A Sunday Prayer

Lord,

My heart is filled with compassion today for so many.

Families grieving the loss of a loved one from COVID-19. Black parents afraid every time their child leaves the house because of the ongoing reality of racism. Every child who goes to bed hungry every night. Front line workers who are exhausted from caring for those with COVID. Millions living in totalitarian dictatorships with no fundamental human rights.Those who feel left out, overlooked and insignificant. Pastors who struggle to lead a changing church in a changing world, uncertain of what’s next. Any whose wealth has hardened their hearts to You and their neighbor. Addicts whose lives are in downward spirals. Patients coping with illnesses that will end their lives. And, perhaps most of all, all who do not know the love of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

I pray that You will send just the grace they need in just the way they need it at just the time they need it. And I pray that You will send me just the grace I need in just the way I need it at just the time I need so my compassion will become acts that share Jesus’ love in real ways with real people in their real lives.

I pray this in the strong name of Jesus.

Amen.

When Life Happens

When life happens and overwhelms you, it’s time to get in touch with who God is and what God does. God is creator of all that is, but God is also passionately focussed on you. God loves truth, but God also acts with mercy. God is working for a holy creation, but God also seeks holiness for you. God can multitask in infinite ways, but God also can make you feel like you’re the most important thing in the world. God is infinite, but God is also incarnate. God’s grace is transformational but God’s grace is also unconditional. Put all of these together and it means something pretty basic. You can absolutely trust God to have your back regardless of what happens when life happens.

Statement from Bishop Mueller on Postponed General Conference

Statement from Bishop Mueller on Postponed General Conference

February 26, 2021

Yesterday, United Methodists across the global connection learned that the postponed General Conference 2020 had, once again, been postponed to Aug. 29 – Sept. 6, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can read the Council of Bishops’ press release on their website.

What this means for our church is that 2021 will not be focused on solving our deeply held differences in the church, but instead it will focus on continuing the work that we already have in place and preparing for the work that must be done when we meet again in 2022.

The Commission on the General Conference made the decision in a Feb. 20 meeting that holding a meeting of our global body in 2021 would not be feasible due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the technological barriers that would prevent a virtual meeting from taking place.

Instead, there will be a called virtual special session on May 8, 2021, to handle a limited number of legislative pieces, enabling us to make changes to the Book of Discipline so that we can continue to carry out ministry in 2021 and 2022. It will be a very brief session to establish a quorum to suspend the rules and allow us to vote on 12 pieces of legislation through a paper mail-in ballot system. You can read about those 12 legislative pieces here. The ballots will be mailed to delegates following the Special Session, and the results of the ballots will be released on July 13, 2021.

The Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation Through Separation, as well as other plans that have been submitted, will not be considered until our 2022 meeting. The budget will also not be considered until the postponed General Conference gathering. As well the 2016 Book of Discipline as amended will remain in full effect through our next General Conference gathering.

More information on all of these moving pieces will be forthcoming.

In this time of waiting, I am aware that some of you are anxious about settling the church’s future. That’s why I urge you to remember three things while we wait for the 2022 General Conference.

First, be graceful to each other, as you have done so well up to this point.

Second, continue to keep the main thing the main thing, which is creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.

And finally, during this time, we need to be open and aware of how God is at work in our midst. Maybe God has plans for us and our church that will be revealed to us in the coming months. 

I am proud of the work you have done in 2020, and continue to look forward to the work we will accomplish in 2021, 2022 and beyond. We all should remain in prayer that the work of God’s church will manifest in powerful ways.

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller
Bishop

Discipleship Ministries’ Top Executive Dies of Cancer

The Rev. Junius B. Dotson records a segment of the “Soul Reset” study series for the Upper Room at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn., in 2019. Dotson, the top executive of Discipleship Ministries, died Feb. 24, 2021. He was 55. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Originally posted on UMNews.org.

The Rev. Junius B. Dotson, the top executive of Discipleship Ministries, died late Feb. 24, less than a month after announcing his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 55.

His unexpected death brought together United Methodists of varied theological views in an outpouring of grief and love for a leader whose ministry touched lives across the denomination.

“He had an indelible way of pulling leaders to their full potential,” said longtime friend Toska Medlock Lee, who has known him since they were undergraduates at the University of Texas at Arlington. Lee organized prayers for Dotson during his illness. United Methodists around the world signed up to pray.

“His other legacy is his ability to see a hopeful future for our denomination.”

Dotson held multiple denominational leadership roles in addition to helming Discipleship Ministries since July 2016.

He also was one of 16 church leaders who negotiated the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, the widely endorsed proposal that seeks to resolve the longtime United Methodist debate over homosexuality through a denominational split. As part of the negotiations, Dotson represented multiple centrist advocacy groups that seek greater freedom in church policies related to same-sex weddings and gay ordination.

The protocol needs the approval of General Conference to go forward, but the legislative assembly is now postponed until 2022.

The Rev. Tom Berlin, another centrist protocol negotiator, called working with Dotson on the future of the church “a friendship accelerator.”

“Junius Dotson was an exceedingly faithful disciple of Jesus Christ,” said Berlin, lead pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia. “His love for Christ expressed itself in conviction about the nature of the church — who the church should include, how the church should be in ministry and a desire that all would know the love of Jesus.”

Other protocol negotiators with very different perspectives on LGBTQ status agreed about Dotson.

“I am a better follower of Jesus because of the time I spent with Junius,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, who leads the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which seeks to uphold a traditional understanding of marriage and is planning a new denomination.

Boyette said Dotson labored hard to find a Christ-honoring way to resolve differences in The United Methodist Church. “Junius embodied the ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking.”

Jan Lawrence, who leads Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for full LGBTQ equality, said Dotson’s passing leaves a hole that is immeasurable.

“I will miss this beloved friend — his smile that could warm any room, the way he could bring a piano to life, his passion for justice, his way of seizing teaching moments, his capacity for love, and so much more,” she said.

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, a fellow negotiator and leader of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, said: “Junius took Discipleship Ministries to an entirely new and profound height and offered bold visionary leadership to the denomination and beyond.”

Before coming to Discipleship Ministries, Dotson was both a church planter and a megachurch pastor.

He planted Genesis United Methodist Church in California’s Silicon Valley in 1996, four years after his ordination, and saw it grow to nearly 500 members. At the time, the area saw plenty of technology startups, and Dotson saw church as “a spiritual startup.”

He later was senior pastor of 3,500-member Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas, for 14 years. While at Saint Mark, he expanded the church into a multi-campus ministry.

The church’s former southeast campus is now its own congregation, Heart of Christ United Methodist Church, led by the Rev. Ronda Kingwood, who previously was a minister at Saint Mark.

“To be honest, I would not be in the position I’m in if it had not been for his leadership and mentorship,” Kingwood said.

The Rev. Robert G. Johnson, Saint Mark’s current senior pastor, called Dotson “an organizational development genius, a bold visionary, a brilliant strategist and overall an extraordinary human being.” Both men were members of Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s oldest African American fraternity.

Dotson remained deeply connected to the Great Plains Conference, where he had been elected a delegate to the coming General Conference. He also was a co-chair of the centrist group UMCNext.

“He was an outstanding and inspiring preacher, a great leader and a faithful friend,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. “He loved The United Methodist Church with its emphasis on evangelism, discipleship and social justice and devoted himself to helping churches to live into this vision.”

Dotson most recently led the agency that promotes disciple-making across the denomination and houses the Upper Room, publisher of prayer resources around the globe.

In his time at Discipleship Ministries, he led the agency’s restructuring. He also initiated its “See All the People” initiative to help churches — as the nursery rhyme says — see the people in their communities and make world-transforming disciples of Jesus Christ. In promoting the initiative, he has been a frequent speaker at annual conference sessions around the denomination.

Bishop Mark Webb, Discipleship’s board president, said Dotson “modeled urgency and boldness, with a clear call to stay singularly focused on the task of equipping leaders and congregations for the work of evangelism and discipleship.”

“His legacy will be multi-faceted but the greatest will be the depth of spirituality by which he lived and worked,” said Webb, who leads the Upper New York Conference.

Even amid the agency’s changes, Dotson continued Discipleship Ministries’ commitment to support ministries that reach out to the denomination’s growing ethnic diversity.

“Junius not only provided pastoral and professional leadership to Discipleship Ministries but was a voice and advocate for ethnic ministries and worked diligently to ensure doors were opened for the continuance of intentional ministry with the Native American community,” said the Rev. Chebon Kernell, director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.

The Rev. Michael Bowie, director of Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century, said Dotson had deep experience with the Black church and it showed.

“He was able to provide leadership and experience to SBC21,” Bowie said. “He saw us as strategic partners and key players in where Discipleship Ministries was going.”

Dotson also has served as the convener of the General Secretaries Table, which brings together the top executives of the denomination’s 13 general agencies and other denomination-wide bodies. He also was a leader in the denomination’s initiative to dismantle racism.

“When I heard the news of my colleague and friend Junius Dotson’s passing, the exhortation of Hebrews 13:7 immediately came to mind,” said Erin Hawkins, his predecessor as the table’s convener. The Bible verse says: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

Dotson told Discipleship Ministries staff Jan. 28 that he was battling pancreatic cancer.

He said he first learned something was wrong with his health earlier in January when searing pain in his back and stomach sent him to the emergency room. Doctors informed him — and tests confirmed — that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer with metastasis to the liver.

He said he hoped to use his experience to raise awareness of how pancreatic cancer especially afflicts African Americans.

Dotson had the heart to tackle big issues, said the Rev. Brian Milford, top executive on the United Methodist Publishing House.

“He and I once spent an evening sharing frankly about our experiences and questions about the scourge of white privilege and racism,” Milford said. “Over a meal he invited me to disclose my story and with unflinching honesty and trust shared his own. His prophetic and pastoral witness deepened my understandings and sharpened my inquiry.”

Council of Bishops President Cynthia Fierro Harvey said Dotson will have a long legacy.

“His passion for justice and full inclusion impacted the life of the UMC as he made his voice clearly heard and known in every place he served,” she said.

Dotson died surrounded by his family. Information on funeral arrangements will be coming soon.

Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. UM News reporter Sam Hodges and Erik Alsgaard, managing editor for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, contributed to this report.

Statement from Bishop Mueller on Postponed General Conference

General Conference Postponed to 2022

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Commission on the General Conference

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2021

Meeting on February 20, the Commission on the General Conference made a decision to further postpone the 2020 General Conference until August 29 – September 6, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minn. as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the safety of mass gatherings and travel.

It is the Commission’s responsibility to select the site and set the dates of General Conference. Further, the Book of Discipline requires the Commission on the General Conference to “take necessary measures to assure full participation of all General Conference delegates.” The Commission concluded that mandate was not achievable by means of either an in-person meeting in 2021 or a virtual meeting.

In making the decision, the Commission determined that it was not feasible to safely hold an in-person meeting involving all delegates as currently scheduled for August 29 – September 7, 2021 due to a number of barriers:

  • The number of COVID cases continues to rise, with nearly 2.49 million confirmed cases the week of February 15.
  • Vaccine is not expected to be widely available this year in many countries, and new variants of the virus which may be resistant to vaccines are emerging globally.
  • International travelers to the U.S. must show proof of negative COVID-19 test results no more than three days prior to travel, but in many places, testing is not readily available or provided free of charge.
  • Visa services remain limited in some areas.

There also remains the possibility that a temporary six-month visa bond program which requires bonds of $5,000 – $15,000 per person for residents of some countries could cost up to $2.5 million in bonds for affected delegates if the program should be extended beyond June.

The Commission’s decision was informed by the report of the Technology Study Team appointed to explore the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference, including but not limited to the possibility of utilizing technology and online voting, in considering whether the meeting should be held virtually.

According to their report, “The study team considered a number of challenges and implications, including how to keep participants safe, providing for global participation, safeguarding the integrity of the voting and credentialing process, and meeting legal requirements …”

The Technology Study Team analyzed a variety of options, including an entirely electronic General Conference with participation from individual locations; an entirely electronic General Conference with delegates gathering at regional satellite hubs; and two sessions, with the first part being electronic and the second part in-person when it is safe to convene. None of these options were determined by the study team to be viable.

The study team did find that a more traditional method—utilizing mail ballots to vote on emergency actions—could help The United Methodist Church to address important, urgent matters through the General Conference. Their report recommended utilizing mail ballots for making a limited number of “Emergency Interim Actions” on which the General Conference delegates would indicate a yes or no vote for each item.

“The Commission shared the study team’s findings and recommendations with the officers of the Council of Bishops in a collaborative effort to jointly explore how this alternative might be utilized to address critical matters until an in person gathering of delegates can be safely convened next year,” said commission chair Kim Simpson.

Some of the concerns mentioned in the report regarding having a virtual session include:

  • Lack of infrastructure in some areas, including Internet access, Internet speed, and electricity
  • Lack of technology for equitable Holy Conferencing
  • Complexity of the legislative committee process
  • Concerns about accurate credentialing and verification of identity
  • Difficulties in seating reserve delegates properly
  • Security of voting
  • Safety concerns about regional satellite gatherings

Simpson said the August-September dates in 2022 will mean that General Conference will be one day shorter than planned for 2021; however, these dates were the only option available. Simpson said that the Commission regrets the fact that these dates once again conflict with the start of the academic year in the U.S. which a group of young adults had asked the Commission to avoid, but there were no other dates available.

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About General Conference
General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The assembly meets at the beginning of each quadrennium to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years
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Media contact:
Diane Degnan ddegnan@umcom.org
615.742.5406 (o) 615.483.1765 (c)