Pastor’s Blog-Feb. 2019

Feb 2, 2019 by

A word from the pastor….

On February 23rd through the 26th, a Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church, called by the Council of Bishops, will meet in St. Louis, Missouri. Usually, the General Conference – made up of elected delegates from all the United Methodist conferences in the world – meets once every four years. The last one was held in 2016. A Special General Conference has only been called once before, in 1970, to organize the merger of Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren denominations.

The General Conference is the only body that can set official policy for the denomination. In 1972, the General Conference adopted the United Methodist Social Principles, which included the first statement on homosexuality. The decades-long church debate on this topic began then. In The Book of Discipline, the 1972 conference added the sentence, “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider it incompatible with Christian teaching,” to the phrase, “Persons of homosexual orientation are persons of sacred worth.” Since 1972, many United Methodists have found the newly added language regarding homosexuality to be judgmental and incompatible with Christianity and its Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34), while many others have agreed with the added language (based on such texts as Mark 10:1-10). Therefore, either keeping or deleting the language has posed a moral dilemma for many.

As tension has grown over this issue, some United Methodists on both sides have considered splitting off from the denomination. Finally, in 2016, the General Conference decided not to take up any proposed legislation related to homosexuality and instead authorized the bishops to form the 32-member Commission on a Way forward. The Commission was commissioned to study the Discipline and explore options to strengthen the unity of the church. The purpose of the Special General Conference this February is to act on a report from the Council of Bishops, which they based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward. Meanwhile, others throughout the denomination have also submitted proposed plans to the Special General Conference for addressing the issue of homosexuality. To find out more information on the upcoming conference and all the proposed plans, see: https://www.vaumc.org/GC2019.

At Benn’s Charge Conference in November, 2018, our District Superintendent, the Rev. Seounyoung Kim, invited us to prepare ourselves for possible changes in our denomination, depending on the results of the Special General Conference. I also think it is wise for us to do so. She suggested that we look at those with whom we worship each Sunday, to look to our right and to our left in the pews, and realize that, depending on how the votes go, some of those people may no longer be in church with us after February. I think it is most important that we remain calm and keep our anxiety low, trusting in God to be at work in all things to bring about good (Romans 8:28, NIV). But at the same time, we should prepare ourselves emotionally and spiritually for the real possibility of major changes in United Methodism in the near future. God’s time is not our time, and the good that God works to bring about often takes longer than we wish. I think that is due to the fact that God does not force us to follow God’s will, but waits for us to finally discern and get on board with it.

In the 1840’s, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery, and for almost 100 years, it was divided into northern and southern sections. In April, 1939, a union of three Methodist groups – the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South — finally took place, after years of work and planning. But there were other splinter groups that did not re-unite. (See more at: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/history).

A book which might offer a helpful perspective on the cultural dynamics behind such dilemmas as the present one on the topic of homosexuality, is Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Here is the book’s description from Amazon.com:

Rooted in the observation that massive transitions in the church happen about every 500 years, Phyllis Tickle shows readers that we live in such a time right now. She compares the Great Emergence to other “Greats” in the history of Christianity, including the Great Transformation (when God walked among us), the time of Gregory the Great, the Great Schism, and the Great Reformation. Combining history, a look at the causes of social upheaval, and current events, The Great Emergence shows readers what

the Great Emergence in church and culture is, how it came to be, and where it is going. Anyone who is interested in the future of the church in America, no matter what their personal affiliation, will find this book a fascinating exploration.

One thing I come away with from Tickle’s book is the reassurance that, no matter what upheavals we humans may cause, God comes into the midst of them and works to bring about good from them. She also discusses how such times of transition always freshen up the Church. This is a good and hopeful thing, and one that we can trust, although it might take many years.

Please be in prayer for the delegates to the Special General Conference. My prayer is that their votes follow God’s loving will and witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May our lives do the same.

Grace and peace to you,

Betsy Caudill

 

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