Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
I write to you after a very full day at the special session of the General Conference. It has not been a particularly “great” day for many people, as we watched the voting members of the conference pass the Traditional Plan. You know that this was not the result I had hoped and prayed for. But in these times, the words of a hymn are swirling in my head and reassure me that God is with us even in these uncertain times:
“Do not be afraid, I am with you,
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me.
I will bring you home.
I love you and you are mine.” (Christopher Willcock)
I support the One Church Plan. On the floor of General Conference, there were impassioned, articulate speeches that urged the body to look beyond their preoccupation with human sexuality and to vote with the mission and ministry, the future and the integrity of the church in mind. Unfortunately, human sexuality was the driver of the vote and in the final analysis, the One Church Plan was not adopted and the Traditional Plan was passed. In spite of this action, I want to assure all persons that the Desert Southwest Conference will continue to proclaim that God loves all persons, and that we are also called to embrace diversity and love all persons just as Christ loved us.
The important thing for us is to take a deep breath and breathe in God’s Holy Spirit. The Traditional Plan as it was adopted will need to pass the test of a formal review by the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of The United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council has already declared some of the provisions of the Traditional Plan to be unconstitutional. In other words, these parts of the Plan that are unconstitutional may make the Plan impossible to implement. But let’s not count on that. We will leave that up to the wisdom of the Judicial Council.
What we can and must do is to do what I said I believed would happen the day after General Conference. Remember what I shared at Holy Huddles? I painted a picture of United Methodist Churches where someone would come and unlock the doors of the church. People will come to the church to drop off canned goods for the food pantry. Someone will arrive to open the clothing bank for those who need clothing. The doors to the church preschool will be opened and children will rush to classrooms. In many churches in our Conference, people will come for Bible Study, choir practice, knitting circles. Some folk will come to clean the church or to assist in maintaining the yard. It will be “ministry as usual” after General Conference. We need to keep being the church. Like Jesus, we must continue to be in ministry as the Willcock hymn declares:
“I am hope for all who are hopeless,
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light,
Come and rest in me.”
To be honest, we do not yet know the full implications of the Traditional Plan. If it is fully affirmed by the Judicial Council as being “constitutional,” or in line with the provisions of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, there may be some changes that we need to make in the way we conduct the business of the Desert Southwest Conference. But until that review by the Judicial Council takes place, my expectation is that we will do the ministry and mission of the church. Let’s not let any decision by the General Conference prevent us from being the church. Breathe deeply, try not to become anxious, and keep on doing excellent ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
We will continue to have the passion and faith for ministry in our local congregations. Let us always focus on being united in our hope in Jesus Christ. It is that hope that propels us into exciting ministries that change lives and transforms communities. No legislation, even of the General Conference should allow us to refuse to embrace diversity. We are to be united, but not uniform. This is what God intended when God created us. And because of our diversity, we are each unique individuals whom God loves.
There will be much more to share and to discuss. But for now, let’s not let this decision stand in the way of our being the church together, united in our common vision that God is calling us to be:
A courageous church: loving like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope.
Blessed by our common ministry,
Bishop Grant Hagiya, who leads the California-Pacific and Desert Southwest conferences, said orientation would include discussions of the denomination’s global nature, an overview of legal matters facing the denomination and guidance for running annual conference meetings. New bishops also will receive training on combatting sexism and racism. Hagiya emphasized that the orientation sessions would include worship and prayer.