Why The One Church Plan Offers Hope and Healing for Our Denomination

By February 15, 2019

“The list is long of things the church has struggled with before,” Says Dr. Tim Bruster as he puts the coming Called General Conference into the context of Methodist history. In the past century and a half, we have engaged in struggles over slavery, ordination of women, divorce, alcohol, abortion, and countless other, more minor issues. And now, in our time, after forty years of contentious struggle around human sexuality, the 2016 General Conference voted for a new path to resolving this conflict.

As we explored in previous articles in this series, the 2016 General Conference voted to table all legislation related to human sexuality and then asked the Council of Bishops to come up with a plan. The Bishops agreed and appointed The Commission on a Way Forward, a diverse group of 32 individuals including clergy and laypeople on all sides of this issue. This commission then engaged in an unprecedented two-year global discernment process, during which the Bishops worked steadily with this group.

In its May 2018 meeting in Chicago, the Council of Bishops voted by an overwhelming two-thirds majority to share the work done by the Commission on a Way Forward on the three plans — and to recommend the One Church Plan. In the Council of Bishops’ report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019, they offer narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans and then state that: all three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) offer a way forward fully considered by the Commission and the Council; and The Council of Bishops recommends the One Church Plan. (View the entire One Church Plan in detail, straight from the Commission’s report)

Dr. Bruster and almost all of the members of the delegation of the CTC also support the one church plan. “The one church plan is a compromise,” he says, adding that despite its sometimes negative connotation (when did compromise become a dirty word?), compromise can be a very good solution for all involved. “In this case, compromise means a plan that is crafted to meet the greatest number of needs in the greatest number of places.”

According to MainstreamUMC.com, a website devoted to explaining and specifically promoting The One Church Plan, “The One Church Plan holds the denomination together for the widest ministry with the most impact for living out the United Methodist Mission: To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”

Many who support the One Church Plan favor it because it is rooted in the open study of the Christian Church, the origins of Christianity, its relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its polity, its discipline, its destiny, and its leadership as taught by the Apostles in Acts 15:1-35. In that Council of Jerusalem, the Apostles agreed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was broad enough to span differences in interpretation of both Scripture and Tradition. The One Church Plan allows more conservative bishops, conferences, churches, and pastors to continue their current practices. It allows more progressive bishops, conferences, churches, and pastors to fully include LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. The Plan has no effect on Central Conferences outside the United States who are able to adapt the Book of Discipline to their own mission settings.

Part of being a Traditional United Methodist is being open to new interpretations of the scriptures, which is central to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. In fact, the United Methodist Book of Discipline defines this basic tenet of Methodism this way: “The preaching and teaching of [our forebears in the faith] were grounded in Scripture, informed by Christian tradition, enlivened in experience, and tested by reason.” (¶ 102) What we can also derive from this is that it is also important to leave room for those who interpret scriptures differently, and to acknowledge that while we may think someone is wrong, we are all trying to be faithful Christians.

Dr. Bruster explains that while the One Church Plan acknowledges that we are not of one mind in this issue, it still holds the church together by allowing for our differences. “The difference of the One Church Plan over the others is that it gives space for everyone to be together and for people to be in ministry in their particular context,” he says. “We are, after all, a global church. The One Church Plan also gives space for people to continue to be together and to continue to wrestle with this and other issues that will likely arise in the future.”

The Uniting Methodists, a movement that “bears witness to the holistic way of Jesus, offers a voice that clarifies and unifies our church, urges holiness as the rule for our relationships, calls for cooperation with Christ-like love and honest, humble conversation, and desire spiritual and structural unity in the church,” also supports the One Church Plan as it urges all United Methodists to “return to our Wesleyan tradition and to follow into the new spaces where Christ will lead us.”

Seeking to offer a vivid contrast to the harmful polarization that plagues the wider culture, the Uniting Methodists movement affirms the Wesleyan commitment to personal and social holiness, even as it recognizes that we sometimes disagree on how best to pursue holiness, and those differences can lead to conflict. Saying, “Though we may differ in understanding, we are committed to loving God and neighbor alike,” this group urges mutual love and humble conversation in order to “discover greater ways to undo our polarization and to uphold our covenant together.”
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Organization: The Church as Connection (from umc.org)

Terms: General Conference, Jurisdictional Conferences, Central Conferences, Annual Conferences, Districts, Charge Conferences and Local Churches

United Methodist leaders often speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.

The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading scriptural holiness. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” a network of classes, societies, and annual conferences.

Today, our denomination continues to be organized in a “connectional” system, which “enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (Book of Discipline, ¶ 701). Every local church is linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church or person could alone.

Within the connectional structure of The United Methodist Church, conferences provide the primary groupings of people and churches for discernment and decision-making. Wesley described Christian conferencing as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be revealed. At every level of the connection, church leaders and members come together in conversation, or conferencing, to discuss important issues and discover God’s will for the church. The word, conference, thus refers to both the assembly and organization of people as well as the process of discerning God’s call together.

General Conference

As the primary legislative body, General Conference is the only entity with the authority to speak on behalf of the entire United Methodist Church. The General Conference meets every four years to consider the business and mission of the church. An equal number of lay and clergy delegates are elected from United Methodist conferences around the world to decide matters of policy and procedure for the denomination. Learn more.

Jurisdictional Conferences

There are five geographic jurisdictions, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each. Learn more.

Central Conferences

In Africa, Europe and the Philippines, there are seven geographical regions, called central conferences, each of which is comprised of annual conferences and divided into several episcopal areas. Learn more.

Annual Conferences

The annual conference is a geographical entity, an organizational body (made up of elected lay and clergy members), and a yearly meeting. It is the fundamental body of the church (Book of Discipline, ¶ 11). Learn more.


Each local church is part of a district, which is an administrative grouping of churches in a geographic area. Learn more.

Charge Conferences and Local Churches

As the visible presence of the body of Christ, the local church is the place where members grow in faith and discipleship, putting their faith into action through ministry in the world. Learn more.

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Constitutional Structure (from umc.org)

Terms: General Conference, Council of Bishops, Judicial Council

The United Methodist Church does not have a central headquarters or a single executive leader. Duties are divided among bodies that include the General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. Each of these entities is required by our Constitution, a foundational document, to be part of our structure, and plays a significant role in the life of the church.

General Conference

The General Conference, the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church, is the only body that speaks officially for the church. Meeting once every four years to determine legislation affecting connectional matters, it is composed of no fewer than 600 and no more than 1,000 delegates.

Working within the boundaries of the Church Constitution and General Rules, the General Conference defines and fixes the conditions, privileges and duties of church membership; the powers and duties of elders, deacons, diaconal ministers and local pastors; and the powers and duties of annual conferences, missionary conferences, charge conferences and congregational meetings. It authorizes the organization, promotion and administrative work of the church. The General Conference also defines the powers and duties of the episcopacy, authorizes the official hymnal and book of worship, provides a judicial system and procedures, initiates and directs all connectional enterprises of the church and enacts other legislation for the operation of the church. Learn more.

Council of Bishops

The Council of Bishops gives general oversight of the ministry and mission of the church and spiritual leadership to the entire church connection. Composed of all active and retired bishops, the council meets as a group at least once a year.

Bishops are elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and assigned to a particular area, made up of one or more annual conferences. Each bishop provides oversight of the ministry and mission of annual conferences in his or her area and appoints all clergy to their places of service.

Through its Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, the council builds and maintains ties with other Christian denominations as well as other faith groups. Learn more.

Judicial Council

As the denomination’s highest judicial body or “court,” the Judicial Council’s nine members, made up of laity and clergy, are elected by the General Conference and normally meet twice a year to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline.

Their cases are generally referred to them by action of the Council of Bishops, the annual conferences or the General Conference. According to the Constitution, decisions of the Judicial Council are final (Paragraph 57, Article III). Learn more.

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UMC.org Glossary

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