Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the spirit of Jesus Christ!
Soon we will be gathering for our Desert Southwest Annual Conference. Under the banner of our theme, “Called Anew to Follow,” I am looking forward to being with you as we worship, fellowship, and engage in the business of the Annual Conference. This year’s conference, more than any other in our history, will be a crucially important time of connecting, building and strengthening relationships, praying, and visioning in new ways about God’s call in our lives to be a church that is vibrant and alive, following Christ’s mandate to love one another. I want to share some exciting news about one of the ways we of the Desert Southwest Conference are being called to something new as we follow Jesus Christ!
Since General Conference 2019, I have been hearing many people say: we may not agree about human sexuality, but we cannot stand by and see the church we love destroyed by the extremely punitive actions adopted by General Conference. Many people have expressed a longing for conversation that helps us acknowledge our differences about human sexuality but allows us to find a way forward into a viable future. To this end, many persons have been saying, “What can I do?” There is a deep longing to not sit idly by, but to engage in some meaningful action that will help create a positive future for the church. In response to those voices, I am proposing that we create a new effort to involve persons of our annual conference in such action. I’d like us to focus our energy and faith to create the Desert Southwest Conference Way Forward; composed of a number of teams that will address specific actions to help transition into a future which is yet for us to determine.
Imagine that you could be part of something new and exciting that God is calling us to be. The Desert Southwest Conference Way Forward will bring together teams utilizing the energy, passion, commitment and faith of persons connected to the churches and ministry settings of the DSC, both laity and clergy. In multiple conversations with persons from the DSC, ten key teams have been identified addressing the needs in our conference going forward. These ten teams are inspired by the conversations with those who attended the UM Next gathering last month at the Church of the Resurrection, UM Forward, as well as conversations with the Extended Cabinet, the Sessions Committee, and many individuals.
If you are a person who has said, “How can I help?” the DSC Way Forward will provide an opportunity to do just that. The work to move us forward is so critical to our future that we will be devoting time at Annual Conference to begin the work of organizing the teams. Following Annual Conference, the work of the teams will begin in earnest and those of you who are not at Annual Conference who have passion and energy and want to be part of this movement forward will have a chance to join a team.
We will start organization of the DSC Way Forward with ten key teams. At Annual Conference, time will be allocated for the initial formation of these teams. People who are interested in serving in this way will be able to self-select a team, review the purpose of the team, select leadership, and converse about how to begin to respond to the area defined by each key team. The expectation is that teams will define and create strategies to propel DSC forward, focusing on the DSC vision and values: How is God calling us to be a courageous church –loving like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope amid our changing environment, and in the challenges of the church we love which is in an extraordinary time of wilderness and uncertainty. If you are not at Annual Conference and have interest in these teams, there will be opportunities for you to join the movement.
To give you an idea what to expect, I share with you the ten key teams with which we want to begin the movement. Each team has been assigned a designated “Opener,” whose primary task at Annual Conference is to convene a meeting of persons interested in that team’s purpose. The Opener will be responsible for organizing the team and making sure there is movement forward that will begin at Annual Conference: prayer, conversation about the purpose of the team, collecting of contact information of those present, and most importantly, the Opener will direct a process that will elect 2 co-facilitators who will lead the efforts of the team. These co-facilitators will work together to shape the overall strategy and plan of action and will be responsible for leading the team after Annual Conference. Here are the 10 teams and the name of the person who will serve as the Opener for each team at Annual Conference.
- Theology Team – Opener: Rev. N. Susan Brims. The goal of this group is to help ground the work of the DSC Way Forward in a strong Wesleyan Theology which ties together growth in Christian personal piety with the actions leading to social holiness. We will work to develop a theological foundation that is grace-filled, inclusive and aids us in the work of transformational justice.
- Communications Team- Opener: Ms. Laurie Lineberry. The primary goal of this team is to craft a compelling narrative that 1) explains what is happening in transparent and accessible terms. 2) invites people to join in work that is happening, share what they are doing in local churches and ministry settings, informs people about the various ways they can participate in ongoing Way Forward work. 3) captures how this unique DSC story is part of God’s of ongoing work of transformation as we make disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Connections Team – Opener: Ms. Julie O’Neal. This task group gathers and shares information with churches, church leaders and members about the discussions and actions of groups after Annual Conference. This information is crucial to share so that churches, church leaders and members can understand their place in the context of the movement and become equipped in decision making for their next steps in affiliating with the church in whatever form emerges.
- Conversations Team – Opener: Rev. Mark Conrad. It is easy for churches to feel isolated and to struggle with expanding their conversations. This team will look for ways to encourage churches to join in conversations with other United Methodist churches and with other organizations and other faith communities. One goal may be the sharing of resources for churches doing Holy Huddle type conversations. The goal is to increase understanding and to build relationships.
- Amicable separation Team- Opener: Rev. Beth Rambikur. This team will focus on the future possibility of an amicable separation of the factions in The United Methodist Church. If this becomes an option for our churches or our conference, this team will guide us.
- Disaffiliation Team – Opener: Mr. Randy Bowman. The Judicial Council decisions in late April permit a church to disaffiliate from The UMC for reasons of conscience related to issues of human sexuality or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues. The terms of disaffiliation are to be established by the conference board of trustees with the advice of the cabinet and others. But we also need the input of other passionate constituents. A standard form disaffiliation agreement has been developed, but we have the responsibility to determine if we want to add anything to it and to develop a process checklist. This is a significant responsibility that includes not only procedural matters but also matters of compassion to ensure that all church members (not just those wanting to disaffiliate) are cared for. If you have a passion for this work, please join us at annual conference as we begin to envision a way forward for those churches that may want to consider disaffiliation.
- Finance Team– Opener: Rev. David McPherson. The Finance Team will identify possible financial challenges and resources to meet the needs facing the Desert Southwest Conference and our churches in light of the ruling of General Conference 2019. Some possible funding needs might be for meeting expenses within the Conference, Jurisdiction and Nationally where dreaming and planning might take place. Other needs might be resources for a new structure, attorney fees and assisting churches who feel they must disaffiliate.
- Legal Team– Opener: Rev. Dan Morley. The goal of this team is to identify legal matters related to the DSC Way Forward, considering such items as:
- Which legal matters and Disciplinary sections are of greatest concern?
- What is the legal status of the AC and the local church? Are they distinct or separate organizations, or corporations?
- Is the trust clause still relevant and enforceable?
- Which Book of Discipline sections, or paragraphs should be changed?
- Spirituality Team – Opener: Rev. Nancy Cushman. The Spirituality task group creates and shares resources that inform and enhance our spiritual life as we move through this season of change. As we make decisions and go through processes and procedures, they remind us to continually connect to God and move through this time deeply grounded in Christ.
- Dreaming a New Methodism Team – Opener: Rev. Dan Hurlbert. For decades The United Methodist Church in the United States has been in decline. We know that our current way of doing ministry isn’t working. The recent action of General Conference, and the harm that it causes, has presented an opportunity to dream a new Methodism. How will we describe this new church? What of the United Methodist Church will we bring with us? What do we need to leave behind? However we dream our future, we know it will be grounded in our Wesleyan theology of grace, deeply rooted in our baptismal promise to resist evil, injustice and oppression, consistent with the law of love and affirming of the sacred worth and ministry of all people, regardless of age, gender, gender identity, race, nationality, sexual orientation, socio-economic level, or physical or mental ability/disability. As we move forward, we are determined to do no harm to any of God’s children and we are committed to a vibrant church that is uncompromising on Jesus’ commandment to love God and neighbor. How will such a church be shaped? It’s time to dream.
These are the ten key teams that will launch our important and exciting work together. More teams may emerge as we continue on our path into the future, but for now, we begin with these ten. As mentioned earlier in this blog, if you would like to join the movement, you are asked to register your desire to volunteer on the website after the Annual Conference session. Through our work together will come hope for our future as we create the church we want to become. I ask you to keep the DSC Way Forward in your prayers as it is initiated at Annual Conference. As we prepare for Annual Conference, “Let the words of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)