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Update on Wednesday, Feb. 27:

2019 General Conference passes Traditional Plan

A message from Bishop Rueben Saenz, Jr.
 
 

A Way Forward
General Conference Special Session

and what it means for First United Methodist Church Norfolk

A Way Forward for The United Methodist Church. Human sexuality. Same-sex marriage. Ministry with LGBTQ people. The ordination of gay and lesbian persons. Whatever your knowledge level about these subjects may be, we hope that the information on this page is helpful for the people called United Methodist in the community and congregation of First United Methodist Church. In the information below you will find all you need to know about what is happening in our global denomination regarding human sexuality and how our church is to be in ministry with LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer) persons, leading up to a special session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in February of 2019.

Background

A Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church will be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The General Conference is made up of 864 delegates (half lay and half clergy) from around the world. The General Conference is the highest legislative body of The United Methodist Church and the only body that can speak officially for the denomination. The Great Plains Conference is represented 12 delegates. If you wish to voice your opinions to any of the delegates, you can email gcdelegates@greatplainsumc.org.

How Did We Get Here?

To make a long story short, the United Methodist Church has been in disagreement regarding homosexuality and how we are to be in ministry with LGBTQ persons since 1972. During the 2016 General Conference, the body voted to table all legislation dealing with human sexuality, and instead, ask the bishops to lead the denomination on this matter. It was understood that a commission would be formed to devise a “Way Forward” for The United Methodist Church and a special session of General Conference would be called by the Council of Bishops before 2020.

The Council of Bishops met immediately following the 2016 General Conference and in the fall of 2016 announced the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward, comprised of lay, clergy, and bishops, women and men and gay and straight United Methodists from across our global denomination.

Why a General Conference?

The purpose of this General Conference is to review and vote on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward along with other legislation. Currently, our Book of Discipline (BOD) states that all our churches are open to anyone, all people are welcome at the communion table and baptism fount, and all are persons of sacred worth and included in the ministry of Jesus. At the same time, the BOD considers homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching and does not allow our clergy to perform same-sex weddings, our churches to host same-sex weddings, or for LGBTQ persons to be ordained.

The Proposed Plans

One Church Plan

One Church Plan

Removes the current BOD restrictions that do not allow clergy to perform same sex weddings, churches to host same sex weddings or conferences to ordain LGBTQ clergy. Adds in protective language that would ensure no one has to act against their convictions. Churches could continue to operate the same way they do now with no votes required. If churches wanted to host same-sex weddings it would require a church wide vote of approval. Bishops would work with churches to appoint pastors that match their convictions.

Connectional Conference

Connectional Conference Plan

Restructures the church to create three smaller bodies (connectional conferences) within the denomination with their own Book of Discipline and rules around same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy. One part of the church would continue the current restrictions, another part would allow churches and clergy to decide, and a third part would require clergy and churches to perform or host same-sex weddings. General Agencies would be reduced, and the role of the Council of Bishops would be redefined. Churches would have an opportunity to vote to choose which part of the church they wanted to be in if they disagree with the choice of their Annual Conference. Each part of the church would have its own unique name and logo.

Traditional Plan

Traditional Plan

Keeps the current language around homosexuality and increases accountability by streamlining the processes to enforce penalties for violations of The Book of Discipline related to marriage and ordination of homosexual persons. Those who cannot live within the current Discipline requirements could create their own self-governing church that would be connected in some way to The United Methodist Church.

The Simple Plan

You may see references to a fourth plan – the Simple Plan – in some resources. The Simple Plan is an alternative plan not initially written by the Commission. The proposal requires neither constitutional amendments nor hundreds of pages of technical translations. The Simple Plan proposes to “simply” remove the language from the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation in the church. It is the shortest legislation of the four plans.

The Simple Plan only deletes language regarding LGBTQ persons and makes no additions of language of any kind. While any language can be added on the floor or in committee at General Conference for clarity, the primary purpose is to remove the language that excludes LGBTQ persons from full participation in the church. It has a variety of effects on the levels of church involvement.

Voting & Implementation

Each of these plans would need a majority approval by the General Conference and the Connectional Conference Plan would require a two-thirds majority vote. It is possible that none of the plans will be passed, in which case the current Book of Discipline would remain. If a plan is passed, it would not become official church law until January 1, 2020, except for the Traditional Plan which would be effective at the adjournment of the conference. Full implementation of the plans could take anywhere from 12 months to five years.

How Have Other Denominations Handled This Issue?

The United Methodist Church is one of the last of the major Protestant denominations to tackle this issue. the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), United Church of Christ (UCC), the Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) all welcome same-gender marriage on a denominational level. It is very important to note, however, that individual church policies may differ. For example, many denominations have given official sanction to – while not making it mandatory for – any congregation’s pastor to preside over and bless marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

What’s Going to Happen?

We understand this is a lot of information to process. You probably have many questions, concerns and even some fears about what this will mean for the United Methodist church and First United Methodist Church Norfolk.

No one can predict what will happen at the General Conference. In all likelihood, what we currently know about each of the plans may change before the vote happens on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

What we do know, however, is that we will gather for worship together on the Sundays following the special session. We will offer our praise to God with music and fellowship. The word of God will be preached. The Peace of Christ will be passed. We will offer Holy Communion and we will celebrate baptisms. We will continue to perform our outreach ministries to the homeless, the hungry, the outcast and the youngest members of our community. We have important work to do as a congregation—as a family—and we will continue to do that work in God’s name. We hope you will continue to walk side by side with your church family as we move forward.

During the General Conference

We will offer live streaming of the General Conference in the Sanctuary. We will offer communion, a prayer service, lighting of prayer candles and a safe place for you to share in this experience with others.

Saturday, Feb. 23

5:30 p.m.
Special prayer service in lieu of traditional worship service

Sunday, Feb. 24

8:00 a.m. – Noon
Live streaming of the special session in Wesley Hall

8:30 and 11:00 a.m.
Traditional worship

1:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Live streaming of the special session in the Sanctuary

5:30-6:15 p.m.
Prayer service

Monday, Feb. 25

8:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
and
1:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Live streaming of the special session
in the Sanctuary

5:30-6:15 p.m.
Prayer service

Tuesday, Feb. 26

8:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
and
1:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Live streaming of the special session
in the Sanctuary

5:30-6:15 p.m.
Prayer service

You can also follow the General Conference live stream at www.umc.org/gc2019.

We acknowledge that not everyone can devote these days to prayer or be present in the building during the special session. We know that we all have our own ways of praying; whether that be in your own personal prayer space, in our sanctuary or by keeping your hands busy. We invite you to find a way of prayer that speaks to you on a spiritual level. We urge you to remember that others may have a different way of praying and observing this time, and we ask that you be respectful of the ways they choose to be in prayer during this week.

Online Prayer Wall

We will publish prayers from our pastors, staff and members on our online prayer wall. We encourage you to submit a prayer for inclusion on the wall.

Helpful Information

The United Methodist Church Official Page
The official page for The United Methodist Church. Provides detailed information about the plans proposed, commentary and more.

Praying Our Way Forward
In cooperation with The Upper Room, this site provides prayer resources and a prayer schedule. 

Commission on a Way Forward Official Report
The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. 

Essays, Videos and Sermons
The Great Plains Conference assembled thoughts from a variety of pastors and lay people inside and outside the denomination.

Below are organizations and associations backing one of the proposals. We include links so that you may understand the perspectives of others in the faith.

Reconciling Ministries Network
An organization seeking the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in both the policy and practices of the church.

Good News Group
The classical evangelical witness and ministry for renewal and reform.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association
The WCA is an association of individuals and congregations who share a common understanding of our Wesleyan doctrine. They urge the adoption of the Modified Traditional Plan.

United Methodists for The Simple Plan
This is a collective of UM members, lay and clergy leaders, scholars, bloggers and other organizers who are supporting the Simple Plan.

One Church Plan
A group of United Methodist bishops who support the One Church Plan has put together a website to answer questions about the proposal.

After the Conference

Future discussion, learning, and discernment regarding the outcome of the General Conference Special Session will follow in the coming weeks and months. These will be announced as they are decided. We invite all persons in our community to be in prayer, discernment, and conversation as we move forward together, both as a part of The United Methodist Church and as a congregation.

Questions?

If you have questions or concerns about the upcoming General Conference, please speak to Pastor Rai or Pastor Earl. You may hear and read stories about the General Conference in the media. Be sure you are getting information from a reputable source (see the above links). We will have time to process this General Conference as a church. And no matter what, we will continue the important ministry we do in the community.

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