The Future of Methodism
In recent weeks we learned that the meeting of the General Conference, the legislative decision-making body of the United Methodist Church, already postponed twice, will now be postponed once again. The meeting will now take place in 2024, when the next regularly scheduled General Conference would occur.
While this decision is disappointing, I believe the reasons for it make sense. We would not have been able to have equal representation from our International delegates due to a backlog in the U.S. visa system. In the meantime, much is happening behind the scenes.
The Global Methodist Church (GMC) is a new denomination that will now launch in May 2022, composed of churches that align with the Good News/Confessing Movement/Wesleyan Covenant Associations. We will not be joining them. While they count themselves among the “traditionalist” wing of the church their main problem with churches like ours is that they will not allow LGBTQ+ folks to be in leadership in any way. They had a plan to split the United Methodist Church this year and take $25 million dollars from the UMC to start this new denomination. Some even offered vaccination for delegates in countries where vaccines are not widely available—a practice perceived by some to be an unjust approach, carried out for self-serving reasons.
Postponement was the desired outcome of much of the Western Jurisdiction. We believed that there was too great a risk of inequity—that too many people would be prevented from attending by either lack of vaccination or inaccessibility of visas. Many would like to see the conservative (anti-gay) wing make their exit prior to General Conference, so that the ones who eventually meet to determine the way forward will be those who actually plan to participate in the future of the United Methodist Church.
There is a long history of church schisms. They are always painful, and ours is made more difficult by this pandemic. The Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lutheran Churches have already split over human sexuality in previous decades. It pains me that we are the last of the main-line Protestants to finally make a decision about these matters. I am aware that our LGBTQ+ members bear the greatest pain of this delay as they wait to see what our denomination will determine about how we will treat them. But there is still much hope dear ones.
As I stated earlier, a significant portion of the anti-gay wing of the church is breaking away this May to form the GMC. We in the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC have already been living in the future we envision for the entire UMC. For years we have ordained and affirmed LGBTQ+ persons in ministry. Bishops in the Western Jurisdiction do not bring charges against clergy for performing weddings for queer couples, and have not for some time. Whatever happens with the larger UMC we will remain aligned with the vision that our Western Jurisdiction Bishops have set before us.
Though the larger body of the UMC may continue to debate inclusion, we at Bend Church have already made our decision. In 2015 we voted to become a part of the Reconciling Ministries Network to be clear about our stance on the affirmation of all God’s people into this Body of Christ.
So we wait and continue to love one another even in our frustration over this incredibly long process.
My friend Rev. Taylor Fuerst puts it this way, “The metaphor that works for me here is breathing. The Hebrew scriptures use the same word (Ruah) for both breath and spirit. It is tempting to “hold our breath” waiting for General Conference to make the official change we have longed to see. We can “hold our breath” waiting for every church and every member to come around to affirm the lives and loves of LGBTQ+ people. OR, we can breathe now. Through the Holy Spirit, we can breathe in and remember that the God who created each and every one of us has already affirmed us. Breathe in belovedness. Through the Holy Spirit, we can breathe out and see the power unleashed when we tell the story of a God who loves and celebrates LGBTQ+ life and love as much as the divine loves everyone else. This is God’s work through us, and it is vitally important, healing, redeeming work. We do not need to hold our breath; we have all we need.”
Your church leadership stands united in our vision for a fully affirming United Methodist Church. As the pandemic wains, we are rebuilding our Music, Youth, and Family programs. We will continue to advocate for the poor, and are opening our building to allow for more affordable child care. I am incredibly thankful to be here at this time as we reimagine together the work of this downtown church. I pray you will stay and join with me.