Pastor Debie's E-Spire - May 9, 2018

This week, there has been a lot of news for the UMC. It has related to the decision/recommendation from the Council of Bishops, and the collective vote on constitutional amendments. Because of the breadth of each of those things, I will send the information about the constitutional amendments next week.

For some of us, it's been interesting, for others it's been painful, for others frustrating, and for still others, it hasn't even come across our screen. This e-spire will cover the basics of what's happened with links if you're interested in learning or reading more. As always, I'm happy to meet and talk about anything that concerns or interests you.

First, a few definitions:

The Council of Bishops: the name for the gathering of all Bishops of the global UMC. The Council of Bishops will regularly respond to national and global issues. Specifically, the General Conference of 2016 asked the Council to lead the church when the General Conference came to a stalemate on votes relating to LGBT inclusion. As a body, the bishops do not hold power to make legislative decisions that relate to the UMC.

General Conference: The quadrennial meeting of the UMC including clergy and laity from each annual conference. Numbers of delegates are decided much like the House of Representatives (more people = more representatives). The General Conference is the ONLY body of the UMC that can change our policy (Book of Discipline). In essence, they serve as the legislative branch of the UMC.

Annual Conference: The body and annual meeting of churches in a particular state/region/"conference". Our Annual Conference is The Pacific Northwest (PNW) and includes Washington and the pan handle of Idaho (with a couple of extra churches in Montana, Oregon, and Canada). Our annual conference meets in June and decides policy and response to issues that specifically relate to missions and ministry in our conference.

The Commission on the Way Forward: The group of 32, including 2 bishops, clergy, and laity, charged with creating options for how the UMC might move forward on issues that relate to LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questionning, intersex, asexual/allied) inclusion, marriage, and ordination. The commission has met various times since the 2016 General Conference and this year made a recommendation of 3 plans for moving forward.

This month, the Council of Bishops reviewed the recommendations and will allow all three recommendations from the Commission on the way Forward to come to the special called General Conference in 2019, with their recommendation being for the "One-Church Model". To see the UMC report on this action, please click here. To see what our bishop has said in regard to the Council of Bishops' decision, please click here.

In essence, the "One Church Model" would delete the exclusive language currently in the Book of Discipline and allow each local church to make their own decision about how they will respond/include LGBT congregants and requests for marriage.

Ultimately, the decision from the Council of Bishops is only a recommendation. It will be the General Conference who will ultimately decide which, if any, changes to make to the Book of Discipline. As with all decisions relating to our polity, no decision is forever. Our church laws are subject to change at every General Conference, assuming proper procedure, presentation, and voting on proposed changes.

What does all of this mean for us as a local church? Well, for some it is significant as it is deeply personal and we have much invested in the outcome of these votes. For others, it will likely mean business as usual--attending our ministries and participating in missions until something more is required of us as a congregation.

For any of the three recommendations from the Commission on the Way Forward, ultimately, it seems each church will need to clearly identify their stance on these issues and how we intend to be in ministry with the LGBT community. To do that effectively, we will need to create a stronger culture of conversation, respect and engagement on all types of issues where we may disagree, and become more clear about our mission and vision as a church.

For today, I would encourage you to pray for our church and our denomination as we seek God's will to be in ministry to all persons and reflect the love of God in how we live our faith.

In Christ,
Pastor Debbie


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