Thank you all for the many prayers that you have been praying for me as your Bishop, for the Council of Bishops (COB) and the Commission on a Way Forward (Commission). The COB, at our most recent meeting, received the initial report from the Commission on a Way Forward. I want to do my best to share with you an update on the work of the Commission.
The 2016 General Conference deferred all votes on issues of human sexuality and asked the COB to provide leadership that would help our denomination to move forward. The COB created a Commission and empowered them to do the work of bringing to the COB suggestions, based on prayer, study, conversations, education, faith-sharing, personal experiences, and theological reflections, that would assist the COB in providing to a Special Called Session of General Conference a proposal on how we might move forward in regard to issues of human sexuality.
Thirty-two (32) persons, Lay and Clergy, were selected from across our global church. The Commission began their work in January 2017. The work of the Commission is to help the COB in their presentation / proposal to the next General Conference. This is important to keep in mind that the work of the Commission is presented to the COB and then the COB after its work of deliberation and discernment will bring its findings to the General Conference for approval and possible adoption. THERE IS NO FINAL DECISION APART FROM THE ACTION OF GENERAL CONFERENCE.
At our meeting, the COB received the initial report from the Commission. This is a first-step in the process and is not the end of the journey. There will be many more steps as well as an opportunity for input from you prior to the 2019 General Conference Session.
The Commission shared three sketches of models with the COB, with the awareness that we are not restricted to these models and are open to learning, listening and improvement. It is likely that additional models or sketches may emerge as the process continues. In the same way, the COB is not now expressing a preference for any model and has encouraged all the Bishops to engage their respective Conferences in ongoing teaching and dialogue.
I have requested that the IGRC Delegation assist me in leading a series of conversations across our Conference. We are in the process of securing leadership for facilitating these conversations. More information will be shared soon. The Delegation Chairs are helping me plan and implement a series of meetings across the IGRC.
Let me share a little bit about the models that were presented:
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 all 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 Council of Bishops while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.
Each sketch represents values that are across the global church. These values are diverse and have a great deal of theological variance, as do our constituents. While the hope and the plan is to maintain unity, each sketch includes a gracious way for those who feel called to exit from the denomination to do so. The values of unity and contextualization for the sake of the mission undergird the work we are sharing and leading.
As already stated, resident Bishops are encouraged to lead conversation in their episcopal areas. There will be an opportunity for folks to discuss the values that are present in each model. Copies of the models will be shared as the Commission releases its presentation to the COB. The key work going forward is, Ongoing conversation in episcopal areas, continued prayer focus, and continuing to seek discernment.
The Commission will receive and process feedback from the COB and the Church as Episcopal areas share their conversations and questions. I have learned that just as important as what we did do is to understand what the COB did NOT DO. Here are four things that we did NOT do:
• We did not vote on a particular structural model for the future of the church.
• We have not eliminated a particular model.
• In working on models we are not ignoring theology or mission.
• We are not planning for division.
The process that is being used will require a great deal of patience and much more prayer. I know that we all want to see the United Methodist Church focus on our mission and ministry together. There is so much that we can and should be doing to promote the good news of Jesus Christ. Please continue to ask the Lord to show us the way forward.