Dr. Tim Bruster’s Interview with UMNews Sheds Light on Judicial Council Decision

By May 1, 2019

Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

In an interview with Heather Hahn, a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service on Friday, April 26, Dr. Tim Bruster discussed his initial impressions regarding the Judicial Council rulings and declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan that passed at the recent Special Session of the General Conference in late February.

In this article, Hahn writes: “The Judicial Council ruled that parts of the Traditional Plan are in line with the denomination’s constitution and struck down other parts. The result is that a good portion of the plan that strengthens enforcement of church bans on same-sex marriage and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy will be added to the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book.

“The church court, modifying an earlier decision, also upheld legislation that in effect suspends the denomination’s trust clause and opens the way for congregations under certain conditions to leave with their property. The Judicial Council stressed that annual conference approval is among those conditions.”

“The church-disaffiliation legislation takes effect immediately. The constitutional parts of the Traditional Plan will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, in the United States, and 12 months after the 2020 General Conference in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.”

The article goes on to quote Dr. Bruster: “Among those thinking about next steps is the Rev. Tim Bruster, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the General Conference delegate who made the motion for the Judicial Council review of the Traditional Plan, and had filed a brief urging the court to void the entire plan.”

“He said for many in his congregation, the Traditional Plan’s punitive measures are intolerable. He is among the church leaders who plan to discuss the denomination’s future at a May 20 – 22 meeting in Kansas. “There are many people who are moderates and progressives who are trying to find a way forward,” he said. “I think for the vast majority of us, we don’t just want to disaffiliate. We have to have somewhere to go.” In any case, he said, “it appears our differences are irreconcilable.”

“During this interview Dr. Bruster also emphasized that there are important conversations going on across the denomination about the particulars of this ‘way forward,’ and he will be attending a meeting in Kansas City May 20-22 with more than 600 other clergy and laity from nearly every annual conference in the United States.

“When asked what he was telling his congregation in the meantime, Dr. Bruster replied, ‘Well, I’m telling them to hang in. That our church is still our church. We’re still engaged in the same ministries we were engaged in before.

“We’re trying to keep them up-to-date on conversations and meetings that are happening. I went to the meeting in Atlanta recently and I’ll be at the meeting in Kansas City in May. I’m saying there are a lot of people working on this — many people who are moderates and progressives, or if you want to say, ‘compatibilists,’ who are trying to find a way forward for all of us.’”

For more detail on this conversation, along with other key concepts of this decision, please watch FUMCFW E-News and our Denomination News page.

Read Heather Hahn’s full UMnews article
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Terms

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.

Districts

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.

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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