Commission on a Way Forward

UMC Bishops call for respectful conversations in time of uncertainty

Posted by on Nov 10, 2017 in Featured, Headlines, Way Forward | 0 comments

UMC Bishops call for respectful conversations in time of uncertainty


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, November 10, 2017

LAKE JUNALUSKA, NORTH CAROLINA _ United Methodist Church bishops are calling on members of the denomination to engage in respectful conversations amidst growing conflict over political, religious and justice issues in many places in our world.

In a pastoral letter released at the end of the Council of Bishops (COB) meeting at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina today, COB President Bruce R. Ough reminded the members that the UMC was a Church which is diverse in its theological understanding of Scripture and Christ’s call in our lives.

“Conflict and differing opinions, a natural part of the human and faith experience, come in a variety of forms. We are called to address our differences with authenticity and respectful conversations which enrich our understanding of God and of one another,” Bishop Ough said.

The bishops reminded United Methodists about Ephesians 4:1-2 which admonishes us “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Read the full letter.

 

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Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
mmulenga@umc-cob.org
202-748-5172 (office) or 585-455-5683 (cell)

Council of Bishops Pastoral Letter

Posted by on Nov 10, 2017 in Headlines, Way Forward | 0 comments

November 10, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,

Ephesians 4:1-2 admonishes us “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

All of us are witnesses to increased animosity and growing conflict over political, religious and justice issues in many places in our world in word and deed. We believe this serves to threaten our safety and security. In antagonistic discussions about our faithful witness in the world, we may encounter verbal abuse, disruptive behavior, harassing emails, letters and phone messages, and confrontations.

As Bishops of your United Methodist Church, we serve a Church which is diverse in its theological understanding of Scripture and Christ’s call in our lives. Conflict and differing opinions, a natural part of the human and faith experience, come in a variety of forms. We are called to address our differences with authenticity and respectful conversations which enrich our understanding of God and of one another.

In recent months, we have experienced these negative behaviors escalating into more aggressive, and violent expressions of hate, prejudice, and anger directed against others. We are hearing of and observing angry words now escalating to actions that are resulting in fear, anxiety, loss of security, and even physical harm. These actions are repugnant to us as your bishops.

We renew our covenant to one another to lead as a council and in our respective residential areas in ways that reflect our commitment to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. We renew this covenant within the Council of Bishops to engage in holy conversation and Christ-like behavior especially when we do not agree with one another. We call upon all United Methodists, even in the midst of disagreement and uncertainty about our future as a church, to do the same, and to love each other as Christ loved us (John 12:34).

In Christ’s shalom,

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
The Council of Bishops


100 Maryland Avenue NE, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20002
202-547-6270

Bishops uphold values of mission, unity, space, contextuality in interim report on Way Forward’s work

Posted by on Nov 9, 2017 in Featured, Headlines, Way Forward | 0 comments

Bishops uphold values of mission, unity, space, contextuality in interim report on Way Forward’s work

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CAROLINA _ Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.

With the mission of God through the risen Christ at the core, the bishops this week received an interim report from the Commission on a Way Forward that offered three sketches of models that would help ease the impasse in the church, noting that the power of the Holy Spirit trumps and guides all the church’s activities. The Commission serves the COB, helping prepare the COB to fulfill its mandate to make a recommendation for a way forward to the General Conference.

Just as the Commission did not express a preference for any of the models in its interim report to the COB in order for the bishops to fully do their work, the COB is also not now expressing a preference for any model, while engaging deeply with them and the implications for their church and their leadership. This will provide the space bishops need to teach and engage leaders in their episcopal areas.

After receiving the interim report of the sketches of the three possible models, the bishops engaged in prayerful discerning and offered substantial feedback to the Commission, but did not take any vote on any of the sketches.

The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward noted that the values highlighted in any one model also live within the fabric of the other models. Values expressed by any one model are not exclusive to one or absent in another. The values that may be associated with the identity of any one model are there because it may be a value lifted to a higher level of preference or differentiation among the models.

“Operate with a heart of peace and an openness. All three models grew out of mission, vision and scope. Each one of these models connects to a story and experience that is represented in this body,” Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, one of the moderators told her fellow bishops.

She added: “As we talk about it, let’s be respectful of each model. When we speak about one of the models in a less than respectful way, we are speaking of someone’s experience or someone’s conscience. How we talk about these models is important because they are representative of where people are standing and how people are experiencing the church.”

The Commission and the COB acknowledge the interaction between the values of unity, space and contextuality, and the tension this interaction often creates, as part of what completes the UMC as a denomination rather than what divides it.

The Commission shared sketches of three models, with the awareness that the Commission and the COB are not restricted to these sketches and are open to learning, listening and improvement. It is likely that additional models or sketches may emerge as this process continues. Here is the summary about the sketches of the models presented to the bishops:

  • One sketch of a model affirms the current Book of Discipline language and places a high value on accountability.
  • Another sketch of a model removes restrictive language and places a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • A third sketch of a model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one COB, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.
  • Each sketch represents values that are within the COB and across the church.
  • Each sketch includes gracious way of exit for those who feel called to exit from the denomination.

The values underlying these proposed models are found in two documents; The Mission, Vision and Scope document, which was affirmed by the COB; and the Status Report of the Commission, released in July 2017. As part of the ongoing discernment within the church, resident bishops are being equipped to lead discussions in their episcopal areas by emphasizing the values of the proposed models as found in these two important documents.

The Commission will process the feedback received from the bishops at the Lake Junaluska meeting and will continue to welcome further input from members of the church through conversations and discussions with their respective bishops on the strengths and limitations of each model. The basic resources for these conversations were shared in a handbook with the bishops, and this handbook will be available on the Commission on a Way Forward’s website as a PDF.

The COB and the Commission have a series of meetings scheduled for early 2018 designed to continue the preparations for the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019. This includes Commission meetings in January and March; an additional COB meeting in February before a final report is discussed at the May meeting of the COB.

The COB is committed to prayerfully seeking God’s future for the UMC and continues to invite the entire church to be engaged in praying for a way forward.

“Pray for the work of the Commission and for the bishops as they continue to discern God’s plan for the future of the UMC; a future that shows love for all of God’s people and a future with hope,” said COB President Bishop Bruce R. Ough.

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Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
mmulenga@umc-cob.org
202-748-5172 (office) or 585-455-5683 (cell)

Commission Moves Onward and Forward

Posted by on Mar 3, 2017 in Way Forward | 0 comments

United Methodist Communications

umcpresscenter.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 2, 2017

Commission moves onward and forward

Atlanta, Ga.: Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia this week, the Commission on a Way Forward continued to make progress towards completing the groundwork for their task, building relationships, engaging in learning, information gathering, working and worshiping together.

On Wednesday, the Rev. Donna Pritchard led a morning Bible study of Galatians 2. Later, Commission members joined the staff of the General Board of Global Ministries in the stained-glass sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church for an Ash Wednesday service.

The day concluded with Bishop David Yemba reminding the Commission that people across the Connection are praying for the Commission. He shared a meditation about Ephesians 1:15-23, noting that Paul is sharing through prayer the things believers have in common, not only what is dividing them. “Above all is that you have the Lord Jesus Christ in common and then you have in common faith in him and you have common hope in him and you have God’s promises in him,” said Bishop Yemba.

Team reports

In January, the Commission formed learning teams to take on various aspects of their work and the teams have been diligently pursuing their assignments. The work of some teams will take longer than others, but the following generally summarizes work to date.

• Initial research has involved interviewing bishops, pastors and laypersons from other denominations and gathering data and resources to report to the Commission. Denominations are unique in terms of polity and experience, and none is a perfect match with The United Methodist Church.

• One team shared information with the group about the power of language and culture, sexual orientation and gender identity. Conversations have taken place with reconciling congregations and research gathered on experiences and perspectives from Africa.

• There is ongoing research seeking clarification about the rules, petitions, logistics, and the roles of the Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference.

• One team led a learning session describing the current landscape and the different strategies at work of the Confessing Movement and other renewal groups, Reconciling Ministries and progressive strategies, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and groups in the Central Conferences with general discussion and questions.

• There was a report on a plan for gathering information within the Central Conferences related to the diversity of attitudes regarding LGBTQ issues and the different social, cultural and religious contexts. There was a strong recommendation to explore the subject of unity with the Central Conferences.

A tale of two centuries

Dr. Russ Richey of Candler School of Theology says the unity and disunity of the church has been, in a sense, his life’s work. He shared insights about how Methodism has historically dealt with disagreement and the different ways the church dealt with conflict over two centuries.

The 19th century saw separation and organizational division among American Methodists every decade. The century following brought unity, even amidst divisions that were more internal than structural. “By and large we stayed united, but there were serious divisions and controversies.”

Richey said there was “separation between” in the former and “separation within” in the latter.

The earliest disputes were over a variety of causes, sometimes over big issues such as slavery. “We were a very popular movement. In some ways for the 19th century, we were the most popular and dynamic movement, so the big issues the country wrestled with were ones we as Methodists took on.”

The result was division, and those divisions had costs, he says. “We didn’t speak with a common voice, but churches competed with one another and reached out and evangelized.”

“Beginning in the very late 19th century and continuing in the 20th, there was a sense that these denominational divisions tore apart the cloak of Christ, that we were dividing Christ’s gift to us,” he said. “There was really a Biblical mandate and Christ’s injunction to bring us together and so a lot of energy was put into unitive efforts,” said Dr. Richey in an interview.

Following the presentation was a discussion about takeaways that might be important to the Commission’s process and what other historic perspectives or information might be needed, including learning more about our history globally.

Gathering additional input

The Commission also continued discussion both in small groups and as a body regarding the input they need from other groups and individuals, including:

• Conversations with caucus groups

• Conversations with strategic denominational leadership groups at meetings that are already a part of their schedule and at which the commission might ask for time

• Conversations with seminary students

• Engaging bishops and annual conferences in supporting the work of the commission

• Engaging annual conferences to develop their own strategies by which they can offer feedback and information to the Commission so that local church members, participants and clergy have a voice

The group worked together on beginning to compile a comprehensive list.

The Commission began its last day with a Bible study on Galatians 3 led by the Rev. Helen Cunanan of the Philippines. There was also a discussion of a timeline for their work ahead. The Commission’s next meeting will be April 6-8 in Washington, DC.

More information on the Commission is available on their website at UMC.org/wayforward.

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About the Commission on a Way Forward

The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in their charge from the 2016 General Conference to lead the church forward amid the present impasse related to human sexuality and resulting questions about the unity of the church.

Media contact:

Diane Degnan ddegnan@umcom.org

615-483-1765