Initial conversations on A Way Forward have been held in seven different locations across the IGRC. Nearly 800 people participated in these vital conversations. Each of these conversations was unique and valuable. The folks that participated expressed appreciation for providing a venue for them to come together with other sisters and brothers to have this family talk.
I want to express my appreciation to each of the churches and to the Illinois State Wesley Foundation for opening their doors and providing us with such gracious hospitality. Each location made us feel welcome and each location provided a save space for us to freely share with one another despite our differences.
So, what’s next?
These initial conversations were designed to be a starting point. The material that was shared was designed to be taken into as many venues as possible to serve as a model of how to engage in difficult conversations in a non-threatening format. My hope is that we will continue the conversations across our Annual Conference. Feel free to continue in the discussions about our mission and ministry and how we might work together to further the cause of Christ despite our varying perspectives about human sexuality.
The Commission o a Way Forward will continue to work on the development of a model that will be presented to the Council of Bishops (COB). The COB will bring a proposal to a special called session of the General Conference in February 2019 at St. Louis, Mo.
In all, 884 delegates from around the world will gather to vote on a plan that will be put forth from the COB. There will be no other agenda items presented to this called session. All of the remaining legislation that was deferred by action of the 2016 General Conference will NOT be considered. Each of those legislative pieces, because they were deferred and not tabled, died at the close of the 2016 General Conference.
The Way Forward proposal will encompass and address issues pertaining to human sexuality that those 2016 legislative items sought to address. The 2019 delegates will consider and decide on how we will move forward as a denomination.
So, what’s next?
1. Continue to pray for our denomination and for the delegates that will be making crucial decisions about our future.
2. Stay on the ship. Now is not the time to abandon the United Methodist Church. The issues of human sexuality are a global issue that we must face head on. I am confident that Christ can and will lead us as we covenant to seek God’s direction together.
3. Prioritize the mission and the ministry of reaching others for Christ. The harvest is STILL plentiful. Our task is to engage is reaching people with the Good News of the Gospel. Start with the folks that you already know that are not actively involved in a faith community. Reach out with the love of Christ and extend to them an invitation to come and worship with you.
4. Be open to providing venues for holy conversations around issues of human sexuality. Listen actively to others, value their opinions, seek clarity, and treat each person with love and respect. Trust the Holy Spirit to be at work and to foster hope and to provide for us all a way to move forward.
I am so blessed to be your Bishop! I am thankful every day that God brought me to the IGRC. Please continue to lift me up in prayer as I do my best to provide excellent leadership to the congregations, institutions, laity and clergy of the IGRC. It is my intention to serve as a non-anxious presence and to create an atmosphere of hospitality and welcome to all.
My hope is that folks will experience genuine love as they encounter the folks in the IGRC. The Bible states very clearly, that others will know that we belong to Christ because of our love for one another. May it be so.
Bishop Frank J. Beard