|ANNUAL CONFERENCE UPDATE FROM PASTOR LORA
Joy has done a fantastic job of blogging her experience and perspective of Annual Conference, and I’d encourage you to check out all four days’ blogs here: gracewinfield.com/blog. I wanted to share some of my own thoughts on conference as well, because it is such a unique time in the life of the connectional United Methodist Church.
1) Conference Feels Different Than It Used To
The decisions of General Conference 2019 have led the UMC into a new place, whether we like it or not. I was just in a district superintendency meeting (a committee sort of like SPRC for our DS that I sit on) in Wichita last night and someone said, “It feels like our Annual Conference was a reaction to General Conference.” I think they were correct. More than ever, the weight of delegate elections and conversations about the future are centered around the larger turmoil in the denomination that has centered around whether or not we fully include our LGBTQ siblings. Folks are voicing their opinions who never have before and the time is over for churches to not talk about it at all. Up until this year, many folks just simply moved forward without having conversations at their churches. It was clear we aren’t there anymore. I grieve that it makes for some awkward encounters in relationships we’ve had for a long time, but I grieve more for the harm we have done as a denomination to our LGBTQ siblings.
2) UMC Next is Birthing a New Movement
I had the privilege of attending UMC Next two weeks ago and was elected to be one of the co-conveners moving forward in the Great Plains UMC Next Movement. This means that I had the opportunity to plan and lead a debrief session (that turned into a rally) to help folks understand the UMC Next, a movement of centrist and progressive people committed to a strong Wesleyan faith and an inclusive church. We had to move from the chapel at Topeka First (that seats over 200) to the sanctuary, because we had 300 people come at 9:00 pm, after the memorial service to learn about UMC Next. We sang, I summarized UMC Next, there was Q&A, testimony, and a call to action. People were cheering, crying, clapping, and a spirit of hope was in the room that many folks haven’t felt since the disappointment of General Conference. I left that gathering feeling hope for a Methodism where LGBTQ people are celebrated. Here are the four official commitments of UMC Next. We believe these commitments are essential to a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world:
- We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
- We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
- We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
- We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
3) Great Plains Conference is Leaning Progressive
There were four resolutions regarding LGBTQ inclusion at Annual Conference and all four passed by about a 60/40 margin. One of the resolutions added $20,000 in grants to raise up LGBTQ missional leaders. One of the resolutions rejected the Traditional Plan and apologizes for the harm to LGBTQ people. One of the resolutions (that I presented!) adopted the four commitments of UMC Next (see above) and invites every congregation to have a conversation about them. One of the resolutions encourages a study of sexuality in regards to science (the “reason” portion of the Wesleyan quadrilateral). The fact that the 60/40 margin held out shows that there is significant resolve in the Great Plains to move toward full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the church. The Book of Discipline will still have the Traditional Plan (further exclusion of LGBTQ folks and punitive measures) as the rule, but the majority of Kansas and Nebraska Methodists voting at Annual Conference don’t agree with that kind of Methodism. What this means going forward is still unclear, but I know that Great Plains folks are working to be a church that welcomes everyone or trying to figure out how to amicably separate so that we can move forward. Conservative leaders tried to amend one of these resolutions to add encouragement to our delegation to work on amicable separation so that we can stop fighting about LGBTQ inclusion and move forward. I think it will likely happen that way, but we didn’t pass the amendment, partly because we didn’t want to cloud the rejection of the Traditional Plan with this additional amendment. Once again, I grieve for the difficult relationships between conservative and progressive leaders during this in between time, but it also feels like there is something new coming that will allow us some more freedom and compassion for one another in finding a new way to be in relationship.
4) What’s This Mean for Grace?
This isn’t an easy thing to answer. I think Grace will continue to live out its mission that God has called us to of welcoming ALL, growing in grace together, and sharing God’s love on campus, in our community, and in our world. From my perspective in the last five years at Grace, there is overwhelming support for a more inclusive church, and I also know that some folks would not fall in that viewpoint. What I love about Grace is that there is a willingness to continue that Big Tent Methodism that was rejected in February by General Conference. The big umbrella Methodism that we find even in our pews at Grace was denied and the majority of folks at General Conference said that an anti-LGBTQ policy is the only way we can be church. Grace is already resisting that decision by being who we are—a big tent church that has never been a “one issue” church but rather a church that is committed to welcoming ALL. Does that mean LGBTQ people? Yes. Does it also mean the poor, people of color, young, old, etc.? Yes. I see Grace working unapologetically for a fully inclusive church that also stays at the table with one another, just like you all have done for years. Much of our work right now is to wait and see while continuing to live out God’s mission. My favorite way to create change is to grow as a church—make disciples, share God’s love, meet our neighbors, invite folks to church. As I wrap up my time here at Grace, I will hold you all in prayer during this difficult time in the UMC, and I trust that the Spirit will lead you just as She always has to know what your next faithful step will be.