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October 2018

Commission On A Way Forward

I wanted to take this time to be able to share information about what is going on in our Great Plains Conference which will have a big impact on our churches, conference, and clergy. I don’t want to scare or worry you, but I think it is important we know what is going on and how it might impact many. It is a time we can be involved and especially be in prayer for the ones who must make this difficult decision. It has been a concern for many years at general conference, which meets every 4 years, but in 2016 is when they made the decision. We need to move forward, so they can focus on other issues which need to be addressed.

In 2016, the Rev. Mark Holland and the Rev. Adam Hamilton went to the Council of Bishops to provide leadership on matters pertaining to human sexuality. The Council of Bishops decided to form what became known as the Commission on a Way Forward. This group is made up of 32 people (mixture of laity and clergy). There are nine countries and fifteen states represented. They are a mix of traditionalists and progressives who have met over nine times over seventeen months. Their task was to craft a proposal that would design a way for being a church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places as possible, allows for much contextual differentiation as possible, and balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. When they met they learned how to work together and move past their differences. They presented several models to the Council of Bishops for consideration. The bishops provided feedback, and the commission returned with models for a way forward. These are the three plans they will vote on in St. Louis on 2-23-2019 through 2-26-2019.

The one church plan will remove the language from the Book of Discipline (used in the United States) that restricts pastors and churches from conducting same-sex weddings and annual conference from ordaining self-avowed practicing homosexual persons. It will also add language that protects the prerogatives of pastors and churches who choose not to perform or host same-sex weddings and Boards of Ordained Ministry and bishops who choose not to credential or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexual persons. There will be changes to the Book of Discipline by removing several phrases and adding paragraphs that provide helpful protections. This plan also provides unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context without disbanding the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church.

The Connectional Conference Model reflects a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services. It will replace jurisdictional conferences in the U.S. with three, value-based connectional conferences that have distinctive definitions of accountability, contextualization, and justice. It will allow annual conferences and congregations to select which connection they feel most comfortable--the traditional, One Church, or Connectional plans.
Traditional Model maintains the status quo but anticipates increased accountability to the current Book of Discipline language. It will also maintain familiarity and allow the General Conference to continue to set doctrine, discipline, and polity. It will also provide clarity on the Church’s stance regarding human sexuality.

I know reading this might be overwhelming but we all need to remember God is in control. We also need to pray about it daily. The bishop is asking all churches to be in prayer each day at 2:26 pm, which will be the time they will make the decision next year. We need to pray for our delegates, representatives, the Council of Bishops, and the people of the United Methodist Church. There will be a town hall-style meeting on this upcoming decision at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas on Saturday, October 6, 2018 at 10:00 am to 12 pm with Bishop Ruben Saenz. I invite all of you to come because it will give you a chance to ask questions during that time.

If you would like to learn more about the Way Forward, you can go to www.greatplainsumc.org website home page. Then you will click on “Commission on a Way Forward” which will give you more information in more detail.

I will end with a quote from C.H. Spurgeon, “Prayer pulls the ropes down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God.” This is so true. God always listens to our prayers and God will provide.

In Christ’s Love,
Pastor Debbie Senters