Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of the Risen Christ!
In a few weeks, the churches of the Desert Southwest Conference will join Christians all over the globe to celebrate the birthday of the Church. On the day of Pentecost, we remember the Biblical account of the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit as followers of Jesus Christ launched the ministry and mission of the Church to all persons. From that spirit-filled day, faithful followers of Jesus Christ have continued in that spirit reaching out in love and faith as ambassadors of the Good News, proclaiming the hope-filled message of Jesus Christ in many languages, to everyone in the world.
I pray for this very spirit for our Desert Southwest Conference. I have just returned from a meeting of the Council of Bishops. The meeting, held over 5 days in Chicago, was billed as a crucial meeting in which the Council received the report of its Commission on a Way Forward in order to determine what it would report to the called session of the General Conference in February 2019.
A press release on May 4, 2018 gave some details about what we accomplished. I want to say a word about that press release so that you might have better perspective about what we did and clarify some things about what we did not do.
WHAT WE DID. In short, the report shares the news that your Bishops strongly support the One Church Plan. By our vote, we stated clearly that we want to keep us together as a church in ministry to all persons, united by our common Wesleyan heritage and our common ministry and mission in our world.
My support of the One Church Plan is based on my assessment that it was the best choice. I voted for the One Church Plan because it would delete the prohibitive language of “incompatibility” from the Book of Discipline. Churches in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe, will be able to retain their authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and to continue to include traditional language and values. But churches in the US and pastors who are called to officiate at or host same-sex weddings would be able to do so. Those who do not want to would not be required to do so.
Although the decision was ultimately made to include the details of the other two plans as information in our report, it is significant that we voted strongly to recommend the One Church Plan.
WHAT WE DID NOT DO. Contrary to what some commentators say, we did not give equal weight of support for the other two plans. The traditionalist and the connecting conference models received some support but did not rise to the level of satisfying the mandate of the mission, vision, and scope of the Council’s task. Thus, we gave strong support for the One Church Plan for our United Methodist Church and not the other two.
We also did not change the Book of Discipline. Bishops do not have that authority. That can only be done by vote of the delegates at General Conference. Ultimately, the General Conference delegates will receive and deliberate and vote on this matter. If you have comments or want to voice your opinion, you may want to channel these to delegates who will be voting at General Conference 2019.
WHAT YOU CAN DO. For the Desert Southwest Conference, there will be opportunities for us to discuss this in more detail. I know that there are many questions and thoughts you have about how the Council came to support one of the three plans presented to us by the Commission on a Way Forward; how this plan that the Council preferred will affect us; why the Council chose to share all three plans with the General Conference; and what will might happen next.
If you would like to learn more about the decision of the Council of Bishops, I invite you to attend one of our Pre-Conference Briefings. I’m planning on saying a word about this at each Briefing. The scheduled Briefings are:
- Tuesday, May 8th at St. Matthew UMC, Mesa, from 6:30 – 8:30 pm.
- Sunday, May 20th at Green Valley UMC, Henderson, Nevada, from 3:00 – 5:00 pm.
- Thursday, May 24th at Epworth UMC, Phoenix, from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.
- Wednesday, May 30th at Vista de la Montaña, Tucson, from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.
In addition, there will be a Holy Huddle Learning Experience at Annual Conference on Saturday, June 16, during the afternoon plenary session to discuss the Council’s decision.
I am also working with Conference leadership to plan a time when we can discuss in more detail the One Church Plan and the report to General Conference. Details will be forthcoming as soon as more definite plans are finalized.
As you read the letter from the Council and prayerfully receive it, I want us all to remember that God is calling us to be a courageous church, loving like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope. I want to assure you with a thought for this moment: The statement issued by the Council of Bishops does not say enough about the prayerful, honest, sometimes difficult conversations that in at the Council meeting. It was, for me, an affirmation that your bishops can engage in respectful conversations about matters of vital importance to us. I believe that no matter what happens at General Conference 2019, the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church will continue with joy and love.
In this same spirit, I ask you to hold the delegates to the called session of the General Conference, and our whole United Methodist Church in prayer with the words of the Pentecost hymn written by Henry Hallam Tweedy (1823):
“Teach us to utter living words
of truth which all may hear,
the language all may understand
when love speaks loud and clear;
till every age and race and clime
shall blend their creeds in one,
and earth shall form one family
by whom thy will is done.”