Delegates Build Relationships, Consider What is Good for the Whole Church

By Rick Wolcott*

Members of each of the delegations to the Special Session of General Conference from across the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) gathered at Wespath Benefits and Investments in Glenview, Illinois September 21-22.  The time of shared learning, small group discussion, worship, and fellowship was sponsored by the NCJ College of Bishops and the NCJ Mission Council.

NCJ delgates gather at table, Bishop Malone at podium

“The goal really was conversations and the building of relationships,” said Bishop David Bard, president of the NCJ College of Bishops and resident bishop of the Michigan Conference.

“We had some time for conversation together both with the members of our own delegation as well as with other delegates from other conferences,” said Phil Carver, lead lay delegate from the Iowa Conference.  “We were responding to the preparations for the 2019 Special Session of General Conference and we were looking at the proposals that have come from the Commission on a Way Forward and looking at them in a little more detail so that we understood them.”

Delegates heard presentations about each of the plans proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward: The One Church Plan that is recommended by the Council of Bishops; the Connectional Conference Plan; and the Traditionalist Plan.  There was time dedicated for delegates to talk and think about how the plans may play out in their context, and for conversation around the question “What is good for the whole Church?”

Rev. Carol Zaagsma, a first reserve delegate from the Minnesota Conference, noted that the diverse viewpoints of those in the jurisdiction heightened the need for delegates to come together and see each other as people.

“Talking with people illuminated the heart behind where they stand,” she said. “It’s important work to engage in the conversation and see people as beloved children of God.”

“My expectations were pretty low for this but I’ve come away with a great sense of hope,” said lay delegate Allen Laferty, chairperson of the East Ohio Conference delegation.  “Meeting with other delegates from other conferences, there’s a good spirit that the church is going to move forward some way or somehow and these plans, or whatever it is that is decided at the Special Session, will make us a stronger church.”

“We accomplished the goal of bringing people together in a heart of peace,” said Bishop Julius C. Trimble, resident bishop of the Indiana Conference.

As he prepares for the Special Session of General Conference, Carver knows there is a lot to consider.

“We hope that as we are making the decisions that are before us in February that we’ll be mindful of all of our churches and all of their mission and ministry,” he said.  “I think there is certainly a common spirit here this week that we want to do all we can to maximize the churches presence throughout the world.”

Bishop David Bard, Michigan Conference
Bishop David Bard, Michigan Conference

Bard reminds all laity and clergy of The United Methodist Church that they have vital roles to play in the lead up to the Special Session of General Conference to be held in St. Louis, Missouri February 23-26, 2019.

“I hope they will be praying for their delegations,” he said.  “I hope they will pay attention to what is happening and learn about the plans and be in conversations with their delegations but I hope they don’t get so caught up in it that they forget being about the ministry of the Church – that work of making disciples to transform the world, feeding the hungry, caring for people.  We don’t ever want what’s happening at a denominational level to be an impediment to our being in ministry.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Special thanks to Minnesota Conference Director of Communications Christa Meland and Iowa Conference Director of Communications the Rev. Dr. Art McClanahan for their contributions to this article.

Listening Posts Offered Prior to Special Session of the General Conference

By The East Ohio Conference Delegation*

The Special Session of the General Conference, that has been called to address a way forward for The United Methodist Church on the matter of human sexuality, will be held February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

As East Ohio delegates to this Special Session of the General Conference, we recognize the importance of the decisions that will be before us and the impact these decisions will have on each United Methodist church and member.  Recognizing this, we invite you to attend and share your thoughts and concerns at one of the five scheduled listening posts that will be held throughout the East Ohio Conference.

The listening posts will consist of a devotion, a brief overview of the process of General Conference, and a review of the report – but the main purpose is for the delegates to listen to you.  Below are some questions that may help direct you in how to share your thoughts and concerns.

  • What are signs of hope, or causes of anxiety, for you surrounding this Special Session of the General Conference?
  • What are signs of hope, or causes of anxiety, for you in a particular plan in the proposed report?
  • What would your picture of The United Methodist Church look like for the next generation?
  • What is that you want us as delegates to be aware of or take into consideration?

We ask that participants limit their sharing to a couple of minutes so that all who wish to contribute have time to do so. The length of each listening post will depend on the participation of those in attendance but we have reserved 2½ hours.  During the time of light refreshments following, you will have an opportunity to speak personally with the delegates who are present.

The listening posts will be:

We would appreciate participants registering in advance to help with our planning but registration is not required to attend the posts.  You may register here.

Visit for the most up-to-date information on the Special Session of the General Conference.  The site is where materials to be considered by the Special Session of the General Conference will be posted when they are made available to the public: these include the report from the Commission on A Way Forward, the recommendation of the Council of Bishops, and other materials.

If you are unable to attend any of the listening posts, you can e-mail the delegation at

Please continue to be in pray for The United Methodist Church and this Special Session of the General Conference.

*The East Ohio delegation is comprised of six clergy members and six lay members elected by Annual Conference.

United Methodist Bishops Recommend a Way Forward

Bishop Cynthia F. Harvey (right) answers questions during a press conference about the United Methodist Church’s a Way Forward plan at the conclusion of the church’s Council of Bishops meeting in Chicago. She is flanked by Bishops Bruce R. Ough (left) and Kenneth H. Carter. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.


For immediate release  May 4, 2018

United Methodist Bishops Recommend a Way Forward

CHICAGO – United Methodist bishops, meeting in Chicago, engaged in a prayerful process to discern a way forward.  At the conclusion of the discernment process, the Council of Bishops strongly approved the following motion and rationale:

Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:

  • All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the Commission and the Council.
  • The Council’s recommendation of the One Church Plan.
  • An historical narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.

Rationale:  In order to invite the church to go deeper into the journey the Council and Commission has been on, the Council will make all the information considered by the Commission and the Council of Bishops available to the delegates of the General Conference and acknowledges there is support for each of the three plans within the Council.  The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans.  The majority of the Council recommends the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.

Guided by the mission, vision and scope document, the bishops agreed to recommend the One Church Plan. This plan provides conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context while retaining the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.

The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of the mission; and allows for central conferences, especially those in Africa, 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.

This plan also encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. The One Church Plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

The Council’s discernment process was guided by the over-arching desire to strategically help the General Conference do its work and to honor the General Conference’s request for the Council to help the church find a way forward.

“With convicted humility, bishops want to be pastors and shepherds of the whole church in order to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible and with as much contextual differentiation as possible,” said newly installed Council of Bishops President Ken Carter.

The bishops expressed deep appreciation for the diligent work that the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward Commission did in formulating the three plans; the Traditionalist Plan, the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.

While the bishops recommended the One Church Plan they affirmed that the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditionalist Plan held values that are important to the life and work of the church and will be included in the final report to the Special Session of General Conference that the bishops have called for Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Bishop Carter, who served as a one of the moderators of the Commission, said the bishops are adopting a spirit of collaboration with the Commission, and an attitude of respect for the delegations who will take up this work on behalf of the whole church.

“The Council’s prayerful deliberation reflected the diversity of the global denomination on the matter of homosexuality and many other matters.  The Council affirms the strength of this diversity and our commitment to maintain the unity of the church,” Bishop Carter said.

Full details of the plans and accompanying legislative proposals will be released as soon as final editing of the entire report is completed and translated into the official languages of the General Conference.  It is estimated this will be no later than July 8.


Media Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga

Director of Communications – Council of Bishops

The United Methodist Church