Bishops uphold values of mission, unity, space, contextuality in interim report on Way Forward work

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 9, 2017

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.

With the mission of God through the risen Christ at the core, the bishops this week received an interim report from the Commission on a Way Forward that offered three sketches of models that would help ease the impasse in the church, noting that the power of the Holy Spirit trumps and guides all the church’s activities. The Commission serves the COB, helping prepare the COB to fulfill its mandate to make a recommendation for a way forward to the General Conference.

Just as the Commission did not express a preference for any of the models in its interim report to the COB in order for the bishops to fully do their work, the COB is also not now expressing a preference for any model, while engaging deeply with them and the implications for their church and their leadership. This will provide the space bishops need to teach and engage leaders in their episcopal areas.

After receiving the interim report of the sketches of the three possible models, the bishops engaged in prayerful discerning and offered substantial feedback to the Commission, but did not take any vote on any of the sketches.

The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward noted that the values highlighted in any one model also live within the fabric of the other models.  Values expressed by any one model are not exclusive to one or absent in another.  The values that may be associated with the identity of any one model are there because it may be a value lifted to a higher level of preference or differentiation among the models.

“Operate with a heart of peace and an openness.  All three models grew out of mission, vision and scope.  Each one of these models connects to a story and experience that is represented in this body,” Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, one of the moderators told her fellow bishops.

She added: “As we talk about it, let’s be respectful of each model.  When we speak about one of the models in a less than respectful way, we are speaking of someone’s experience or someone’s conscience. How we talk about these models is important because they are representative of where people are standing and how people are experiencing the church.”

The Commission and the COB acknowledge the interaction between the values of unity, space and contextuality, and the tension this interaction often creates, as part of what completes the UMC as a denomination rather than what divides it.

The Commission shared sketches of three models, with the awareness that the Commission and the COB are not restricted to these sketches and are open to learning, listening and improvement. It is likely that additional models or sketches may emerge as this process continues. Here is the summary about the sketches of the models presented to the bishops:

  • One sketch of a model affirms the current Book of Discipline language and places a high value on accountability.
  • Another sketch of a model removes restrictive language and places a high value on contextualization.  This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • A third sketch of a model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one COB, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.
  • Each sketch represents values that are within the COB and across the church.
  • Each sketch includes gracious way of exit for those who feel called to exit from the denomination.

The values underlying these proposed models are found in two documents: The Mission, Vision and Scope document, which was affirmed by the COB; and the Status Report of the Commission, released in July 2017. As part of the ongoing discernment within the church, resident bishops are being equipped to lead discussions in their episcopal areas by emphasizing the values of the proposed models as found in these two important documents.

The Commission will process the feedback received from the bishops at the Lake Junaluska meeting and will continue to welcome further input from members of the church through conversations and discussions with their respective bishops on the strengths and limitations of each model. The basic resources for these conversations were shared in a handbook with the bishops, and this handbook will be available on the Commission on a Way Forward’s website as a PDF.

The COB and the Commission have a series of meetings scheduled for early 2018 designed to continue the preparations for the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019. This includes Commission meetings in January and March; an additional COB meeting in February before a final report is discussed at the May meeting of the COB.

The COB is committed to prayerfully seeking God’s future for the UMC and continues to invite the entire church to be engaged in praying for a way forward.

“Pray for the work of the Commission and for the bishops as they continue to discern God’s plan for the future of the UMC; a future that shows love for all of God’s people and a future with hope,” said COB President Bishop Bruce R. Ough.

 

Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
mmulenga@umc-cob.org
202-748-5172 (office) or 585-455-5683 (cell)

Conversations on a Way Forward Invite Dialogue on the Unity of the Church

By Rick Wolcott*

The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination, and possible revision, of every paragraph of The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality, and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.

On September 16, nearly 100 clergy and laity from across the East Ohio Conference participated in a pilot Conversation on a Way Forward that provided opportunities for intentional, meaningful dialogue to discern together how we might strengthen and maintain the unity of The United Methodist Church, and find a way forward through the present impasse related to human sexuality.

“We are here today because we honor and acknowledge that we all hold different views on how we interpret the scriptures as it relates to human sexuality,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.  “We are here acknowledging that we have different ways of how we are engaged in relationships and in ministry with our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer brothers and sisters in Christ, the beloved community, the beloved children of God.  We are called to be the Church.  We are called to be those who embody the love and the grace of God.”

Following worship and time spent together framing the conversation, participants gathered in their assigned small groups for facilitated dialogue.  Each group reflected on the following four questions that were crafted by the Council of Bishops for discussion by United Methodists across the denomination:

  • In our diverse and global existence, what is the shared mission of the Church?
  • Is there a proactive way to live together in our differences that doesn’t presume that we will solve our differences?  If so, what would it be?
  • What might be a form of unity that would empower us living together?
  • What is our witness and what can be our witness to the world in relation to our differences?

All clergy and laity in the East Ohio Conference are invited, and encouraged, to participate in any one of the following  Conversations on a Way Forward:

Mon., Oct. 23, 2017, 6-9 pm
Mentor UMC

Tues., Nov. 14, 2017, 6-9 pm
Western Reserve UMC

Sat., Feb. 3, 2018, 10 am-1 pm
Thoburn UMC

Sun., Feb. 4, 2018, 2-5 pm
Willard First UMC

Mon., Feb. 5, 2018, 6-9 pm
Lakewood UMC

Sat., Mar. 3, 2018, 9 am-12 pm
Church of the Lakes UMC

It is important that you register in advance for the conversation you wish to attend, as each location has a seating capacity for small group sessions.  Register here

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Promoting the Understanding of a Black Theological Perspective

Black Theologian Day is October 14

By Will Jones*

Bishop James S. Thomas,
The late Bishop James S. Thomas, A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The late Bishop James S. Thomas initiated the first Black Theologian Day, during his time as episcopal leader of the East Ohio Conference, to promote the understanding of a Black theological perspective to a primarily Caucasian denomination in the United States.

All East Ohio Conference clergy and laity are invited to dive deeper into their faith and broaden their understanding by participating in Black Theologian Day 2017, to be held at Aldersgate UMC (North Coast District) in Warrensville Heights on October 14.  This year’s theme is Overcoming Fear, based on Romans 8:31.

“One of the main hindrances to doing ministry is fear.  It paralyzes us.  We have to remember as clergy and lay that if God is for us, who can be against us,” said EOC Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Steve Court.

Ms. Erin Hawkins
Ms. Erin Hawkins, General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race

Erin Hawkins the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race is this year’s guest scholar.  She is dedicated to building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and reach more people, younger people, and a more diverse people by providing practical resources and support to leaders throughout the Church to help them engage and embrace the cultural diversity present in our congregations and communities.

The ministry model of the Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) helps our conference to have vital conversations with people different than us and to deepen our ability to be culturally competent.  Black Theologian Day is an opportunity for that to happen.

The Rev. Darlene Robinson of Willard First UMC (Firelands District) has participated in several past Black Theologian Days and encourages all clergy and laity in East Ohio to attend this year’s event.

“A lively, Spirit-filled and energized time of worship will be had in the midst of an informed theological presentation, informative teaching and an opportunity for great dialogue,” she said.  “One gets to see, hear, and dialogue with an African-American scholar that one may have not known about or may never get an opportunity to see in person.”

Cost is $15 and online registration is required to attend.  Register here.

 *Will Jones is director of Multicultural Vitality for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.