Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Greetings with grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!
With much anticipation, the report of the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops regarding the future of The United Methodist Church is due to be released soon. Many of you have heard of the document in question. We’ve talked about it in communications from the Desert Southwest Conference and from news releases from the General Church. I shared some of what I knew at our Annual Conference session, and you have undoubtedly heard commentaries from a variety of sources since.
When the report becomes public, it may raise some anxiety. It is a complex document, with descriptions of what is being presented for consideration (debate, discussion, prayerful discerning, questions, amending, etc.) at the special session of the General Conference in St. Louis from February 23-26, 2019. My understanding is that the Judicial Council (the Supreme Court of The United Methodist Church) recently ruled that the report that is going to be submitted to the General Conference is a report from The Commission on a Way Forward, with a recommendation for the One Church Plan from your Council of Bishops.
The Judicial Council also ruled that there can be other plans submitted to the General Conference. These are among the materials that are currently being translated into the official languages of the General Conference: Portuguese, French, and Kiswahili. Once the translations of the whole body of material are completed, the report and all other official material to be considered at General Conference will be shared publicly.
As your bishop, I have had the privilege of hours of debate and discussion and prayer about the plans that will be presented that have come from the Commission on a Way Forward. I have also been privileged to have honest and transparent conversations with many bishops and I want you to know that I join with the great majority of the Bishops in supporting the One Church Model. When you read the report, you may find, as I did, that the One Church Model gives us the greatest opportunity to set aside our conflict and move out of the impasse that has hindered our growth and vitality for many decades. The One Church Model also offers us the best opportunity to work together to be the best we can be in responding to God’s love in our lives.
Having said this, I want to let you know that our Conference is preparing to engage in serious and honest conversations about the material that will be presented to the General Conference in February 2019. There will be numerous opportunities for you to come and hear about the plans as well as to talk about some of the deep issues that challenge our denomination. More about these Holy Huddles on the Future of our Church will be forthcoming.
For me, the primary question is whether we can live together with differences in our understanding of human sexuality in The United Methodist Church. My experience is that for many of us, the differences become less significant when we can keep our sights on the primary purpose of our existence as a church: our mission and ministry. When we focus on the work of ministry in our congregations and ministry settings, I believe we are doing what God calls us to do, and in that lies our hope for a faithful future.
No matter what happens at General Conference 2019, I pledge to you that I will continue to be your bishop, leading us to be a courageous church, loving like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope. We will be the church that will persist even when we are challenged by the changes that come. We will continue to open our doors to invite the faithful for worship that inspires, to reach out into the communities around us to offer love and grace in acts of kindness and generosity, and we will be a church to call us all to love others as Jesus loved us and to lodge our hope and proclaim the grace of Jesus Christ our Savior. We will continue to be the church that will continue to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God.