Thoughts on General Conference

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Every four years 1000 delegates from United Methodist conferences around the world meet to discern the priorities of our denomination, to develop the policies that shape our life-together, to allocate the dollars that fund ministry and mission, and to shape the organization that supports ministry in mission around the world. These decisions are found in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, which is updated and published following each General Conference.

Our next General Conference of the United Methodist Church begins in Tampa Florida this Tuesday, April 24th and continues through May 4th. You can follow the proceedings of General Conference and view the sessions streamed live from the official General Conference website:

Of the decisions that will be made over the course of the next two weeks there are two that are in my thoughts today.

The first is this: General Conference will once again have the opportunity to remove from The Book of Discipline the discriminatory, and I believe hateful, language that declares that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, that self-avowed practicing homosexuals cannot be ordained, that United Methodist pastors cannot officiate at same sex marriages or even bless holy unions, and that such services cannot be held in our church buildings.

These positions of our denomination are wrong. I believe they represent deep misunderstandings about who we are as people, the nature of committed relationships and the way of Jesus.

As you know your pastors- Joe Agne, Rosalee Blake and I – have expressed our intent to fully live out our ordination promises and provide pastoral care for all persons. This includes performing marriage ceremonies and blessing holy unions for all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification. Your Staff Parish Relations Committee, your Church Council and hundreds of our First United Methodist Church members and friends have publically expressed support for this call by God, and by conscience, to provide ministry for all.

A letter expressing this understanding of the call to ministry to all persons, and the intent to live out that call, will be mailed to our Bishop Elaine Stanovsky this coming week. The letter was unanimously approved by our Church Council on April 3rd and is officially signed by Justin Livingston, our Church Council Chair and Jon Kottke, our Lay Leader. Over 200 others have added there signatures to this letter, also. This Sunday is another chance to add your signature to the letter before it is mailed.

The second issue in my thoughts today is this: General Conference delegates will consider a proposal to consolidate decision-making power in our denomination. The proposal comes from the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church, which is a group of key denomination leaders representing boards and agencies within our church. Our Council of Bishops supports it.

One of the recommendations is to consolidate nine of our general church boards and agencies into one group of 15 persons who will serve as the Board of Directors of the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. Another recommendation is to elect a Bishop who does not directly oversee any of our conferences or our churches but rather overseas the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. This would place one Bishop in a very powerful position.

I am not supportive of either of these recommendations. My experience is that consolidating power may serve to protect institutions but it does little to foster the kind of transformational ministry and mission that our world so desperately needs. I have seen the most life-changing transformation take place when leadership is broadly shared and organized around non-hierarchical models that value the gifts of all persons and that not only allow everyone to follow their passion, but also encourage and nurture such vitality.

Today I am meditating on one of Mother Teresa’s prayers. Mother Teresa is a faith hero of mine. The prayer goes like this:

Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts,
Our world, our universe,
Peace, peace, peace.

I’m planning to use this as a centering prayer each day of General Conference. I invite you to do the same. Prayer connects us with the very heart of God. I believe God is inviting us all to come sit at the table of creation as valued, vital and beloved sisters and brothers who are precious children of God.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday. In the meantime, please keep General Conference and our beloved church in your prayers. I remember you in mine. See you soon.

With love,