Responding to General Conference 2019

Responding to General Conference
A special General Conference was held February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri, to specifically address questions regarding the LGBTQ community and the church.

<><><>

Thursday, March 14, 2019  via “Thursday Thoughts” weekly message

Two weeks have passed now since the 2019 specially-called General Conference ended in a vote to pass the Traditional Plan for a way forward for the UMC around LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. The Traditional Plan, of course, isn’t inclusive – it maintains the language in our Book of Discipline that says homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and forbids gay ordination and the performance of gay weddings by UMC clergy. It also creates stricter punishments for clergy who disobey the Discipline.

It’s been an intense two weeks. For those who supported the Traditional Plan, perhaps there is relief or even joy at the results of the Conference. For many who are more centrist or progressive, it has been a time of grief, anger, and now organized resistance. I want to give you a few updates about where things stand right now both in the denomination and in our congregation.

In some ways, the denomination is in a holding pattern until the Judicial Council of the UMC meets in April to rule on the constitutionality of some parts of the Traditional Plan as well as a plan for disaffiliation. Hopefully, after that ruling, congregations and clergy will have the information they need to make informed decisions about their ongoing affiliation with the UMC. There will also be an exit strategy in place for those who choose to leave to do so smoothly.

In the meanwhile, many groups of United Methodists are exploring ways of resisting the Traditional Plan. The conferences in the western U.S. have all joined together to say they will not obey the plan as has the UMC in Germany. Centrist and progressive church leaders across the denomination are reaching out and discussing how we might join together to resist the Traditional Plan, create a new plan, or birth a new Methodist church that is more inclusive.

Here in Michigan, our bishop met with all the clergy last Saturday to review the results of General Conference and answer questions. Bishop Bard was very open about his own disappointment and promised his support as churches and clergy sort out what the future might look like. More than 200 clergy have signed a letter to the bishop asking for his help in creating a new Methodist movement in Michigan, and more than 2000 United Methodists in Michigan have signed a letter of apology and lament that will be published in papers across the state on Sunday – including the “Ann Arbor News”. You may sign that letter or donate to help with the costs of publishing it.

Here at Ann Arbor FUMC, we have taken several steps. The Leadership Council voted to put a new banner and several rainbow flags or buntings outside our buildings to communicate to the community that we welcome all. By next week we will have yard signs for purchase. We are also forming a team to explore what our continued affiliation with the UMC might be so we can accurately explain the options to the congregation. We are looking into how our apportionment dollars are distributed and whether to stop paying apportionments. Finally, the Leadership Council has agreed to give regular updates in worship so that the congregation knows where things stand as this story unfolds.

So, what can you do? There is a meeting this Saturday of the Michigan Conference Methodist Federation of Social Action where centrist and progressive clergy and lay people will begin discussing options for moving forward. It’s at 10:00am at Lansing Central United Methodist Church and is open to anyone. You can also buy an “Ann Arbor News” on Sunday, take a picture of the letter, and post it to social media with the hashtag #michiganstatement. Follow the blogs of Bishop Karen Oliveto or Rev. Adam Hamilton to get a sense of what is happening at a denominational level. Also, pray for our congregation and for the denomination. Finally, there is a lot to learn and research to do before we can make the best decisions for our congregation, so please offer your time and support to the Leadership Council and staff as we sort out our next steps.

In the meanwhile, we are going to continue welcoming and loving all of God’s people. I don’t want us to lose track of the fact that we are in a very exciting time in our own congregation as we get started on strategic planning. There is so much positive and creative energy building around shaping the future of our congregation! We are a healthy, vital, welcoming congregation with so much good work to do in our community and world! Let’s move forward together as we lead First Church into the future!

Blessings,
Nancy

<><><>

Sunday, March 3, 2019  Rev. Lynn and the congregation discuss General Conference and the implications for FUMC Ann Arbor (Podcast)

<><><>

Friday, March 1, 2019  Letter from Bishop David A. Bard

<><><>

Thursday, February 28, 2019  via “Thursday Thoughts” weekly message

This has been a rough few days for United Methodists – particularly those of us who hoped we might find a way to stay united despite our very different views on LGBTQ+ inclusion. At the end of the day, the specially-called General Conference of our denomination passed the Traditional Plan, which maintains the language in our Book of Discipline against homosexuality, gay marriage, and gay ordination but also strengthens punishments for those who disobey the Discipline.

It was a messy conference, and there are a lot of things we still don’t know. The whole Traditional Plan has been sent to the Judicial Council to review its constitutionality. That meeting won’t happen until the end of April. If the plan is deemed unconstitutional, we may be right back where we started and having this argument again at the regular General Conference in 2020. If the plan is constitutional, there are still many unanswered questions about its implications for clergy and individual churches.

So, what do we know? We know that the majority of US delegates favored a more inclusive plan. We know that it was a coalition of more conservative US delegates with delegates from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines that pushed the Traditional Plan through. And we know that coalition is determined to see United Methodism be a denomination that excludes and judges rather than welcomes and accepts.

Ultimately, our congregation will need to make a decision about what this means for us and how we want to respond to it. We need more information before we can have a meaningful and thoughtful conversation about that. In the meanwhile, we will affirm our identity as an inclusive congregation. We will continue to welcome ALL people and love ALL people. We’ll continue to do God’s good work right in downtown Ann Arbor and as far away as Kenya. We’ll continue to worship and serve, teach our kids and mentor our youth. We will continue to be followers of Christ who actively live out love in the world.

Last Saturday, just as the General Conference was getting started, 75 people gathered in our social hall for a strategic planning retreat, the first stage in creating our congregation’s strategic plan for the next 3-5 years. It was an amazing and spirit-led day! There was so much energy and excitement, commitment and hope in the room! I think all of us left knowing that God is still working through our church no matter what happens with our denomination.

So, yes, there are many unknowns, but we will continue to listen to God’s spirit guide us into the future. There is so much more that we can do to help God transform the world into a place that is just and loving for all God’s people!

Blessings,
Nancy

<><><>

Wednesday, February 27, 2019  via all church special email

My dear church family,

Many of us are broken-hearted by the actions of the specially-called General Conference yesterday. The Conference passed the Traditional Plan which keeps all of the language in the Book of Discipline that excludes the LGBTQIA community and strengthens punishments for those who disobey the Discipline.

There are a lot of things we don’t know yet. There are a lot of questions to answer. But, here is one thing we do know – we are going to continue loving ALL people, accepting ALL people, and doing God’s good work in our community and the world.

To those who are LGBTQIA, know that you are loved, accepted, and affirmed here in this church. We are grateful for your presence and your giftedness, and we will continue to work alongside you to build a community of love.

Tonight (February 27, 2019) at 6:30 p.m. we will gather to worship with the Wesley Foundation in a Service of Prayer, Affirmation, and Communion. This will be a time to celebrate the sacred worth of every child of God and to affirm our identity as a welcoming congregation. I hope to see you there.

With deep love and gratitude for your faithfulness, Nancy

<><><>

Pre-General Conference
A note from our senior pastor, Rev. Nancy S. Lynn

The United Methodist denomination will have a special General Conference in St. Louis February 23-26, 2019 to specifically address questions regarding the LGBTQ community and the church.  General Conference is the policy-making body of our denomination.  We have been at an impasse regarding policies related to the full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals because Methodists have such polarized ideas about homosexuality, gay marriage, and gay ordination.

Because of this impasse, the Council of Bishops created a Commission to review the situation and come up with proposals for how the denomination might move forward on this topic.  The Commission on A Way Forward Commission has submitted three proposals for the 2019 General Conference to discuss and vote on as we attempt to move beyond our differences.

Whatever decision is made at the General Conference, it will have a lasting impact on our denomination.  Possible outcomes include splitting the denomination or giving more control over to individual churches and conferences.  Each United Methodist Church, including ours, will have decisions to make once the General Conference is over.

In October of 2018, we held three learning sessions to help everyone understand what is going on. In November of 2018, Bishop David Alan Bard visited us to discuss and answer questions as part of his effort to have conversations across the state with concerned Methodists.

As a congregation who has intentionally welcomed the LGBTQ community since 2007, this is a very important time for us to be well-informed about the legislative process and articulate about our beliefs.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Nancy S. Lynn

<><><>

Links to additional reading:

Commission on A Way Forward

Overview of Proposals from the Council of Bishops