At Annual Conference, we were reminded that we are Called Anew to Follow Jesus. The Scriptures that informed our gathering were Genesis 9:12-16 and Colossians 3:12-17. The passage from Genesis is part of the story of Noah and it speaks of God’s covenant (sacred promise) to all people and all living things. The promise was that never again will the floodwaters destroy all creatures. In Jesus the promise is broadened to include God’s unfailing commitment to love us for eternity. The covenant was symbolized by the rainbow.
Swimming is my favorite form of exercise and when I swim I delight in the interplay of light and shadow on the bottom of the pool. The interplay makes me think of life and our world. I, as an individual, and we, as a community, are a combination of light and shadow. The apostle Paul talked about it in terms of being of the Spirit or of the flesh. I think most of us are an interplay of bearing the likeness of Christ and living the values, so often celebrated in the world, that oppose the way of Christ. There are times when the shadow seems greater and times when the light seems greater. When I’m in the pool sometimes on the razor thin edge between the shadow and the light is a rainbow. Imagine, if you will, these rainbow-edged scallops of light and shadow spread across the pool floor. It is breathtaking and a deeply profound sign of God’s promise in the midst of life, life today. Human beings are an interplay of shadow and light. Our world is an interplay of shadow and light. We can see daily acts of Christ-like compassion and grace as well as appalling acts of violence, greed, etc. But on the edge between the shadow that is “the way of the world” and the light that is “the kingdom of God” is the promise of God. “I am with you. I seek your well-being. I am yours and you are mine forever.” Faith in this promise undergirds our being and our work as an Annual Conference.
The Scripture from Colossians 3:12-17 reminds us of the characteristics that fill us with the light of Christ – “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other … and over all these things put on love which is the perfect bond of unity.” We needed this Scriptural reminder as we sought to do the business of the Annual Conference in this contentious time. We did not always achieve this standard, but it was evident that we were working at it.
Our Annual Conference experience included some incredible worship. We were blessed with music that made our spirits soar and allowed us to express our faith in Christ and his saving grace. We honored pastors and pastor’s spouses who died this year. We commissioned and ordained three people into service as pastors and deacons. You see the whole life cycle in 3 days – those who served and now rest eternally with God and those who are answering God’s call to serve the present and future. We were inspired by the word proclaimed and responded with generosity supporting four projects that bring Christ’s love to those in need, homeless and hungry college students and young adults, people who have experienced a disaster, asylum seekers, and our brothers and sisters at Huachuca UMC who lost so much in a fire this year.
We did some creative dialogue about our feelings now and our hopes for the future led by a young adult United Methodist laywoman named Alyssa Edmondson. Alyssa and her helpers were a refreshing breath of the Spirit and a reminder to me that God will continue to raise up dedicated leaders in every generation.
We debated and voted on legislation, almost 30 pieces of legislation. Some of it was routine, but some was weighty dealing with issues related to the 2019 General Conference. The Traditional Plan passed in February 2019 is often portrayed as being about the inclusion of LGBTQIA people and it did strengthen the prohibition against them in the ordained ministry. It also strengthened the prohibition against pastors officiating at same gender weddings. What is often not discussed is that the plan added mandatory penalties for pastors who violate these prohibitions – for the first offense a year’s suspension with no pay and for the second offense the withdrawal of ordination and the loss of credentials, in other words you are not allowed to be an ordained pastor any more. The plan moves us toward being a creedal church something we have never been as Methodists. A creedal church says you have to believe certain things to belong (the creed) and if you don’t promise to believe them you will be excluded. John Wesley said there is only one essential that we must agree on to be Methodists and that is that Jesus is our Lord. There are other changes brought by the plan having to do with bishop’s authority, but I will leave that for another time. We have people in our conference, possibility even you, who support the changes in the Traditional Plan and I respect that. However, it does not allow those of us who read the Scripture and hear Christ’s call differently to follow our conscience and live with the integrity of our faith as you have. The Annual Conference voted with an overwhelming majority to “condemn the decision of the 2019 General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan.” You can read the full text of the Resolution: Disavowal of the Traditional Plan and all the legislation on the Desert Southwest Conference website at https://dscumc.org/annual-conference/. There was also support to convene a special session of the Annual Conference in September and the Western Jurisdictional Conference by next spring.
Some of our Annual Conference time was devoted to setting up teams to vision and plan for our future as a conference. This work is called the DSC Way Forward. Ten teams were convened and cofacilitators were elected to begin the work. Read more about this in the Bishop’s Blog at https://dscumc.org/2019/06/dsc-way-forward-movement/. People are still welcome to join the teams and participate in discerning and planning our way forward.
As you can see, it was a busy and full week of Annual Conference. I hope your pastors and lay delegates will share their experiences with you in the coming weeks and months. I hope that you, too, will hear and answer as you are Called Anew to Follow our Lord Jesus the Christ.