Some Things Change and Some Don't (at Least Right Now)

As I write this blog/article for the July 2018 Rome First Herald, I rejoice that Bishop Sue Haupert Johnson and the Cabinet of the North Georgia Annual Conference have reappointed me as your Pastor for a sixth year! Denise and I are delighted to be a part of the wonderful welcoming worshipping community of Rome First. So there will be no Pastoral Change this year! Hooray!

Change is all around us, and change is constant.
At Rome First we are preparing to launch SERVE ROME and our First Anchor Partner is the Family Resource Center. The FRC will occupy the third floor of the SERVE ROME Building (formerly known as the Administration Building of Rome First). Watch for more details of new SERVE ROME PARTNERS as we continue to open our doors to ALL!

Things change on the local church level as the “moving pieces” of the organic entity known as a congregation adapts, evolves and changes to address the changing needs of the community that surrounds us. The same is true for the “General Church”. As you may know, there is “special called session” of General Conference scheduled for 2019. The 2019 General Conference will convene to hear the report of the “Committee on a Way Forward” specifically to address how the United Methodist Church as a global church will consider three “plans” that have been formulated through the work of the Committee on the Way Forward.

The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in their charge from the 2016 General Conference to lead the church forward amid the present impasse related to LGBTQ inclusion and resulting questions about the unity of the church.

The process of seeking a way forward is grounded in three major values:
1. A renewed attention to our public mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, especially with those who are not yet a part of our churches.
2. A focus on contextuality in a global church, and our continuing call to learn from each other, listen to each other.
3. Continuing to work with traditional, contextual, and progressive values that are present in two models, one that is more aligned with a contextual church with the removed language about human sexuality, a second which differentiates between these values as different branches of one church.

The Council of Bishops has reviewed all three plans and has endorsed the One Church Plan, but only the General Conference can “speak” for the denomination, and bishops cannot vote at General Conference.

The One Church Plan gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. Changes to the adaptable paragraphs in the Book of Discipline apply only to the Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States. Central Conferences, through the work of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, will have the authority to retain the present language regarding homosexuality found in the 2016 Book of Discipline or adopt wording in these paragraphs that best serves their missional contexts.

The One Church Plan provides a generous 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. In the One Church Plan, no annual conference, bishop, congregation or pastor is compelled to act contrary to their convictions. The plan maintains the leadership structure of the United Methodist Church, including the Council of Bishops, the General Conference, and the annual conferences as one body and one church. It offers greater freedom to many who desire change but do not want to violate the Book of Discipline.

Voting is kept to a minimum except where it is helpful. There is no mandate that requires a local church, conference or pastor to participate in a vote that divides, segments or separates. The United Methodist Church remains in connection, upholding unity of mission without uniformity of practice. The plan grants space for traditionalists to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past; space for progressives to exercise freely a more complete ministry with LGBTQ persons; and space for all United Methodists to continue to coexist without disrupting their ministries. Additionally, this plan creates space for Annual Conferences in various part of the world to practice ministry according to their national or regional contexts with the connectional autonomy of their own regional Book of Discipline.

The One Church Plan removes the language from the Book of Discipline used in the United States that restricts pastors and churches from conducting same-sex weddings and annual conferences from ordaining self-avowed practicing homosexual persons. It adds language that intentionally 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. Central Conferences maintain their own Book of Discipline, their own contextual practices, and are protected from decisions taken in Jurisdictional Conferences. This plan provides United Methodists the ability to address their missional contexts in different ways.

The One Church plan is simple to describe, to place into legislative formats, and to implement as it requires only basic changes to the Book of Discipline by removing several phrases and adding paragraphs that provide helpful protections. With this plan there is no need for constitutional amendments. The high level of agreement for such amendments (two-thirds aggregate majority of all Annual Conferences after passing General Conference by a two-thirds majority) would require both patience and cooperation from a variety of constituency groups to move beyond the current impasse.

The plan ends the threat of church trials over same-sex weddings. Boards of Ordained Ministry already have the authority to discern whom to credential. Local churches already have the authority to establish wedding policies. Pastors already discern whom they will or will not marry. While some annual conferences and related Boards of Ordained Ministry can adopt new practices, no annual conference must make further choices or amend current practices unless they desire to do so. United Methodist institutions, foundations, universities, agencies, and General Boards will continue to offer their ministries without significant disruption or costly legal counsel related to their charters or articles of incorporation. Wespath will be able to continue to offer its services without disruption.

 

The One Church plan also provides a means to assure that each Jurisdictional Conference or area supports the costs of its own Episcopal leader and offices. All Jurisdictional Conference Bishops will be paid the same salary, but the area where a bishop is assigned will provide the funding through GCFA, similar to how Episcopal housing allowances arnow managed. This plan continues our historic Episcopacy Fund to help support Central Conference Bishops, and provide for our ecumenical commitments. This does not affect Central Conferences. Central Conference bishops and episcopal services will continue to be covered out of the current General Church Episcopal Fund.

I do not know what the future holds for the United Methodist Church. I do not know what the outcome will be from the Special Called session of the General Conference scheduled for February 2019, but of these things I am certain –

God is still God.
God’s Love is for ALL God’s Creation.
The Love of God manifest in the incarnation ofJesus is our example of how we are to Love.
Rome First is a Christian Community where the phrase – “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is more than just a slogan; it is embodied and lived out in every ministry and expression of God’s abundant, ever present, life changing GRACE that is available to and for ALL.

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors ....I invite you to join me in praying for the United Methodist Church as we approach an historic and crucial time of decision making for the denomination. I invite you to continue to pray with me as we seek to be faithful and obedient followers of Christ. Continue to pray with me that we would be available to follow the Holy Spirit as we are led into a future that reflects the very nature and essence of God – LOVE!

Glad to be re-appointed for a sixth year at Rome First and excited to see what the future holds for our journey together as we continue to make Disciples for Jesus Christ.

Shalom, Robert ><>