worldwide, and there are many different thoughts about what the UMC should look like.”
“We want our opinions to be heard but we also want to hear the views of members of the delegation so that we can have a healthy dialogue together,” said CCYM President Connor Prusha, a high school senior from Chardon UMC (Western Reserve District).
He has found that being a reserve delegate to Jurisdictional Conference 2016 and being active at the General Church level of the denomination is a benefit to him and to CCYM.
“Because I serve on the Division on Ministries with Young People, I was able to meet with representatives from the Commission on a Way Forward who came and talked with us. So I was able to share my experience of that with CCYM, which prompted a whole conversation,” Prusha said.
“It was great to meet with the youth. I found those that I visited with to have a very strong grasp on the issues facing us in St. Louis and thoughtful opinions,” said Brian Sheetz, a General Conference delegate and member of Strongsville UMC (North Coast District). “I was encouraged that they all stressed that the church is strongest if it can remain unified. It was clear to me that this is something that they have discussed and given great consideration to.”
“The youth asked great questions about the Commission on a Way Forward and the future of The United Methodist Church,” said Susan Achberger a reserve delegate to Jurisdictional Conference 2016 who attends University Circle UMC (North Coast District). “I was inspired by their passion to serve. They love their church and want to see it thrive.”
The lunchtime conversation was not limited to just the special session of General Conference.
“At my table the discussion didn’t focus as much on human sexuality as it did on the authenticity and capable leadership youth bring to all levels of church conversation,” said the Rev. Dan Bryant, senior pastor of Lakewood UMC (North Coast District) and a General Conference 2016 delegate. “I sensed they are leaps and bounds ahead of so many of us adults in regards to what is means to truly follow Jesus and to build lasting relationships among all people.”
“Though we come from different times and age differences, there is empathy and concern for each generation. We are one in Christ,” said Betty Wilson, a member of Hammondsville UMC (Ohio Valley District) and a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference 2016. “The prevalent topic we discussed was about what the church means to us, how we came to be in church, and where we go from here.”
“It’s good to have the voice of youth heard because people forget that we are the church of today. We’re not just the church of tomorrow,” Prusha said.
“The youth leaders in our Conference are bright, engaged, hungry and thirsty for a church that is relevant and is focused on the main thing, which is sharing the love of Jesus and being engaged in justice in our world.” Bryant said. “If we, as the adults in the East Ohio Conference can lighten up our control and find avenues to have our youth both learn and teach us, then we will truly have a way forward that is transformative for all.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.