I love The United Methodist Church. Period. When I began to follow Jesus after he pursued me into relationship with himself, it was The United Methodist Church that welcomed me. Members of local UMC’s gave me my first opportunities to preach. I attended my first session of Annual Conference when I was 14 years old…and I LOVED it! I believe that the doctrine and polity of The United Methodist Church are in harmony with Holy Scripture. I have had the privilege of being paid to do ministry in The United Methodist Church since 2006. I have served under episcopal appointment since 2008 (I’m now serving under my fourth Bishop). On June 10, 2016 I was ordained as an Elder in The United Methodist Church.
I would not have spent over 10 years in preparation for ordination if I didn’t love the UMC. Even in the midst of numerical decline in the U.S. and the theological quarrels, I choose to believe that The United Methodist Church can be a vital expression of Wesleyan Christianity. I share that pedigree of love for my Church to lead into my thoughts on the Commission on A Way Forward.
Since 1972 there has been a statement in the Book of Discipline that states that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Discipline further forbids same-sex marriages from being performed by our clergy or in our churches. It also bars self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from being ordained as clergy. These provisions in our polity have been debated ad infinitum every four years at General Conference. In 2016, it seemed that the debate around this particular issue had reached a complete impasse. The Commission was called together by the Council of Bishops at the request of General Conference 2016 to help our Church find a way forward surrounding issues of human sexuality. At the time the Bishops were charged with the creation of the commission, I voiced my displeasure. We’ve had commissions before (3 come to memory) that have yielded no way forward. However, our Bishops asked that we all pause, take a deep breath, and let the commission do their work. I want to honor the voice of our shepherds and have decided that I will do what I can to support the work of the commission.
Now the commission has been named and is ready to begin its work which will ultimately culminate in a special called session of the General Conference where a resolution will be submitted that will suggest a way forward in unity (holding together The United Methodist Church) or a plan for amicable separation (breaking apart the denomination).
I will be watching the work of the commission with great interest. To start, each annual conference has been asked to take a week to pray for the work of the commission. This movement of prayer is to set the rhythm for the work of those named to the commission:
This prayer movement is a response to the Council of Bishops initiative called Praying Our Way Forward. We are called to a posture of prayer, praying for God’s leadership to guide us effectively in fulfilling the mission of the church. We invite you – clergy and laity, conferences and congregations – across the denomination to pray for God’s guidance.
The Illinois Great Rivers Conference has been assigned the week of January 22-28. I, along with many others throughout the conference will have set aside times of prayer during that week for the Church that we love. At the local Church where I serve, we are setting aside time during our Sunday worship services and Tuesday Eucharist service to pray for our Church and the work of the commission. Further, the sanctuary of our Church will be open each day for any wishing to come and cover the process in prayer.
I decided that I want to do something more, though. Brittney and I were talking about this the other night. We love our Church and our fervent prayer is that there be a way forward in unity. However, we don’t want to see us continue to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic while foregoing our top mandate of making disciples of Jesus Christ. So what the commission brings forth, and what the general conference decides is very important to us. We made the decision to do something more in our prayer approach for the commission, and I wanted to invite fellow members of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference to do the same. From midnight on January 22 until 11:59pm on January 28, Brittney and I will be fasting from social media in all forms as we pray for the Commission on the Way Forward for love of our Church.
Will you join us?