Steady — Sailing Denominational Leadership

By June 10, 2022

Throughout denominational changes and challenges our church has remained steady and moving forward, focused on ministry and growth without distraction. Credit for this steadiness goes to the focused leadership of our church and the confidence telegraphed by Dr. Tim Bruster through his involvement and experience at the highest levels of our denomination.

As leader of our Central Texas Conference (CTC) delegation to General Conference in 2008, 2016, and the special called session of the General Conference in 2019, Tim’s was a voice of thoughtful leadership valued by clergy and lay members alike. He also served as a delegate to the 2012 General Conference and is the first-elected clergy delegate to the General Conference that was to have taken place in 2020, but because of the pandemic will now take place in 2024.  He was also elected first clergy alternate to the Judicial Council at the General Conferences of 2012 and 2016, and has participated in more than 70 decisions of the Council since his election. From 2008-2012 he also served on the General Council on Finance and Administration.

Kim Simpson, who has served as Tim’s laity counterpart (the head of delegation alternates between first-elected clergy and laity) for many years in leading our delegation, says that because Tim has been in the church and governing part of the United Methodist Church for so long, he understands the history and how we got to where we are today. This, she says, has added a wealth of knowledge to many discussions. Kim and Tim are also our CTC representatives on the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee that is responsible for evaluating bishops’ performances for the Jurisdiction and assigning bishops to episcopal areas. Tim has served on that committee since 2008.

“Tim is a wonderful leader in our conference who is very knowledgeable about things in the greater United Methodist Church because he stays abreast of current happenings outside of the CTC and the global church,” Kim relates.  “Tim is so good at looking at issues from all sides then forming objective opinions. He is widely known as a man of honesty and integrity — hence is being elected at the first alternate to Judicial Council, which is like our United Methodist Supreme Court — and has many friends all over the world whom he contacts to get their viewpoints and information.” One of the duties of the Judicial Council is to issue declaratory decisions on the constitutionality, application, meaning, and effect of actions taken by the General Conference and referred to it by the General Conference in a regular or called session.

“The delegation looks to him for guidance and help as we study the petitions and issues coming before General Conference,” she continues, adding that “It has been a joy to work with him. His calming demeanor and thoughtful processes have been a help to me through several General Conferences. We have served together for many years. His influence is one of the reasons I have continued to serve on the delegation. He is not only fair, but has a good sense of humor too. That’s essential in serving the places we serve.”

Encouraging Future Leaders

At the 2016 General Conference, the Council of Bishops appointed The Commission on a Way Forward to examine language around same gender weddings and ordination of LGTBQ clergy  and possible solutions from all sides and perspectives and then work in conjunction with the bishops to bring back proposals to a called session of the General Conference that would deal only with those proposals. The 32- member Commission in A Way Forward, a diverse group representing nine countries and a variety of theological perspectives was painstakingly selected from more than 300 nominees. It was comprised of one third laity, one third clergy, and one third bishops and included a deliberate mix of ages, occupations, backgrounds and advocacies. Of those appointed was our own Rev. Casey Orr, who, with Tim’s support and encouragement, had just transitioned from Director of Youth Ministries to Associate Pastor of Discipleship

“This is a great honor for Casey to be chosen from nominees throughout the global United Methodist Church,” Tim said in an October 28, 2016 article published on the church’s website, “Her nomination and selection by the Council of Bishops demonstrates that the Council sees what all of us who know Casey have seen for a long time. She is a gifted, thoughtful, capable pastor whose commitment to Christ and to The United Methodist Church is stellar. Her gifts and graces will serve the church well in helping navigate these stormy waters. She and the other members of the Commission will need our support and prayers as they undertake this challenging task. We as a church will support her in every way that we can.”

Casey said that while this appointment was an incredible surprise, she felt hopeful that the Commission could set an example to our church for listening to one another, disagreeing with one another, and growing in understanding of one another. “As I’ve settled into the reality of serving on the Commission,” she added, “I have to assume that God was and is at work in this process and have become convicted that maybe my experience and wisdom — however limited they may seem — could be used to serve our church.”

The Commission’s work resulted in three proposals that were presented at the Special Called Conference in 2019.

UMC’s Perfect Storm

With all this work complete, Tim, who would serve as the lead delegate from our Central Texas Conference to the Called General Conference, held an info session in Wesley Hall to further explain this process and the pros and cons of the three plans. At the conclusion of this meeting he also promised a follow-up info session in the Sanctuary on March 3, 2019, following the Called General Conference to share and discuss the result of the Special Session he was about to attend.

On February 23, 2019 our elected United Methodist delegates and all of our Bishops gathered in St. Louis, Missouri for the culmination of the “Way Forward” process begun at the 2016 General Conference. The goal of the meeting was to find a way forward through our disagreements about same-gender marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

In a surprising result, most of the Traditionalist Plan was endorsed in a 53-47-percent vote, disregarding the recommendation of the Council of Bishops, The Commission on A Way Forward, as well as the Judicial Council’s declaration that the Traditional Plan was largely unconstitutional. As leader of our delegation Tim made an impassioned plea from the conference floor to look again at the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan, and he moved that the General Conference refer the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on its constitutionality.

“It was a very painful conference,” he wrote in his February 25 blog on the day after the called session ended. “It was painful for those of us who are for full inclusion of all our brothers and sisters, including LGBTQ people. It was painful for those who are more traditional, but who believe in the concept of a big tent that allows the church to reach as many people as possible in as many places as possible. It was painful for our many LGBTQ United Methodists, their families, their friends, and their allies.”

Expressing his deep concern that the United Methodist denomination, by its actions at General Conferences over the past forty years and particularly at this last General Conference, has fallen more and more into legalism that identifies some people as not quite fully children of God — and his belief that every organization or entity can be defined either by its boundaries or its center,  Tim emphasized again and again, “ First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth will continue to be defined by our center, Jesus Christ. If the Church is a circle with Christ at the center, then the closer we move to Christ, the closer we are drawn to one another. It is an open circle and all are invited and welcome to be a part of it.”

Moving Forward from Our Center

Today the struggle continues as individuals, leaders, churches — and even entire conferences mount their own carefully discerned responses to the struggles of our denomination. Regardless of these rough seas for our global church beyond our faith community — and even a worldwide pandemic in the midst of all of this — life at First Church has remained calm and focused, moving forward, as promised, in our day-to-day, week-to-week ministry as well as on our commitment to the priorities set forth by our Focus First strategic plan.

Through it all, questions and comments have been encouraged, in both formal and informal processes, and Tim and Rev. Lance Marshall, who will succeed Tim as Senior Pastor starting July 1, have worked as a team to provide updates and information to those who wanted to know what was going on in our denomination without letting it become a distraction to our real business of ministry.

Today, echoing the assurance Tim provided at the conclusion of every info session, Lance reiterates, “Our mission as a church is still the same. We will still be focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and to Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives. ”

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