General Conference 2016Posted: May 22, 2016
With Paul, I write, “I give thanks for my every remembrance of you.” These last 23 days in Portland have reminded me again of the joy of the work of ministry among the people of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. Already I am hearing wonderful reports of what God is doing on the Sunday after General Conference. Baptisms, professions of faith, celebrations of graduations, mission teams planning for ministry. Thank you for your faithfulness over the work to which God is calling us.
Many, many of you have followed General Conference day by day, vote by vote, via the internet. While the headlines captured much of the drama around the surface of the Conference, the real work occurred in legislative sessions led by lay and clergy men and women from across the world.
The faithfulness and tenacity of the delegates from the Nashville Area was inspiring to me. In addition to the delegates, there were those serving behind the scenes, doing whatever was needed to facilitate the work of General Conference. When the benediction was pronounced Friday, May 20, much had been accomplished. Below are some of the highlights.
For the sake of the Mission
To be clear, the General Conference chose to stand united for the sake of staying in mission. As a global church made up of people with differing viewpoints, we affirm a commitment to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. We had serious discussions about the global growth of the church and the state of the church in the U.S. and passed a $604 million dollar budget for 2017-2020 which includes $5 million for theological education in the Central Conferences. This a slight increase over the $603.1 million dollar budget approved at the 2012. We moved the debate about human sexuality to a process outside this general conference session to a time in the future which will allow us to engage in deeper discussion. It is also an increase over the $599 million budget proposed to the 2016 General Conference delegates, which would have been The United Methodist Church’s lowest in 16 years.
Offering a Way Forward:
We acknowledge that deep divisions exist in the church about human sexuality, but we believe there are options other than restructuring. We do not desire to split the church, and we seek unity for the sake of our mission and witness. For the first time, a General Conference appealed to the Council of Bishops to lead legislatively as well as spiritually, a responsibility that has been reserved for the body. Your bishops humbly accepted this challenge. The Council will lead a process to help the church move forward. This process has not yet been fully developed, but the Council will report to the church as we continue our conversations. If we discover it is necessary to have a special session of General Conference, the Council would be charged with the responsibility of making such a decision for the sake of the Church.
Because the General Conference requested leadership from the Council of Bishops to find a way forward, any changes in our positions on human sexuality were postponed. The Council will create a Commission to examine and possibly revise sections of church law regarding human sexuality. The Commission will include representation from every region of the UMC and from different perspectives. We will not be able to build trust unless these conversations are candid and do not carry incrimination. We are committed to a different kind of conversation that invites people to imagine where God wants the church to go.
No changes have been made to the Book of Discipline regarding our official positions on matters of human sexuality. The prohibitions outlined in church law still exist, but we have committed to explore options to help avoid further complaints, trials and harm while upholding the Discipline.
Additional conference highlights:
- A variety of worship experiences provided spiritual nourishment as well as an opportunity to unite with each other as a diverse, international body of Christ; while the Episcopal address, Laity address, and Young People’s address provided inspiration.
- We felt the Holy Spirit among us as we engaged in conversation and our work.
- As we near the end of our Imagine No Malaria campaign, we celebrated our success in raising $68.5 million in the fight against malaria, an effort that has served to help revitalize and engage churches in mission outreach.
- We continued in our Acts of Repentance with a presentation from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the Methodist involvement in the 1864 Sand Creek massacre.
- We shared in the consecration of deaconesses and home missioners and the commissioning of 29 missionaries.
- We acknowledged our heritage by observing a number of anniversaries: the 250th anniversary of John Street Church; the 200th anniversary of the death of Francis Asbury, the 150th anniversary of United Methodist Women, the 60th anniversary of the Methodist Church granting full clergy rights to women, the 40th anniversary of voting rights for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, the 30th anniversary of DISCIPLE Bible Study, and the 25th anniversary of Africa University.
- The Council of Bishops welcomed a new leadership team, with Bishop Bruce Ough assuming the presidency of the Council. New members of the Judicial Council were elected and for the first time, a member from outside the U.S. was elected president. Gary Graves was elected secretary of the General Conference.
- We celebrated our ecumenical partnerships as we move in to full Communion with the Uniting Church in Sweden and toward full Communion with the Moravian church.
- Defeated a proposal to remove “for the transformation of the world” from our mission statement.
- Approved a resolution calling on United Methodist agencies to raise awareness about the harm caused by sports teams that use mascots or symbols that disrespect Native Americans.
- Voted to withdraw United Methodist membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
- Approved a new cloud-based hymnal.
- Approved a petition to create a new provisional conference in Southeast Asia and Mongolia.
- Created a new formula for the Central Conference theological education fund, allowing all Central Conference apportionment funding in excess of $750,000 to go to the education fund.
- Favored a recommendation of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to add five bishops after General Conference 2020.
- Allowed the General Conference to set provisions in regard to bishops’ accountability and alter the complaint process against bishops.
- Created two new special Sundays: Women’s Ministry Sunday and Volunteers in Mission Awareness Sunday. One Great Hour of Sharing will now be known as UMCOR Sunday.
- Defeated an effort to remove the constitutional ban to end guaranteed appointments.
- Passed a $604 million budget.
On a Personal Note:
As many of you know, part of the task of presiding over the debate regarding the Bishops’ Response: “A Way Forward” to lead the church through the institutional quagmire around human sexuality fell to me on Wednesday afternoon. Tensions were high and many things were articulated that were very disturbing. I was falsely accused by two delegates of manipulating the voting process. Whenever and wherever a bishop presides, it is done so with impartiality and without bias. I take that responsibility seriously as do my colleague bishops. By the grace of God and the prayers of many, many people, I was able to lead the conference through the remainder of that session. I am humbled by the love and grace extended to me by so many across the denomination.
In just a few weeks, the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences will gather to celebrate the mission and ministry across the Nashville Area. Our theme is: “Offering Christ to A Hurting World One Neighborhood at a Time.” It promises to be a time of renewal and celebration. I invite your prayers for all who will be leading.
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,