Bishop’s Statement – Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation Agreement

Bishop’s Statement – Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation Agreement

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have read the offering of a protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation unanimously adopted by a diverse group of United Methodist leaders, convened by Bishop John Yambasu. This offering seeks to provide a way for the 2020 General Conference to navigate the current divided landscape of the United Methodist Church through a gracious separation.

This is not the time to make a quick judgement about the contents of the document, but rather to spend the upcoming weeks and months studying, asking questions, engaging in conversations, praying and discerning the best way forward for our beloved United Methodist Church.

I know you join me in praying for laity, congregations and clergy of our worldwide United Methodist Connection.

-Bishop Gary Mueller

Exhausted, in more ways than one

Exhausted, in more ways than one

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

I am exhausted.

The past few weeks, I’ve been in St. Louis, Missouri, reporting on the news from the Special Session of General Conference, which took place over four days from Feb. 23 to 26.

As many of you know, I am new to the United Methodist Church, and this was my first General Conference ever to attend.

And what a General Conference it was.

The session was called to address the church’s stance on human sexuality and whether the global church would allow LGBTQIA clergy to be ordained and same-sex marriages to be performed in Methodist churches, or if we would retain the Book of Discipline’s current standing on the issue with more robust punishment for those who violate the rules.

This is not a new debate within the church.

United Methodists have been debating the topic of human sexuality since the sentence “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the Book of Discipline at the 1972 General Conference in Atlanta.

And so from my bird’s-eye view, way up in the press area of a former NFL stadium, I had the perfect seats to witness all of the debating, amending, name-calling, grieving, anger, resentment, numbness, resistance, tears, and joy at the results of the delegates’ votes.

The Traditional Plan passed. The church’s stance on human sexuality did not change. More restrictions were added, and in the end, people from both sides left St. Louis feeling hurt.

One could argue that any plan that passed out of General Conference, whether it be the One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, or something else, would’ve still caused pain and division in the church. As Bishop Mueller has stated, those divisions were probably already there before, but this General Conference has made them more apparent.

People keep asking me how I’m doing after coming back from General Conference, and every time my answer has been the same; I am exhausted. In more ways than one.

My job as a reporter is hard because I’m not supposed to get emotionally involved in the stories I have to cover. I have to remain neutral. I have to cover the facts, and that’s it.

And, surprisingly, with such a heavy topic to cover, I managed to do keep my emotions in check while in St. Louis.

I’m typically not an emotional person, but I grieved and wept when I returned home to Arkansas. Because I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained.

Suppressing those feelings and emotions can only be managed for so long before the weight of the situation comes crashing down on top of you.

Many people are feeling the same way right now, and it’s going to take some time for those wounds to be healed.

But it’s okay to grieve, and it’s okay to feel sad.

Take some time to think about General Conference. Don’t push it aside as I did. Don’t wait for those feelings to bubble up and burst out of you because it will hurt even worse if you ignore it.

Continue praying for the United Methodist Church. There are a lot of people who need your prayers right now. We can’t continue the mission of the church if we stop praying for each other.

Rest assured that I will keep praying for all of you.

What do we do now?

What do we do now?

By Bud Reeves

Senior Pastor of First UMC Fort Smith

I have been trying, in the days since the end of General Conference, to respond instead of react. I’ve seen many reactions on electronic and print media. It’s been hard.

As the late Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” I believe we have been here before. By a margin of 50-something to 40-something, the coalition of American and Central Conference traditionalists upheld and attempted to strengthen the 47-year-old statement of “incompatible with Christian teaching” as well as the subsequent prohibitions against gay marriage and ordination. Déjà vu.

For some, this felt like a great victory. For others, it was a devastating disappointment. I understand both. Ironically, for many years I breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanksgiving when the established principles of the church squeaked by once again. I wrote about it in this publication. I was happy that the words of Scripture and the long tradition of Christianity had been vindicated.

Then I changed. I began to understand the deeper spirit of Scripture and the faulty exegesis of exclusion. I looked at the way the church had interpreted the Scriptures around slavery, divorce, and women in leadership. I got to know gay people and gay couples who were loving, faithful, stable, and deeply Christian. I learned that science had pretty much ruled out sexual orientation as a choice. I experienced a divorce and discovered how healing grace and acceptance could be.

So now I understand the pain that the General Conference has caused. I have friends who are rejoicing, and I have friends who are weeping and gnashing teeth. And we’re all in the same church—for now.

What can we do? Where do we go from here?

As followers of Christ, we have to love one another. As a friend of mine said, there’s a reason why, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, they’re all pretty much the same.” Love is the key. Love is the foundation. “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Those who rejoice at General Conference shouldn’t gloat in their victory. Those who were hurt shouldn’t hate those who voted their beliefs. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and that is a deeper connection even than our strongest convictions.

As local churches, we have to unite around faith and mission. We are deeply divided about gay marriage and ordination. Every church is, if everybody talked about it honestly. But we are united in our basic beliefs. We believe in the authority of the Bible, even if we interpret it differently. Jesus is the Lord over all of us. We want to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. That’s not a problem. This greater unity can be a way we can survive and even thrive together. In my church, the people know there are those who disagree on sexuality issues. It may matter, but it doesn’t come up when they are singing a hymn or kneeling at the communion rail or helping with Vacation Bible School or feeding the hungry. Our unity is not based on uniformity of thought, and issues of church polity are not the priority.

I think it’s providential that the season of Lent comes on the heels of General Conference. For me, Lent is the holiest time of year, as we prepare for the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord. It is not an easy season, as it involves prayer, sacrifice, and repentance. But it is the deepest time of year as we focus on the awesome act of God that changed history, defeated evil, and made eternal life available.

After this General Conference, we need us some Lent. John Wesley’s first General Rule was, “Do no harm.” We blew that big time, on both sides. Our continued divisions are a stench in the nostrils of God. We are far short of the Kingdom potential in our lives, our churches, and our denomination. We need to repent of our sins.

But in a positive way, following General Conference with Lent reminds us of our core identity. God’s plan of salvation does not depend on getting our church organization right, even if the issues are very important, as they are. We are all people Jesus died for on the cross. We are blood-related through Jesus. We are all hopeful in the resurrection. We are one family. And our mission includes everyone.

This conversation is not over. For my two cents, the Wesleyan way is still the best approach to Jesus. We just need to keep talking until we can form a more perfect union of justice and love. We need to unite around faith and mission. God is not through with the United Methodist Church. Neither am I.

After Special Session, Connectional Table Encourages Prayers, Re-Centering on Common Mission

ST. LOUIS – In the wake of the special called session of the General Conference and the passage of the Traditional Plan and a disaffiliation plan that allows churches to more easily leave the denomination, the Connectional Table (CT) encourages United Methodists to take a breath, take time to process what has happened and to be in prayer as we seek to understand what the outcome means for the future of our church.

We call the church to prayer for the grieving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people and their allies. We ask for prayer for the delegates, bishops, members of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Commission on the General Conference staff, the pages, interpreters, marshals and all others who worked tirelessly to make the Special Session happen. We ask for prayer for all United Methodists around our worldwide connection.

In his opening address as first presider of this General Conference, CT Chair Bishop Christian Alsted noted that the conference was governed not only by Robert’s Rules of Order, but also by Methodism founder John Wesley’s General Rules: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God by using the means of grace. “I believe this is what our fellow United Methodist people expect of us,” Bishop Alsted said. “I believe this is what Jesus Christ expects of us.” These rules must guide us through this time of great change.

“It will take time for us to truly understand and process the impact of what has happened,” said Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Chief Connectional Ministries Officer of the Connectional Table. “Many are dealing with deep emotions and deep pain. We must now care for one another, pray for our church, and take the time to respond and not react. God loves all of us, no matter who we are and which positions we took. God loves us and is still calling us to be in mission and ministry in the world.”

The Connectional Table will continue the work of discerning and articulating the vision, in collaboration with the Council of Bishops, and stewarding the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church. We will seek to follow Wesley’s rules to do no harm, do good and to stay in love with God through the means of grace. We will pray for United Methodists and for the future of our Church. And, above all, we will follow Christ’s command to love one another. We urge all United Methodists to do the same.

About the Connectional Table: The Connectional Table works to steward the mission, vision and ministries of The United Methodist Church. For more information, please visit www.resourceumc.org/en/churchwide/the-connectional-table.

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Media Contact: Emily Clemons
773-714-1517 x6464
eclemons@umc.org

A Video Message from the Bishop, Post-General Conference 2019

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

General Conference is over but the work of the Arkansas Annual Conference continues on.

I have prepared a video message for you to view with my thoughts on General Conference and where we should go from here.

I encourage you to watch it and know that your church will continue to worship, your church will continue to serve, and we will continue to be about our work of making disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.

God Bless You,

Bishop Gary Mueller