Bishops’ executive committee affirms unity, moves forward
Meeting in Chicago July 19-20, the United Methodist Council of Bishops' executive committee approved a framework for implementing the Commission on a Way Forward and took a step toward a called session of the General Conference in 2018.
The bishops acknowledged that the landscape of the church has changed dramatically since the General Conference approved the Council's proposal for the commission in May, but re-affirmed their commitment to lead the church forward.
"The reported declarations of non-compliance from several annual conferences, the intention to convene a Wesleyan Covenant Association and the election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a bishop of the church have opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism," said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Council president, in a detailed statement (bit.ly/commissiononawayforward) outlining the actions taken. "The church finds itself in an extremely fragile, highly contested season."
The statement further reads, "We affirm that, as disciples of Jesus, we are all called to maintain unity in the bond of peace. As a Council, we re-affirm our commitment to lead the church in discerning and charting a way forward. We intend to do so with prayerful attention to both urgency and thoughtful preparation."
The Council adopted a purpose statement for the Commission, including its mission, vision and scope. It will be composed of 20-25 members to be identified by Aug. 31 with a target of October for an initial meeting. Each bishop will nominate up to five people to serve on it. Names of potential members that have previously been submitted to either the president or executive secretary of the Council will be considered as well.
A search is underway for a professional facilitator to design and guide the Commission's discernment process. Bishop Ken Carter of Florida, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball of West Virginia and Central Congo Bishop David Yemba will serve as a team of moderators to preside, provide spiritual guidance and pastoral care. Updates on the Commission's actions will be provided through regular press releases every 4-6 weeks.
An invitation to prayer for the Commission involving the entire church, called "Praying Our Way Forward," will be launched in October. More details regarding that initiative will be forthcoming.
The executive committee will bring the matter of a called special session to the full Council for consideration in November. Only the full Council of Bishops can authorize such a session.
In a related action, the executive committee voted to urge the Judicial Council to include the South Central Jurisdictional Conference's request for a ruling on the validity of the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto on the docket for its Oct. 25-28 meeting.
Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church
The Commission on a Way Forward
The Commission will bring together persons deeply committed to the future(s) of The United Methodist Church, with an openness to developing new relationships with each other and exploring the potential future(s) of our denomination in light of General Conference and subsequent annual, jurisdictional and central conference actions. We have a profound hope and confidence in the Triune God, and yet we acknowledge that we do this work in a climate of skepticism and distrust, from a human point of view.
We are a connection, and we admit that our communion is strained; yet much transformative mission across our world is the fruit of our collaboration.
The matters of human sexuality and unity are the presenting issues for a deeper conversation that surfaces different ways of interpreting Scripture and theological tradition.
The work is meant to inform deliberation across the whole church and to help the Council of Bishops in their service to the next General Conference in finding a way forward.
The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible.
This unity will not be grounded in our conceptions of human sexuality, but in our affirmation of the Triune God who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people in the Wesleyan tradition.
We should be open to new ways of embodying unity that move us beyond where we are in the present impasse and cycle of action and reaction around ministry and human sexuality.
Therefore, we should consider new ways of being in relationship across cultures and jurisdictions, in understandings of episcopacy, in contextual definitions of autonomy for annual conferences, and in the design and purpose of the apportionment.
In reflection on the two matters of unity and human sexuality, we will fulfill our directive by considering "new forms and structures" of relationship and through the "complete examination and possible revision" of relevant paragraphs in The Book of Discipline.
We will give consideration to greater freedom and flexibility to a future United Methodist Church that will redefine our present connectionality, which is showing signs of brokenness.
If we ignore this work, fracturing will occur in more haphazard and even self-interested ways across the church. If we do this work only to address our preferences and self-interest, we will fail to place our complete trust in God's steadfast love and faithfulness. If we do this work with complete surrender to God's unlimited imagination and kingdom purposes, we will be blessed beyond our limited human imagination.
God remains God; God is with us; God will never let us go. To God be the glory!
Excerpted from the Council of Bishops' statement following the July 19-20 meeting of its executive committee. Read the full statement at bit.ly/commissiononawayforward.