This past week 600 leaders of United Methodist annual conferences gathered in Kansas for UMCNext, a conversation in response to the adoption of The Traditional Plan by the 2019 Special General Conference and the future of the United Methodist Church. A news conference following the meeting and a press release issued yesterday revealed optimism, forward movement, and a peaceful determination to remain committed to a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement.
Dr. Tim Bruster, FUMCFW Senior Pastor, who was among the participants in this three-day conversation, says, “For me, this meeting was heartening, an example of who Methodists can be when we are at our best. The conversation was certainly intense at times. After all, when you get 600 United Methodists together in the same room, you will have a diversity of perspectives and ideas—a major strength of our denomination, as far as I’m concerned. Yet, the meeting was a good example of working together through difficult issues to find paths forward that are more aligned to the Kingdom of God.”
“Every movement has a tipping point, a game changer, a watershed moment, this is one of them,” said convening team member Rev. Junius Dotson. “In a moment none of us have experienced before and could never have fully anticipated, we have come together and held many important things in tension. We have managed ambiguity and cared for the waves of our own emotions and reactions. It has been intense, challenging, powerful, beautiful work we have engaged together.”
In a document released yesterday the Four Commitments of UMCNEXT adopted by the group during this meeting are:
- We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
- We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
- We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
- We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
“What is clear as we depart this meeting is that we have a vision for a future filled with hope. We have not reached closure,” said team member Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli. “This is just the beginning. We remain open to the Holy Spirit and with convicted humility, we will follow where God leads us.”
Noting that this is a gathering of leaders rather than a leadership team, the convening team will now begin to process pages of substantive work that were generated through table conversations over the next few days. Participants will go back to their annual conferences to organize and mobilize others in ways appropriate to their context.
“Resistance looks very different in Baxter Springs, Kansas than in Boston, Massachusetts,” said team member Rev. Adam Hamilton in a video interview following the conference. “For some, resistance is putting up a banner saying ‘All Are Welcome’; and for others, it may mean participating in a same-gender wedding. The hundreds of participants are all thinking about what resistance looks like in their particular context.”
Dr. Bruster reiterates that for us here at First Church Fort Worth, yes, we will fly those “All Are Welcome” banners, continue to be inclusive to all, and remain prayerful for the future. Meanwhile, we will continue to be who we are, do what we do and focus our full intent on all the ways in which we Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives. With our Focus First objectives fixed firmly in our minds and hearts, we will move forward as we always have, waiting and listening to what God has in mind for us in the future or our denomination.
“While some churches in the denomination are voting to leave the denomination immediately, others are more focused on revising from within, staying with the United Methodist Church and making the changes that need to be made to ensure that our church is a true reflection of the Kingdom of God,” Dr. Bruster adds. “While there is a so-called exit plan (see the recent article about this here), we are not looking to exit the denomination. Rather, as the new expression or expressions of Methodism emerge, this congregation may be affiliated in a new way.”
As our Central Texas Annual Conference convenes on June 9th, there will undoubtedly be much talk and speculation about what will unfold for our annual conference in the coming months. “I expect that this annual conference meeting will have some significant conversation about the future of the United Methodist Church, but not much is likely to change in the near future,” Dr. Bruster says. “The thing to remember is that petitions will be due in September for General Conference 2020, and it is unlikely we will know much more before then.”
Adding that there will be groups and individuals working on petitions to the General Conference between now and then, Dr. Bruster emphasizes, “In the meantime, we have important ministries to accomplish where the rubber really meets the road—in our local congregation. Let’s all return our focus to doing what we do, being who we are, and going out to be God’s people in the world. Let’s remember to pray daily for our church and our denomination. Let’s listen intently for God’s leading and trust fully that God will move in ways we cannot even imagine right now.”
Want to know more? Check out www.umcnext.com.
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.
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.
There are five geographic jurisdictions, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each. Learn more.
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.
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.Read on UMC.org
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.
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.
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.Read on UMC.org