The last week of February is going to be a momentous one in the life of our church. The General Conference, which is the top policy-making body for United Methodists around the world, will meet in St Louis February 23-26 to receive and act on a report and recommendation from the Commission on a Way Forward. This commission was appointed in 2016 to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline (the Methodist rule book) concerning human sexuality and to explore options to strengthen the unity of the church.
The Commission came back with a very detailed analysis of several options to be considered. This analysis can be found at 2019 Special Session of the General Conference. Last May, the Council of Bishops, which is made up of all active and retired Bishops of the United Methodist Church, reviewed the final report and the options presented, and they are recommending what is being called the ‘One Church Plan’, an option that leaves decisions regarding same sex marriages up to the individual church, and ordination of LGBTQIA+ pastors up to the individual conferences, while preserving the United Methodist Church as one body. While this option had support from an overwhelming majority of Bishops, there are many who believe this option provides either too much freedom or not enough freedom, and they plan to oppose it at the upcoming Conference.
More detailed assessments by Rev. Myles Bradley and our Bishop Cynthia Moore-KoiKoi regarding the Way Forward work and how it fits with the vision and plans within our church and our conference are available in a handout at the entrances and throughout the church. We invite you to read their thoughts, as well as the additional resources that are available at the http://www.umc.org/ and https://rmnetwork.org/ websites.
Here at Calvary, our belief is best expressed in our Welcoming Statement:We open our hearts, our minds and our doors to all our neighbors. We gladly invite into our shared life all persons who seek a community of support where they can grow in God's grace. Regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, relationship status, or background - you are God's beloved, and you are welcome here.
Our decision last year to become part of Reconciling Ministries Network reinforces that belief. Whatever the General Conference outcome, the leadership of Calvary is committed to upholding the dignity and opportunity for service of every person who wants to be part of the life-changing work of our church.
This is a very difficult time for our denomination, but it’s also a time of opportunity and re-commitment to the work of Jesus Christ in our lives, our city, and our world. We ask that you pray for those attending General Conference later this month to receive the discernment, patience, and wisdom to thoughtfully consider the right next steps our denomination. We also invite you to engage with our staff, our leadership, and your fellow congregants on this important subject. It is only through open and honest dialog among our brothers and sisters in Christ that we can emerge from this challenge stronger and healthier for the road ahead.
God bless you, and God bless the United Methodist Church,
Rev. Larry Homitsky, Calvary UMC Pastor
Frank Pogue, Calvary UMC Council Chair
What is it?
The UMC is holding a special General Conference to discuss and act on proposals for a ‘Way Forward’ concerning human sexuality and options to strengthen the unity of the church. The Conference is being held February 23-26, 2019.
Who gets to decide?
The General Conference is made up of delegates from churches and conferences around the globe. They are the group that decides policy for our denomination. Should the matter come to a vote, the outcome will apply to all United Methodist members, churches, and jurisdictions.
What are they voting on?
There are three proposals that will be reviewed. Although the UMC Council of Bishops, which authorized the committee’s work, is recommending one plan, all three plans will be discussed. They can vote on any of the plans or they can make modifications and vote on something new. They could also delay a decision until a later General Conference, although this is unlikely.
What if I don’t like the outcome?
This is where it gets tricky. No one solution will please everyone. If a church, or a group of churches, can’t abide by the result of the vote, they may try to leave the denomination. This could split up the United Methodist Church as we know it. Each of us individually and as a congregation will have to decide what is best given our beliefs, our ministries, and our vision for the Christ’s church.
When will we know what is decided?
Since the United Methodist Church is one of the largest faith denominations in the country, this will receive significant coverage in the news. Calvary will work to provide timely updates and Q&A sessions before and after the Conference so that you have the latest information and an opportunity to discuss.
A Special General Conference will meet in St Louis to consider the future of the United Methodist Church after over two years of prayerful discussion and consideration. At issue is language in our Discipline concerning ministry to LGBTQIA+ Christians. This language was added to the Discipline at the General Conference in 1972, and many believe that this is out of sync with psychological and medical research in the intervening 50 years.
What does the St Louis event have to do with the life of Calvary United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh? Everything!
The Council of Bishops considered three plans for the future, presented by the Commission on the Way Forward. The Commission which consisted of a number of clergy and laity, male and female, gay and straight United Methodists from around the world spent two years seeking to find a Way Forward. The final 93 page report (available at https://www.wpaumc.org/) to the Council detailed the plans and their implications for the ministry of the church, its finances and other areas.
A TRADITIONAL PLAN which maintains the current prohibitions on same sex marriage and gay ordination. This option would force conferences and churches to face enhanced accountability for adherence to those prohibitions or leave the Methodist Church.
A CONNECTIONAL CONFERENCE PLAN which would allow churches to join with others having similar positions in one of three Conferences defined by rules concerning same sex marriage and suitability for ordained ministry. All Conferences would continue to be a part of the United Methodist church.
A ONE CHURCH PLAN which would remove language stating that “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and defining marriage “as between a man and a woman”, neutralize language in our Social Principles concerning civil marriage, remove prohibitions against civil unions and same sex marriage and remove the prohibition of gay ordination.
The Bishops have indicated their support for the ONE CHURCH PLAN, however many United Methodists including many in Western PA, oppose it. While the Bishops preferred that only the One Church Plan be considered, the Judicial Council ruled that all three would be brought to the Special General Conference. The vote in Saint Louis will consider, and perhaps, modify these options and select the way forward for United Methodism.
The implications for Calvary are clear:
If the Traditional Plan is selected our pastor would be unable to perform weddings or ceremonies for gay members without facing possible removal from ministry. Appointing gay congregants to top leadership positions or continuing to participate in partnerships such as Reconciling Ministries could bring sanctions from the Conference.
If the Connectional Conference Plan is selected we would join with other Reconciling Congregations in a Conference which might cover many states, or the whole country. It would make regional efforts among local churches more difficult, but would allow us to continue our inclusive ministry without opposition.
If the One Church Plan is selected we would continue to minster as we do now, our pastor would be free to provide the ministries and rituals of the church to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Other United Methodist Churches and pastors in Western PA would, likewise, be able to minister according to their consciences.
The Plan chosen this month would take a period of time to take effect, requiring action at the 2020 General Conference and beyond. How individual churches respond to the decision will most likely result in disruption to the denomination until all of the implications of the decision are sorted out. Net, it’s going to be a little bumpy for a while.
I encourage you to learn more about the options, the Biblical, theological and administrative implications, and share in discussion with others at Calvary and other United Methodist congregations. Whatever the outcome, we need to understand the options for Calvary United Methodist Church.
With prayers for Understanding and Peace,
Rev. Myles T. Bradley
I am extremely grateful to the members of the WPA Task Force on a Way Forward who worked faithfully to develop and implement a process whereby we could disseminate accurate information about the Commission on a Way Forward Report and provide avenues to listen to each other’s hopes, fears, concerns, and joy regarding the work of the commission. I am also very pleased that so many people participated in the process and so many were able to have meaningful conversation.
I was happy to hear that even though the conversation was sometimes difficult, most of you were grateful for the opportunity to hear from the task force and from one another. I acknowledge that for many the conversations felt uncomfortable, for some they were extremely challenging, and for a few they felt harmful. I have been praying for healing where harm may have been done. I have also been praying that God will continue to make something beautiful come from each of the conversations. It is my belief that the work reflected in this report will help our delegates in their discernment process.
Our delegates have engaged with scripture and rely on their own experiences, their knowledge of church history, and their reason, as well as scientific information and data, in their discernment process. They have much to consider. All delegates need our prayers for wisdom, insight, courage, and compassion as they do their work at the Special Called Session of General Conference.
We believe that when two or three believers gather together in God’s name, God will be with them. And when God is with God’s people, miracles happen and spiritual gifts of creativity, wisdom and vision are revealed in spectacular ways. Our process leaves room for, and even anticipates, the miraculous work of the Spirit of God. As United Methodists we are no strangers to the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. We have been praying for a movement of the Holy Spirit.
Because I know the volume of prayers that have been offered by this annual conference for our delegates and all the others, I am confident God’s Spirit is already at work in the hearts and minds of General Conference delegates all across the world. Please continue to pray they will feel the presence of God and discern the will of God and that General Conference will be a process of Holy Conferencing for all. God continues to be in control. And God has got even this!