Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In this New Year I invite you to join me in praying for the United Methodist Church and her people in all places across the world. I invite you to pray that we expand our mission in every place so that those for whom Christ is a stranger will find in Him a gracious and generous friend.
It is no secret that the United Methodist Church has continued to struggle with conflicting views regarding human sexuality, and today I write to you with news that emerged this morning about a mediated agreement called “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.” This Protocol is a response by a number of constituencies within our Church to propose to the General Conference a plan that would allow a gracious separation among faithful Christians so that we may avoid continued distraction from the work of the Kingdom of God.
The individuals adopting this proposal have affirmed their recognition that they do not, and cannot, speak for every constituency in the United Methodist Church, but have made this proposal after prayerful consideration about how best to go forward in doing our most important work—making disciples of Christ.
This news comes to us from our own United Methodist News Service. Many of you have no doubt read reports coming from other media outlets. In light of some of the confusing messages contained in those reports, I would offer the following.
Some have interpreted the proposal as a decision that has already been made, or as a call by the Council of Bishops for a Church divide, or both. In fact, it is neither.
The Protocol is a mediated agreement among a group of persons who have committed individually and collectively to pursue a common legislative goal when the governing body of the global United Methodist Church meets in May. That legislative body—the General Conference—is the only body with authority to establish the governing law of the United Methodist Church. The group of individuals who have come together to propose the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace have made clear that their proposal is theirs alone and is not at this point an official action of the United Methodist Church.
It is to be noted, however, that this proposal is unique in that it was generated by a group of individuals representing diverse advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops with a variety of perspectives, rather than by a group with a single theological perspective.
The group came together as an outgrowth of dialogue initiated by Bishops from Central Conferences outside the United States and collaborated on a proposed agreement for the separation of The United Methodist Church (UMC) that has the unanimous support of these individuals representing varying perspectives.
Some of the central ideas of the proposed legislation are the following:
- The creation of four regional conferences—Africa, U.S., Europe, Philippines—each with its own ability to adapt the Book of Discipline;
- The ongoing existence of The United Methodist Church;
- A path and financial support for the formation of a new traditionalist conservative Methodist denomination as well as other potential Methodist denominations which may emerge;
- The removal of restrictive language related to LGBTQ identity and practice in the post-separation United Methodist Church immediately following the May 2020 General Conference;
- Holding in abeyance any church disaffiliations or closures related to human sexuality issues, and any administrative or judicial processes regarding restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to LGBTQ persons, beginning January 1, 2020;
- Creation of a fund to strengthen ministries with and among persons and communities historically marginalized including Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander communities;
- Provisions allowing Annual Conferences and local churches to vote to depart from The United Methodist Church with their property in order to participate in another Methodist expression, but making clear that no Annual Conference or local church is required to take such a vote, and no one is asked to leave or separate from the United Methodist Church;
- Continuity of pension service from Wespath across the various Methodist expressions.
In May of this year the General Conference will gather to consider this document as one of a number of proposals that are before the General Conference.
In the meantime, the work continues in the Nashville Episcopal Area, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. We continue to press toward God’s call upon our lives to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”
Change, and especially talk of separation, is daunting: yet is heartening that persons of very diverse views have come together to do this serious work, and have listened to, and heard, each other. I would remind us that despite the uncertainty, God is doing amazing work among us and we have tremendous leaders who are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ.
I recognize that for many this report is received with some measure of anxiety. My prayer for you is that you turn toward one another, not away from one another.
A friend sent a book of prayers to me this Christmas, and I share this prayer with you:
Where there is separation,
There is pain.
And where there is pain,
There is story.
And where there is story,
There is understanding,
And not listening.
May we—separated peoples, estranged strangers,
Turn toward each other,
And turn toward our stories,
With argument and acceptance,
With challenge, change
Because if God is to be found,
God will be found in the space between.*
*Daily Prayers with the Corrymeela Community by Padrig O Tuama
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- The agreement: Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation
- Mediation Team Media Release
- Diverse leaders’ group offers separation plan By Sam Hodges, UM News
2 [a] The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the days grow shorter until December 21, the winter solstice. I am not particularly fond of the shorter days, the longer nights. I prefer daylight into the evening.
Thanksgiving means many things in our family. It means being thankful, eating well, family time.
It also means a shift toward Advent and Christmas. The ritual we practice is enacted annually the Friday after Thanksgiving. We decorate for Christmas.
At our house there are distinct roles when it comes to decorating for Christmas. My role, always, is to go to the attic and bring down the several boxes filled with 40 years of Christmas decorations. Pandora is playing our favorite Christmas channel. It is a beautiful time in our home. Lynn turns our home into a holy place for the season of Advent. And the waiting begins.
There are the cross-stitched ornaments that Lynn made for our tree our first Christmas in Georgia. Here we were, not yet 25, married less than a year, in a strange place, far from family. The thought of Christmas away from home created a longing I had not previously experienced. An awareness was awakening in me that I could not yet name. The longing is as old as time–the longing for home. That longing is keenly present when Christmas draws near.
With every box pulled from the attic, there are memories.
There is the box that has the first Christmas ornaments given to our children. It also contains their handmade ornaments they made each year.
There is the brass Advent wreath my father made in his shop.
There are Moni angels gifted to us the years we lived in Philadelphia, MS. Moni was a potter who was a member of our Church.
There is the nativity set that sits on the mantle, given to us by Lynn’s maternal grandmother in the early years of our marriage.
There is the apple cone form made by Wayne West which Lynn uses to make an apple tree each year. There is the Christmas village given to us by Sam and Barbara Creekmore when we lived in New Albany, our first appointment.
Now there is another Christmas village that lights our home—the one we acquired from my mother when she entered the nursing home.
These are the friendships, memories and stories that sustain us.
I’m remembering the Christmases of my childhood tonight.
When I was six years old, it snowed in North Mississippi on Christmas Eve. We were scheduled to go to see my mother’s family. I remembered my parents discussing the weather and potential road conditions. My mother was uncertain, my father confident that he could navigate any challenge weather could present.
Darkness visited us that night.
We should have listened to my mother.
Traveling on Highway 30, west of New Albany, MS, we crossed a bridge covered with ice. My father lost control of our Volkswagen Beetle. When we came to a stop, the car was upside down. My father was thrown from the car (no seatbelts in those days), and miraculously he received the only minor injury. My father’s chin was cut, requiring stitches.
The rest of the family was uninjured.
After receiving medical attention, my father and the men of the family went to the scene of the accident, borrowed a neighbor’s tractor, turned the car right side up, pulled it out of the ditch, added 4 quarts of oil, and drove the battered car back to my aunt’s house.
By then, the party was over. Uncle Dalton, my mother’s brother closest to her in age, loaded my mother, sister, brother and me in his car and drove the 2 hours to our home in West Point, MS. My father wrapped up in as much warm clothing as our relatives could spare, and he drove the wrecked car home. My vague memory is that we followed him, warm and dry.
The mind of six-year old thinks many things under such circumstances. The conversation between my brother, sister, me, wondered out loud about the arrival of Santa Claus. What if we walked in on him while he was delivering our presents? The closer to West Point we travelled, the greater our excitement built. I can still remember the disappointment that washed over me when I walked into our living room and it was exactly as it had been earlier in the day when we departed and no Santa.
Of course, Santa did come as Santa had come in prior years and has come every year since.
I’m remembering this story tonight, the weekend a year ago when we celebrated my father’s life in the service of death and resurrection. It was a dark time in our family. Just five years earlier, we walked through another dark time in Advent, the death of my nephew, killed in the line of duty as a policeman on December 23. Sometimes it helps to say to yourself, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
For some of us, seeing the light this Christmas will be hard to see.
Indeed, many persons within our tribe of United Methodists will walk in darkness, experiencing the holidays with an emptiness that is penetrating. We remember our loved ones and the empty space they occupy in the places we gather. I remember last year praying as my father’s life was nearing the end, “Lord, please do not let him die on December 23.” The prayer was answered. Yet, the December grief in our family has multiplied.
For some reason, I remembered the Christmas Eve accident today as I visited with my mother who wrestles with her memory due to dementia. Somehow, recalling the story with her, stirred a memory for her. She smiled, then laughed, remembering. She laughed loudest when I reminded her that she said, “I knew we should not have come.” It was a rare moment of recognition. I give thanks to God that she is not aware of the dark spaces that occupy much of her mind.
In the midst of darkness, the light still breaks through.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
If you were to ask me, I would tell you that my theology is rooted in the Incarnation. The darkness becomes more bearable knowing God is with us.
And yet, without Good Friday and Easter morning, Christmas is a nonevent.
Can you imagine—no Christmas. No Story. No star in the East. No Angels. No Wise men. No shepherds. No Mary. No Joseph. No manger. No memory of Jesus.
Ours is a story of rebellion and redemption.
The world still, as much as ever, needs a Savior.
Indeed, Jesus came…and comes…to redeem.
He redeems those exiled in loneliness, or addiction, or alienation.
Jesus is light shining in the darkness.
One of the ways we deal with darkness is the beautiful hymnody of the Advent and Christmas season.
In 1868 Phillip Brooks, penned the words to this now sacred hymn,
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in Thee tonight.
The closing lines of the hymn resonate with me still tonight:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born in us today!
Tom Ehrich reminds us:
A messiah [was] sent to lead God’s people out of bondage and home across a fearsome desert, as Luke put it. A shepherd for lost sheep, as Matthew put it.
Apart from the darkness, the birth of Jesus makes no sense. All of us, in one way or another long to escape the darkness. To drive away the fear, the loneliness, the anxiety. The way we do Christmas is madness if we fail to acknowledge the darkness we are trying to escape. There are no good tidings unless we can acknowledge the darkness and ourselves as people who walk in darkness.
The light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.
There is an additional verse to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” not in our hymnal, that captures my imagination this Christmas:
Where children, pure and happy Pray to the Blessed Child
Where misery cries out to thee, Son of the Mother mild;
Where charity stands watching And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more. ,
As I write this, I can see the light from our Christmas tree reflected in the window in the next room. Across the street, the neighbor’s Christmas lights illuminate their home. I am comforted by the warmth of light.
I pray for you that, this Christmas, the dark night will wake, the glory will break, the light around you will comfort and Christ will come once more.
Bill and Lynn McAlilly
The time has come to name our new conference! The new conference guide team is initiating the process that you will find below. I will be appointing a discernment committee to collect the names, pray, listen, and discern the new name.
The process relies on your submissions. Please consider submitting a name that you believe God is giving us.
Please continue to be in prayer for the committee and for the Memphis and Tennessee conferences as we create a new conference together.
Names are very important and hold meaning in our lives. We are intentionally given names at birth. In Scripture, when people experience rebirth or transformation, God gives them a new name. When something new is planted or formed, it is given a new name. Many names tell stories. The name for our new annual conference is important as we lean into who God is calling us to be.
Bishop McAlilly will appoint a new conference naming discernment committee composed of members of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences with intentional attention on the inclusion of young members who will be living and leading for decades to come in the new conference.
Names for the new conference will be submitted through forms available through the Memphis and Tennessee Conference websites from September 16 – October 14, 2019. The form will ask for submitter’s name and contact info, the suggested name for the new conference, and an open box to share the why, the story, the meaning, the related scripture or the rationale for the name.
The naming discernment committee will meet and consider all submissions and discern the new name. The mission, vision, values and strategic initiatives that were adopted for the new conference at annual conference 2019 will be considered in the discernment process.
The name will be announced on Sunday, December 1, the first Sunday of Advent.
Submission Form (This link also will be available on both conference websites and via E-Newsletters through October 14)
Mission, Vision, and Values for the New Conference (adopted at both 2019 annual conferences)
I trust you have had a good summer. I give thanks for fruitful work leading us to the successful vote at both annual conferences regarding the formation of a new conference. This year will provide an opportunity to live by faith as we move into the future with sure and certain hope that God is guiding our steps.
The task now before us is to complete the plan of transition, organization, structure, staffing and budget. I have asked Rob Martin and Melinda Britt to lead a guide team along with the following persons:
To help our larger advisory team do this work, we have created this smaller guide team and employed Cindy Solomon as our project coordinator to keep track of the workflow. The guide team has met four times to establish the scope of work to be accomplished. They will guide working, conversational groups to accomplish the technical and adaptive work that is before us. This team will be recruiting members for these groups from the larger advisory team and beyond; leaders who are willing and gifted to assist in executing the tasks and transition conversations to be accomplished.
The guide team has created a covenant realizing that it will be essential for this challenging work. It is not a perfect document but a living one that relies on God to make it work. And they are extending the invitation for each of the teams working on this new conference to adapt this covenant for their own.
- We will bathe our work in prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our work.
- We will choose to trust in each other and in the process.
- We will make decisions in alignment with our new conference mission, vision and values and make this our priority.
- We will lead with openness – hearing and listening to ideas that are not our own.
- We will be transparent by sharing information on our teams and with other teams and leaders.
- We will own our perspective and acknowledge and address conflicts of interest.
- We will do our work with a bias for thoughtful action.
- We will be empathetic for generations to come who will be living and leading in the new conference.
- We commit to seek input and reflection from diverse perspectives and experiences.
- We will speak publicly in a unified voice, while allowing disagreement in our teamwork.
- We will have each other’s back.
- We will hold each other accountable to our actions.
- We will be present physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
- We will decide what will be communicated at the end of each meeting.
- We will share when we hit a rough patch in our work.
- We will remember our purpose as a team and be clear in our authority.
A meeting of the expanded new conference advisory team, including over 90 laity and clergy, was held on September 10 at Discipleship Ministries. The gathering time centered around Ecclesiastes 3 and the new season of our church. We remembered the common language of the mission, vision, values and strategic initiatives that we adopted last June at annual conference.
During this time together, each member of the new conference guide team shared information about their work thus far, gained input from the larger advisory team on tasks that need accomplishing, conversations that need to be held over the next year, and communication styles that will be effective. The guide team is already using the input to direct their communication. The advisory team reflected on the content of an article written by Cynthia Weems and Lovett Weems, Jr. on leadership and how leading with these characteristics could impact their work (https://www.emergingmethodism.com/new-article/characteristics-of-leadership-needed-for-united-methodisms-future).
They practiced asset-based conversations that will be helpful as we discover the gifts God is providing in the Nashville Episcopal area. Using a Gantt chart, the workflow and timeline of the work to create a new conference was reviewed as well.
The advisory team, the guide team and I are committed to transparency with each conference as we do the work before us. Please continue to follow this blog, as well as your conference and district communications channels. This will allow you to be informed into the future.
I invite you to share your gifts and your input as we step into our future by faith.
I ask for your prayers for the ongoing work that is before us.
As we walk this road to a new conference- across the river, I look forward to the journey that is unfolding—a future, focused on our mission to discover, equip, connect, and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.
Grace and Peace,
The following is a letter from Bishop Ken Carter, president of the Council of Bishops
August 6, 2019
“A Call to Discipleship: Living as Disciples of a Non-Violent Lord in a Time of Violence”
To the People of The United Methodist Church:
As president of the Council of Bishops, but more fundamentally as one who professes faith in
Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I write with a call to discipleship.
What is God’s dream for us? How can we become the answer to the words we say in
worship, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done”? (Matthew 6). In Wesley’s words, we
are being called “to reform the nation, particularly the church, and to spread scriptural
holiness over the land.”
The United States has witnessed a steady occurrence of mass shootings across our nation, this
past weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. I commend the statements of Bishop
Gregory Palmer and Bishop Earl Bledsoe to the people of their residential areas (West Ohio,
New Mexico/Northwest Texas). The carnage following these acts of violence reminds us of
Sandy Hook and Orlando, Sutherland Springs and Charlotte, Las Vegas and Parkland,
Charleston and Pittsburgh, and on it goes.
Underneath the violence is a culture of white supremacy and a fear of immigrants (xenophobia).
These are expressions of our sinful nature, and deny the image of God (Genesis 1) that is in
every person. Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5), and in this he loved us and gave himself up
for us (Ephesians 5).
I also join my voice with Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
The president’s disparaging comments about an honorable congressman and a major
northeastern city (Baltimore) are rooted in a cynical desire to divide us along racial lines. The
use of the presidential role granted for the purpose of serving an entire people for white privilege
does great harm to us. According to counterterrorism experts, the president’s racial rhetoric is
fueling an incipient and violent white nationalist movement in our nation.
The majority of our membership in the U.S. is Anglo. If you are a white person reading this and
you find it troubling—in my own self-examination and confession, I do, as I am under the same
judgment—I urge you not to write me, but to contact a friend who is African-American or
Latino/a and ask them, “What did you hear in these statements?” and “What do you perceive in
these mass shootings?”
I write less to reinforce our very real political partisanship and more to say that we can have a
better civil dialogue, and perhaps United Methodists who are Democrats and Republicans in the
United States can contribute to this. We are in desperate need of leadership that does not pit us
against each other. And we are in need of a dialogue that is deeply rooted in our discipleship in
the way of our non-violent Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is calling us to love our neighbor (Mark 12). To love our neighbor is to work for a church
that does not exclude anyone, that welcomes immigrants, that reckons with the systemic
realities of racism and that honors the faith of people across the political aisle from wherever we
To love our neighbor is the cost of discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). To love our neighbor may
be our most powerful form of evangelism at the present moment. To love our neighbor is to
move beyond our fragility toward repentance and reform. And of course, all of this leads to the
question asked of Jesus by the lawyer in Luke 10, and his surprising and unsettling response.
For Jesus, questions of eternal life had nothing to do with separation from or superiority toward
the other. As disciples of Jesus in the Wesleyan tradition, holiness is not separation; holiness is
love of God and neighbor (Plain Account of Christian Perfection, The Almost Christian). And we
cannot love God, whom we have never seen, if we do not love our brother or sister whom we
have seen (1 John 4).
It turns out that the neighbor we are called to love is the one we have profiled and labeled as
our enemy. And it turns out that by teaching us to love our enemy (Matthew 5), Jesus is forming
us in a holiness without which we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12).
The Council of Bishops is a global body and The United Methodist Church is a global
church. I call upon our brothers and sisters in Europe, the Philippines and Africa to
intercede for us in this struggle (1 Thessalonians 5), that we would be faithful, nonviolent and courageous in our discipleship.
And so, I call us to be the people we profess to be: disciples of Jesus Christ for the
transformation of the world (Book of Discipline, Paragraph 120). We pray for healing
among those who are grieving, amendment of life among those who have done
violence, and judgment upon our human hearts when our spoken words have
contributed to violence (Matthew 12). We commit ourselves to the transformation of
systems and laws that reflect the life that Jesus promises (John 10).
The good news is the very peace of Christ that breaks down the dividing walls of hostility
(Ephesians 2), and the promise that disciples of Jesus who are peacemakers will receive the
blessing of God (Matthew 5). And in this way, we will bless all the families of the earth (Genesis
The Peace of the Lord,
Bishop Ken Carter
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
Over a hundred years ago, John H. Sherard, Sr., a Delta planter and layperson from Clarksdale, MS, had a vision for a hospital in the city of Memphis that would offer quality care for persons from all walks of life. He was inspired to do so because his pastor had been hospitalized in Memphis and had received inadequate care. Now, for more than one hundred years, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH) has faithfully fulfilled that mission. We give thanks that excellent care is accessible for all persons as MLH has provided care across the years.
Recently, a Memphis news outlet reported unfavorably regarding collection practices at MLH. This report has been troubling to many of us. In the midst of balancing ministry and fiscal responsibility, the mission of the hospital does not change:
The mission: MLH, in partnership with its medical staffs, will collaborate with patients and their families to be the leader in providing high quality, cost-effective patient- and family-centered care. Services will be provided in a manner which supports the health ministries and Social Principles of The United Methodist Church to benefit the communities we serve.
Our office has been in regular contact over the last week with Dr. Michael Ugwueke and The Reverend Dr. Albert Mosely seeking to understand the nature of the allegations as well as the practices which led to the content of the report. The Administration is taking appropriate steps to examine its policies and procedures regarding collection practices and has suspended any legal action while this review is underway. In an institution that seeks to do good always, MLH must also strive to do no harm. I will continue to urge the leadership of the hospital to ensure that policies and procedures are aligned with the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan Heritage.
However, this report does not tell the whole story of MLH and the amazing work the hospital does on behalf of those on the margins in the Midsouth and in particular the city of Memphis. MLH serves a diverse population in a region that historically has experienced high levels of poverty. Annually, MLH invests over $220 million to assist with care for those in need. MLH has remained committed to the city of Memphis as it seeks to offer care to those on their doorstep. In 2018, MLH established “My Sister’s Keeper” to care for women of color to support their ongoing health concerns. Dr. Albert Mosley, SVP and Chief Mission Integration Officer at Methodist discovered that through MLH’s Community Health Needs Assessment that black women make up more than a quarter of the population in the Mid-South. Furthermore, “they are impacted disproportionately by many health conditions,” said Mosely.
I trust that you join me in praying for those whose lives are in need of care.
I trust that you will pray for those healing professionals who provide care.
I trust you will pray for the entire MLH team that undergirds quality care, and for the administration as they seek to bring peace and justice for all.
|Memphis Conference Results regarding the Creation of a New Conference|
|Tennessee Conference Results of the Creation of a New Conference|
|Area Wide||Votes cast||Yes||No||%|
On our trips to the Holy Land, one of the first stops of the trip is always Caesarea Maritima, the port on the Mediterranean from which the Apostle Paul likely sailed on his 2nd, 3rd, and 4thmissionary journeys.
Each time I stand on that shore looking out across the Mediterranean Sea, I wonder if I, as a disciple, would have had the courage to make such a voyage. In our ordination text at Annual Conference, we read from II Corinthians 4 where Paul gives an accounting of the hardship he endured. Nonetheless, Paul continued to feel the call of God to expand his mission field.
Over the last two weeks, you have considered the possibility of expanding the mission fields of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. On June 3 the Memphis Conference voted on the possibility of becoming a new conference, and likewise, on June 13 the Tennessee Conference cast their vote.
Today, June 17, 2019, the respective conference secretaries met in Nashville to count the votes. I am pleased to report to you that both lay and clergy voted to support creating a new conference by 68% affirmation.
Thanks to all who have diligently led our work to explore expanding our mission and vision across the Nashville Episcopal Area by forming a new conference.
May God continue to grant the wisdom to live into the vision of expanding our mission field.
As we have continuously said for the last 7 years, “nothing is sacred but the mission.”
May the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) guide our steps as we Discover, Connect, Equip and Send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.
I want to tell you that I love Annual Conference in our United Methodist tradition.
In 1784, John Wesley dispatched Thomas Coke from England to oversee the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Coke met Francis Asbury at Barratt’s Chapel in November. Plans were quickly made to gather all Methodist preachers together for the Christmas Conference at Lovely Lane.
Historian John Strawbridge writes about what happened over those ten days that formed a new denomination:
“Every Methodist preacher in America left their home and their parish on Christmas Eve. It was an important place to be in the church forming this denomination, dealing with the business that it took to create a church that would serve the people. So, they gathered all the preachers in America, about 86 preachers that they knew of at the time and planned to meet at the Lovely Lane Chapel on Christmas Eve 1784 for the formation of a new denomination.
They met in conference for ten days, established a Discipline, a Book of Worship, they ordained preachers, and they aside Asbury as the first superintendent. It was 10 days of debates and struggles and accusations and reconciliations, and the kinds of things that we do as Methodists.
To realize that this is not something that was handed down from on high, but that those people all came together as lay people.”
Since 1784, Methodists have been conferencing. It is the way we hold our connection in high regard. Collectively we work together. What is decided by the conference becomes our guide for our work for the coming year.
Today begins Annual Conference season for the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. United Methodists from Paducah to Paris, from Memphis to Medina, from Camden to Collierville, from Savannah to Spring Hill, Columbia to Cookeville, McMinnville to Murfreesboro will gather in Collierville June 2-4 and in Brentwood June 12-14.
Our theme: Remember Who you Are: Word, Water, Witness.
These promise to be historic conferences as we determine if we have the energy to focus on our mission in spite of our challenges.
When we gather, we will sing:
- And are we yet alive,
and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
for his almighty grace!
- Preserved by power divine
to full salvation here,
again, in Jesus’ praise we join,
and in his sight appear.
- What troubles have we seen,
what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!
- Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.
- Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost,
till we can sin no more.
- Let us take up the cross
till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss
so, we may Jesus gain.
In 1799 Tobias Gibson was sent from Tennessee to be a Missionary to the Mississippi territory. At the end of that year, he rode the 400-mile trip through the wilderness of Mississippi and Tennessee to attend the conference at Strother’s meeting house, then in Sumner County, Tennessee.
It had been a difficult year for Gibson. He appealed to Bishop Asbury for help, due to his failing health. The Bishop consented and sent Moses Floyd as his helper.
When one rides 400 miles by horseback through the wilderness having overcome the dangers of the frontier, singing “And are we yet alive” takes on new meaning.
Thankfully, getting to conference isn’t quite so challenging! Nonetheless, we sing:
Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.
As we gather, may we pray for one another that we will take up the cross until our crown attain.
And may we remember: Nothing is sacred but the mission.
I look forward to greeting you!
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.”
One of my prayers for the coming Annual Conferences is that we will let our light shine in such a way that those on the outside watching might say what was said of the early Christians, “See how they love one another.” When we shine the light of Christ and remove our egos from the process, we will offer a path for those broken by sin and grief to come near. The love that Christ offers will make a way for estrangements to be healed.
It would be naive of me to think that this session of Annual Conference will be without some measure of tension. It seems as if the bloggers have been relentless for the last two years and especially since the special session of General Conference.
We acknowledge that in our context, some left St. Louis thankful for the legislation that was passed. Others left feeling harmed. Among our people in the Nashville Episcopal Area, we have both. When we gather I pray that the Holy Spirit that calls us to faithfulness will bear witness to us in a mighty way.
I have a request: I ask you to lay aside your positions, your anger, your frustrations and come to Annual Conference shining the light of Christ with all you encounter.
We will NOT deal with matters related to the special session of General Conference. There are no action items to come before the Annual Conference.
We will honor those who have entered the Church Triumphant.
We will celebrate those who have given faithfully their lives in ministry and are choosing the retired relationship.
We will elect delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference.
This is important work. These persons represent us.
These persons will participate in shaping the future of our denomination. The General Conference is the only body with authority to speak for the United Methodist Church.
One common misunderstanding is that some people think bishops have voting privileges at General Conference. We do not.
Only those you elect to represent Conferences have the privilege of voting. We will want to elect those who will let their light shine before others.
We will present the resolution for a new conference.
If the vote is in the affirmative for the new conference, we will begin planning for a historic session of Annual Conference in 2020 to celebrate, give thanks, and remember who we have been.
The timeline is as follows:
June 2019 Final Vote for a New Conference
June 2020 Historic Conference Celebration
July 2020 Southeast Jurisdictional Conference
Fall 2020 Special Session of the New Conference to elect officers for the quadrennium.
We will order the ministry of our clergy.
We will care for the administrative matters that come before the conference, including adopting a budget.
We will have great worship and great music!
So come and let your light shine before others!
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,
In a very short time, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences will gather.
Our theme: Remember Who We are: Word, Water, Witness will guide our days together.
In our remembering, I invite you to prepare yourselves by focusing on Matthew 5,6, and 7. This is known as the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters encompass the Beatitudes but so much more. More than anything else, these sacred words are a guide to how scripture invites us to live in relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ as well as those in the world. It is my prayer that we will meditate on these Holy Words daily as we approach our time for Annual Conference.
Further, let me invite you to reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus and prayerfully consider how we are preparing ourselves spiritually. When we are rooted in Scripture and focused on Jesus as Lord, holy conferencing with one another becomes a means of grace. It is my prayer that this will be true as we gather.
As you prepare your hearts and minds, reflect on these three short chapters. Think before you speak. Reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus. As Paul taught us in Philippians 2, “Have this mind in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”
Our lives are cross-shaped because we have said yes to Christ through our baptism. We are indeed rooted in scripture, centered in Christ. Our witness becomes the window through which others are drawn near to Jesus Christ.
We have important work to do. Let us do our part by being spiritually prepared to give Christ our best.
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,
My wise son shared the following story with me from Ben Quash’s book “Abide.”
One of the greatest female saints of the early Church was a woman named Macrina. She lived from around 330 until her death on 19 July, 379—a death that was recorded lovingly and in considerable detail by one of her brothers, Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory revered his older sister. She was an inspiration to him.
He calls her a Mother, Father, Teacher, Tutor, Advice-Giver, all in one.
He says that she was angelic—perfect in virtue and beautiful—but she was human; her profound holiness is grounded in her life, her relationships, and her place. Gregory was present at Macrina’s death almost by accident.
He was a hard-pressed bishop in difficult times, and had not had an opportunity to visit his sister for some years, when he found himself traveling near the community where she lived and he decided to go to her. As he drew close, he was met by a servant that warned him that his sister was gravely ill.
They took him to the holy dwelling in which his sister was lying, “terribly afflicted with weakness.” He doesn’t know it yet, but she only had one more night to live, and will die the following day. These precious hours give Gregory the opportunity for a series of intense and moving final conversations with her, in which she recalls the blessings of her life and shares them with him. Then progressively, as the final day of her life slips by, her speech becomes wholly prayer, her prayer (as her voice fails) becomes wholly silent prayer, and finally she passes from this life.
At Macrina’s request, Gregory is closely involved in the preparation of her body for burial, as well as with her funeral. It is in the preparation of her body that he encounters a scar, a small faint mark below her neck. It turns out that Macrina had in earlier times had a life-threatening tumor on that spot, which resulted in an open sore and which was so near her heart as to make it inoperable.
But she found herself the recipient of a miracle of healing, in which the tears shed during long prayers were mixed with the mud of the sanctuary where she prayed, and this mud—applied to her breast by her mother in the sign of the cross—was followed by an extraordinary recovery.
All that was left of that event was the scar, a sign of her fragility and weakness, but also a token of God’s powerful help.
The story of the miracle is itself remarkable, but what was also remarkable to Gregory was the scar. The healing was not the eradication of all signs of the tumor.
The skin does not revert back to total, unbroken smoothness. A mark on the skin abides, as a sign of what has happened.
If Holy Week is about anything, it is about the scars that are inflicted upon Jesus that bring healing.
Isaiah 53:5 reminds us:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
When we remember the last night of Jesus’ life around a table, there is the anticipation of betrayal, a scar to the soul of Jesus. By the end of Friday, the one we call Good Friday, Jesus’ body bears scars that come from being beaten and bruised. Nailed to the cross, speared in the side.
By the scars of Jesus, we are healed, made whole. Everybody I know who has lived long enough has scars.
You have scars. I have scars. Our bodies are covered with memories of our missteps, falls, cuts, and surgeries, by harm done to us and by us.
The scars are visible reminders of the wounds we’ve absorbed as we’ve lived life. We have places on our skin that have not returned to unbroken smoothness.
We have also experienced wounds in life that give our souls scars.
- Wounds from grief.
- Wounds from illness.
- Wounds from relationships.
- Wounds from failure.
- Wounds that others have inflicted upon you.
- Self-inflicted wounds.
We live in a world in which it is always possible, or so it seems, to wipe our slates clean. We delete all the old pictures from our FB or Instagram accounts and move on. We clean out the closets. Move to a new house. Pick a new career. You throw yourself into a new relationship. We cover up our scars and pretend like they are not there.
But, many of us have wounds that abide, that linger, that impair us. Unresolved anger or grief. Fears. Questions. Shame or guilt. Feelings of inadequacy.
And as much as we like to pretend that they’re not there; as much as we want to pretend that we’ve started over, we feel the rough edges of the scars. Our wounds abide with us whether we want them to or not.
The message of Holy Week and Easter is this—through the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are transformed. By the amazing grace of God’s healing we are given a second chance.
We come to the table on Maundy Thursday and receive the gifts of bread and wine. This holy meal is given for us. We are among those Jesus calls friends. By such, we are called to participate in a holiness of heart and life. When we rise from the table, we are sent into the world to love as we have been loved, scars and all.
John, one of my best friends in the world, has had a month-long hospital stay due to a complicated heart challenge. For days he was unconscious and unresponsive. We doubted if we would ever see John again, and if we did, we wondered what his prospects of a healthy life were.
Today, John was released from the hospital and able to be home. He is doing pretty well, given where he has been.
About 10 days ago, in the night, when things were not yet certain for John, he called me. He was alone in his hospital room and had grown anxious. He said, “When my wife goes home and I am alone in this hospital bed, I become very frightened about my prospects of a future.” I then asked John to recount all the positive signs that had come to him in the last few days.
I then said, “John, you have experienced a resurrection.” It was true. John knew it and I knew it. From that moment forward, John has made steady progress which made his release from the hospital possible.
While he had no visible scars, no surgery performed, he was bearing under the weight equivalent of a deep scar. And he is being healed. His lifestyle will change. But in his heart of hearts, he is a new creature in Christ.
May the love of Christ come to you through this Holy Season and bring you healing for your scars, visible or not, so that you may experience the fullness of resurrection.
This was recorded live on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
Live Stream Participants:
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Moderator, Rev. Deborah Owens
Tennessee Conference Delegation Leaders: Jim Allen & Rev. Harriet Bryan
Memphis Conference Delegation Leaders: David Reed & Rev. Sky McCracken
Over the course of the past several days and weeks I have heard a common refrain from my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who call themselves Methodists. Statements such as “I do not know who I am apart from the United Methodist Church” or “I do not know who I am apart from the Church” and I find myself reflecting on those same sentiments.
I do not know who I am apart from the United Methodist Church.
In 1968 I was confirmed in the Fulton Methodist Church which later that the same year became Fulton United Methodist Church. Along with some of the finest people I have ever known, we offered our lives as living sacrifices to Christ and his Church and promised to live in covenant with our sisters and brothers everywhere who were living out their baptism as United Methodists.
When I graduated from high school and chose to attend Millsaps College, one of our United Methodist Colleges, little did I know that I was entering a line of splendor that 40 years later would count me among 9 graduates who have been elected bishop in the United Methodist Church. The journey between Millsaps College and the Nashville Episcopal Area has been deeply rich and amazingly rewarding. That the providential hand of God has guided my steps throughout these years is without question. Navigating my way among the people called Methodists, has taught me that God is always going before, always surprising, new every morning.
I shall never forget the opening worship of my first General Conference in 2000.
I witnessed the most stirring worship as the processional featured persons from the Global Church. It stirred my deepest sense of praise to God and it opened my eyes to a wider circle than I had known. Since then, I have travelled across the globe and witnessed the power of God’s movement in multiple contexts and cultures. As I wrote recently, my experience in the Holy Land also deepened my love for the many people who have come to know Christ because the Church took seriously John 3:16 and Matthew 28.
It appears now that this church of ours is fractured deeply. Some believe it is fractured beyond healing. We may discover in the days to come this is our reality. Until then, however, I urge each pastor and congregation across our area to take a deep breath. Just as our counselors advise us in the recovery of grief, no decisions need to be made with haste. Let us be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Let us hold steady until we can better determine our future.
I do not know who I am apart from this great Church of ours.
My father was a part of a generation that experienced great personal and social transition. Soon after his death in December, I said to my sister and brother, “that our father heard a call to ministry and left the family farm and went to college and later to seminary accounts for the many ways we have been blessed beyond measure.”
Prevenient grace poured over my life the day I was born. The four churches my father served when I was a child poured into my siblings and me so that we would claim the faith of our fathers and mothers. Sunday School teachers, Boy Scout Masters, MYF leaders, Choir directors, Counselors at Camp, Conference Youth Ministry all contributed to my faith formation and for this reason I don’t know who I am apart from this great Church of ours.
Maybe, you too, do not know who you are apart from the United Methodist Church.
For generations, the people called Methodists in Middle and West Tennessee and Western Kentucky have been writing God’s story. We are a diverse family—conservative-centrist-progressive. We often disagree, yet we hold firm to the primacy of scripture and the centrality of grace.
These same ideals were things I saw practiced by my mother and father in our home, things I learned in congregations across North Mississippi, and are things I see across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences.
The work now before us is to continue to walk with our brothers and sisters across the Church. It is often messy, hard and challenging work. We now need a deep healing. How might we be a part of healing our Church in this very divided moment? Holding onto each other is more difficult than letting go, loving in the midst of difficulty, finding hope in the midst of struggle and suffering.
I do not know the United Methodist Church without the Young People who are committed to Christ and this Church.
Over the course of the last few days, my son, a young pastor committed deeply to the United Methodist Church and to mentoring young adults who are discerning a call to ministry, shared this note with me from a candidate for ministry and a college student attending Birmingham Southern College. The student was willing for me to share his witness with you:
“Just got back to my apartment from General Conference and I want to share my thoughts with you. This was a difficult yet fruitful experience. My heart broke as I saw both sides attack each other. Yesterday, I could not fight back my tears as I saw a physical divide on the floor when two groups attempted to sing and chant over one another. I truly saw the ugliest part of our church. I was filled with disgust at the church as a whole. Despite this, I saw some of the most beautiful parts of our church. I witnessed people come together and proclaim unity even though the plan that they supported did not pass. I saw young, devout Methodists say that they have too much love for the church to give up on the denomination as a whole. I wanted to see our church agree that we might not all think alike but that we could still give hope for others who want to pursue ministry in our beautiful church (I was one of the 15,000 young Methodists under the age of 35 to sign that petition that made it to the floor yesterday). This has made me extremely ready to start ministry and to get as involved as possible in our annual conference.”
We in the Nashville Episcopal Area are deeply blessed to have young clergy and young leaders who deeply love the United Methodist Church. Our ministry with young people is profound and many are hearing a call to ministry. I am encouraged by their faithfulness and desire to follow God’s call upon their lives. When 2,500 young people gather in one place to worship and praise God, I am certain God is at work among us.
But what I do know is…God is not yet finished with the United Methodist Church.
Unlike some of the clergy who left Mississippi during the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s, my father stayed, rolled up his sleeves and worked to bridge the gap between where we were and where God was leading us. Through the leadership of many faithful lay and clergy men and women in small, medium and large congregations, bridges were built and huge strides were made in our congregations and our communities with regard to race relations. My father taught my siblings and me how to build bridges across divides as God shows us a way through.
I want to say to our LGBTQ members and friends, you are beloved children of God. Many of you were baptized as infants in our churches, nurtured in Sunday school, and participated in our Youth Ministry. You were confirmed in our Churches. You are living out the tenets of your faith—in new and transformative ways that have never existed. You have given your life to Christ and His Church. Communities in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences celebrate the gifts God has given you. I am looking for the churches who will be sanctuary for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We are the Church—and it is up us to demonstrate our love for God and our love for those God loves.
The unfolding journey as United Methodists is ever before us, not behind us.
As we continue processing the next steps for our denomination, I will be praying for the God who formed us in our baptism to lead us in discovering our future together in the United Methodist Church.
God is writing a better story in us and through us.
Let us be attentive to one another, to the Holy Spirit, and to the places where God is already on the move.
This Sunday, the Table of our Lord will be spread.
It is God’s Table and all are welcome.
To submit a question to be addressed during the live stream, please send an email to GC19question@gmail.com. Please try to get it to us by Tuesday, March 5. Thank you!
We are nearing the end of the final day of General Conference 2019, the special session that was called to be held in St. Louis just this week. I want to tell you how grateful I am for the prayers of the Memphis and Tennessee conferences, as your delegations and I have been here seeking to find a way forward for our United Methodist Church.
I want you to know that while we have been in St. Louis, we have been praying for you as those across the Memphis and Tennessee conferences have been facing flooding. We’re mindful that there are many who are displaced because of those floods, and want to remind you that Robert Craig is our Disaster Response Coordinator and you can find contact information for him on our conference websites.
Many of you have watched the live streaming of the special session, and you have followed the coverage – many of you, moment by moment. You have probably also followed some of our United Methodist news service outlets. But if you’re not already aware, this afternoon we passed the Traditional Plan which was passed by a significant margin, 54% roughly to 47%. That plan has been adopted and it will need to be further studied by the Judicial Council to rule on constitutionality.
As a result of the decision, some of you feel relief. Others of you are in disbelief, and some are angry. Many feel a sense of grief. My first reminder today as your chief pastor is to love one another. Some of your neighbors, some of your church members are hurting because of this decision.
It will take time for all of us to understand how these decisions will affect us at the grassroots..how they will affect the future of the United Methodist Church.
Likely there will be adjustments that we have to live into within the reality of our Church, but one thing is certain, the church will continue to be the church. We will continue to love the least and the last, our neighbors in our communities. We will continue to offer hope to a hurting world in every place we exist in the Tennessee and Memphis conferences and Kentucky.
Our conferences will continue to value local churches as the disciple-making center of all of our ministry. We will continue to be diverse. We will continue to be rooted in Christ, and we will express a deep love for one another.
This coming week, your church will gather for worship. Someone will teach Sunday School. Youth will gather for MYF. Other churches will reach out to those in need with food pantries and clothes closets. For some, they may need to set some time aside for grieving.
As soon as the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops meets, I’ll return to our Episcopal Area and I will begin the hard work of doing ministry with you as we discern what this decision means for the Church.
I ask you that you allow us the opportunity – before you or your church make any decisions regarding your relationship with the United Methodist Church – to be in conversation with you.
On Sunday, March the 10th at 3:00 p.m., I, along with our delegation heads, will be coming to you livestream, and you’ll have an opportunity to hear more details about what we discern is our future.
If you wish to send questions, you may do so at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updates will continue to be shared through our conference websites, and our task teams on the ongoing work for our New Conference that will continue.
I invite you to continue praying for the future of our denomination, for the future of the Tennessee and Memphis conferences, for the work that God has called us to do in a very specific, particular place called the Nashville Episcopal Area.
I’m deeply grateful for each of you and I thank you for your willingness to work with me in this time of transition. May God be with us.