By Jim Nibbelink, Lay Delegate
With the arrival of 2017, we United Methodists are living by a new Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. These documents are based on the actions of last year’s General Conference. So, what’s new? What’s different? What’s important? Your General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation members will be sharing some of the key changes with you between now and our Annual Conference, describing the impact of some of the policy and procedural changes that have been adopted.
To begin this process, Billie Fidlin and I will be sharing our perspectives on new or changed legislation related to human rights and social justice, the very hallmarks of what it means to be United Methodist. Other delegation members will cover important changes related to congregational and Conference ministry, global ministries, general, judicial and financial administration, and constitutional matters. The information on constitutional matters will include what the proposed changes to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church mean, as well as preparing members of the Annual Conference to vote on the proposals in June.
To begin our sharing, I’ll discuss General Conference actions related to the UMC’s approach to human sexuality.
As we began General Conference last May, there were more than one hundred different petitions proposed to make changes to existing paragraphs of The Discipline or Book of Resolutions. There was considerable concern among the voting delegates about this sensitive subject. Some feared that there would be significant changes to current statements, while others feared that there would be no changes made. In the midst of this widespread anxiety, the body voted to ask our Council of Bishops to step up as leaders to suggest how we might proceed. A day later, the Council proposed creating a Commission on a Way Forward to bring together UM’s from around the world to discern how The UMC could move into the future with integrity and faithfulness despite differences in our beliefs related to sexuality. This proposal was approved and the council subsequently named Commission members. the Commission consists of 32 people, 13 clergy persons, 11 laity, and 8 Bishops, who are diverse in beliefs and country of origin. Among the expected outcomes of this group’s recommendations is the possibility that the Council of Bishops will call a special session of the General Conference in 2019 to review and possibly adopt the legislative proposals coming from the deliberations of the Commission. The Commission met for the first time this January and several additional meetings are scheduled. Pending the outcome of the Commission’s work, we are looking forward to discerning how The United Methodist Church will remain as one denomination with a worldwide ministry to transform lives through the work of committed disciples of Jesus Christ.
As a part of the response to the work of General Conference, Bishop Hoshibata is convening a series of Holy Huddles so members of our congregations have an opportunity to consider social, Biblical and United Methodist perspectives related to human sexuality. These meetings are welcoming and educational, providing a forum for us to discover and discuss sensitive issues in a supportive setting. We thank Bishop Bob for his initiative in creating Holy Huddles and look forward to hearing what has been learned.