Words escape me today. Late yesterday, I received the news that Reverend Dr. Autura Eason-Williams was tragically and senselessly murdered in her driveway at her home as she attempted to prevent a car theft. Dr. Eason-Williams was in her second year as the District Superintendent of the Metro District in Memphis, TN.
The clergy and laity of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference are grieving and in shock. Last night, over 200 gathered to remember and give thanks for Autura, for her life, her witness, her leadership, and her friendship. The outpouring of tears and love as we remembered Autura was a reminder of what an impact one person can have and the loss that is felt when one among us is taken from us unexpectedly.
We often quip that no one is irreplaceable. I will tell you, however, that I beg to differ with that sentiment. One can be replaced but the unique giftedness of a person cannot be replicated. Autura was uniquely gifted for mission and ministry. She navigated a cross-racial appointment as an early pioneer in that work in the legacy Memphis Conference. Her peers elected her to lead the clergy delegation to General Conference and endorsed her as a candidate for Bishop prior to the anticipated 2020 General Conference.
During the Global Pandemic, I invited Autura to join the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Appointive Cabinet. She was in the process of becoming one of our most gifted District Superintendents and was tackling some of our most difficult challenges. Two of the ministries Autura was leading for the Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference were the Signposts Seminars, engaging the work of systemic racism in our conference, and #BeUMC Campaign, an effort to highlight the positive aspects of being the United Methodist Church. More than these very tangible efforts, however, was Autura’s ministry of encouragement, especially to female clergy.
Autura, we will miss your laugh, your leadership, your love, your faithfulness, and your generous spirit. You modeled for us the words of Micah: “and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8. We give thanks to God for the ways you led and loved us well.
Recently, I shared with you the news of the postponement of General Conference 2022 until May of 2024. There is significant disappointment across the Church with the news. For sure, there are implications of this delay, and the Council Bishops continues to consider the implications of this delay and how to lead in the coming two years until the General Conference will gather.
However, as I have reflected on this news, I have been reminded of the journey we have traveled together. Throughout our time together the conviction that has guided my leadership is this: nothing is sacred but the mission. In recent days, I have remembered the call God placed on my heart in 2012. God has been calling me to build bridges across the Nashville Episcopal Area and to be the bishop of all persons.
I am serving in my 10th year as your bishop. I remember well the joy and excitement Lynn and I had to become a part of the Nashville Episcopal Area and the promise of Greater Things about which Jesus spoke in John 14.
One of those greater things was the monumental task of uniting two conferences with histories, customs, memories, and relationships that were deep and vital. This work we have faithfully done and the TWK is now 70+ days old. We are learning a lot; our team is adapting constantly to the changing landscape of the conference and the UMC.
The Connectional Table has adopted four areas of focus for the work of the Annual Conference:
- Discover the work that God is doing to dismantle racism in TWK
- Discover what God is doing to increase resilience of spiritual leaders in TWK
- Create systems of response to Disasters that affect the TWK by setting up a Long Term Recovery organization and deepen our ability to respond quickly to disasters through church volunteer efforts
- Pay attention to the ways God is helping us be the Church in a new day
- Collaborate with leaders and discover the assets that are available to grow new communities of faith
- Bear witness to God’s work of renewing and becoming the Church in the world.
As we think about our life together, I am drawn to John’s gospel. In fact, if I look back over the last 10 years much of the teaching we have shared is drawn from the Gospel of John.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The overarching task of the Church today is rooted in the evangelistic process of knowing, growing, abiding in Jesus Christ (John 15:5)
This work is Initiated by the Movement of the Holy Spirit. It is through the movement of the Holy Spirit that we experience the Resurrected life which makes possible Reconciliation, Resilience, and Response.
Lay and clergy leaders all over the TWK conference are leading in ways that Christ is using to accomplish our mission.
Over the years as our two conferences worked to create the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, people revealed a strength and resilience and a willingness to create a new conference in a season filled with disruption. There have been multiple disruptions. And yet we practiced adaptive leadership, grounded in Christ, that led us through.
Two years ago, this week two things happened. One, my mother died and two, we shut down all our in-person worship services. It’s been a hard two years. The journey since that time has been filled with challenges, confusion, adaptability. Our Pastors have been amazing front-line workers pivoting to worship in creative formats.
As you know, as we were saying goodbye to the legacy conferences we did so in a virtual way.
We did not have the opportunity to adequately celebrate and give thanks for who we have been.
As we have created a new conference, we have grieved the losses that we have experienced.
We will, at the first session of the TWK annual conference, have a time of lament for the losses and for what we have been. Dr. Sharon Cox will lead us in this process of grieving.
We continue to lead adaptively as we experience multiple disruptions.
Regarding the announcement of the delay of General Conference, we have learned that some of our churches may want to leave the UMC. This will cause further disruption in our conference.
I want you to know this:
- my calling is to remain faithful to the United Methodist Church.
- I believe that it is possible be a United Methodist and be faithful to orthodox, traditional, and progressive beliefs.
- I am called to this work, and to a church that does amazing mission on behalf of God’s kingdom across this world. Even as I write these words, the United Methodist Church is on the ground in Ukraine and the United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to humanitarian need through the leadership of Bishop Eduard Khegay. When we consider the disruptions, those we are experiencing pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
Here’s what I know:
“The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.” – #BeUMC
- We embrace the fundamentals of the Wesleyan tradition and dedicate ourselves to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- We embrace a Church anchored in Scripture and a theology of grace.
- We embrace a Church that aspires to be a more just and inclusive force in the world.
- We embrace the connected power of 12 million souls united, working towards good in the world.
- We embrace a Church that has uplifted our own lives and the lives of our friends, family, and those we cherish.
- We embrace a Church built in loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action.
- We embrace a Church where everyone does not have to agree and where everyone is welcome.
I recognize that not every person and not every congregation will choose to remain a part of our family. If that is the case, we have a process in place. Our process affirmed by the Conference Board of Trustees as guided by the recent Judicial Council decisions has reaffirmed paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline as a clear and fair process for churches who wish to depart from the denomination.
Additionally, the Council of Bishops has asked for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council regarding whether an annual conference can leave and join another evangelical denomination.
Gil Rendle reminds us that this season of leadership must be quietly courageous: cultivating hope that becomes wise through experience and is undaunted by disappointment, naming anxiety that does not unnerve us but reveals to us new ways to look at new things in the future, knowing that we have simple blessings that will see us through — health, food, sleep, one another, the seasons of God’s creative hand. These practices draw us close to the foundation that is our faith in Christ.
Our work is to be bridge builders as we bear witness to the love of God in the world.
A Prayer for the Church in These Times
O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who art our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us, we beseech thee—for we are in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment. We need an anxiety about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things but does not unnerve us. As a people, we need to remember that our influence was greatest when our power was weakest. Most of all, we need to turn to thee, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be thou our sole strength in time of trouble. In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings—the simple ones: health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over, a nation which, despite all, has so much to offer so many.
And, grant us to count our more complicated blessings: our failures, which teach us so much more than success; our lack of money, which points to the only truly renewable resources, the resources of our spirit; our lack of health, yea, even the knowledge of death, for until we learn that life is limitation, we are surely as formless and as shallow as a stream without its banks.
Send us forth into a new week with a gladsome mind, free and joyful in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.
—William Sloan Coffin, Riverside Church
I invite you to join me in the work of building bridges across the rivers that bind us in the Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference.
Below you will find a statement released this week by the Central Conference College of Bishops regarding the proposed vaccinations of Central Conference Delegates.
There is deep concern about the inequity this idea presents for Africa, and these leaders in the Church were compelled to speak into this moment as we consider the potential delay of General Conference due to the Global Covid Pandemic.
We simply offer this to you as information to keep you abreast of all that is occurring in this liminal season leading up to a time when we can gather for General Conference.
It is expected that the Commission on General Conference will meet near the end of the month and will give direction to when General Conference will be held. It is worth noting that currently, only two bishops serve on the GC Commission with voice but not vote.
Statement from Central Conference bishops on vaccine offers
January 17, 2022
As Christians, we are called to serve all of God’s people without discriminating or choosing only those who agree with us theologically or politically. We are called to be of help to all those in need and not only those who would support our organization’s goals and desires.
That is why we are appalled by the action of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. The WCA has decided to raise funds to assist some United Methodists, mostly in Africa, with getting vaccinations for the sole purpose of making sure that those United Methodists who are delegates to the postponed General Conference would be able to travel to the United States.
While we understand that vaccines are not easily accessible to all people in many parts of the world, we are dismayed that the WCA would choose to help provide vaccines to only a few people and not the community as whole. If the WCA’s motives are pure, why not provide vaccines for the entire family of that delegate or the entire church or the community in which the delegate lives?
The world is in the midst of a global pandemic that so far has caused the death of more than 5.5 million people. Currently, the highly contagious Omicron variant has made many countries shut down again and reintroduce severe restrictions due to exponentially growing numbers of people infected. While the United States and Europe are struggling to increase the number of people fully vaccinated and encouraging a third and, in some places, even a fourth shot, countries in Africa are struggling to make vaccines available at all. In the Democratic Republic of Congo for example, less than half a million people out of a population of 80 million are vaccinated.
Furthermore, we know the virus is likely to continue to mutate as long as a significant amount of people are infected. This is why the Connectional Table has called the church to consider vaccine equity a missional priority of the church. The Council of Bishops supports this effort. As vaccine distribution is regulated and controlled by the government in each individual country, the efforts of The United Methodist Church are to focus on advocacy and education. This concerns our future – we are all affected, and we all know people who have been seriously ill or have died from Covid. Jesus called us to care for the least and making vaccines available across the globe and receiving vaccination when possible is a simple matter of obedience to Christ’s call and a tangible expression of love of neighbor, and far more important than our own internal struggles in the church. It is time that we wake up to this reality in God’s world.
Offering vaccines to General Conference delegates or covering the cost of delegates to travel to places where they can be vaccinated is not an expression of vaccine equity. Rather, it appears as an attempt to benefit those who have been given a special responsibility, and who the donor wishes to fulfill a certain purpose.
Furthermore, the official organizer of the General Conference is the Commission on General Conference, and when individual interest groups begin to offer benefits to delegates, they jeopardize the integrity of General Conference.
The unfortunate thing about the entire process by WCA is that it has all the marks of colonialism which our countries went through in some years ago. The tactics of divide-and-conquer have created chaos and division on the African continent and should not be allowed in our churches. One would have thought that our friends and partners in the WCA would have taken some modest time to consult with the church leaders in the Central Conferences so that we move together in how to implement such a cause. We people called United Methodists from the Central conferences promote unity and we treasure our connectional spirit but we deplore any form of colonialism.
Unfortunately, what we experience time and again is the brazen interference in the affairs of The United Methodist Church in Africa from our brothers and sisters in the WCA. If forming a new denomination means leaving a trail of destruction as we are now experiencing in Africa, we surely need to talk about it as friends and members of the family we call The United Methodist Church.
We, the undersigned bishops, have vastly different perspectives on the issues surrounding human sexuality. But with one accord, we stand together for the cohesion and unity of our beloved United Methodist Church. We will not be dissuaded from seeing one another as brothers and sisters in the church.
We live on different continents, in very different contexts. But together we carry out the task entrusted to us by our church, to be shepherds of the whole flock and to lead the church with honesty and integrity. We do not allow that trust in one another to be undermined.
We represent United Methodists on three continents with a variety of languages and cultures, styles of spirituality and convictions. We share a history which contains some dark and shameful aspects. But we are convinced that we can witness to God’s love more powerfully, beautifully, and invitingly if we continue to do so together. We do not allow others to pit us against each other.
Bishop Harald Rückert, Europe – president of the Central Conferences College of Bishops
Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Africa – president of the Africa College of Bishops
Bishop Rudy Juan, Asia – Philippines College of bishops
No doubt you have seen video footage of the destruction the recent tornadoes have visited upon the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference as well as the Kentucky and Arkansas Conferences and beyond. This was a multi-state event with tornadoes touching down in six states. For our part, we have major damage in western Kentucky, and in west and middle Tennessee. We have had 30 tornadoes touch down in our area in 2021. This does not include the flooding event that hit Waverly and the surrounding area early this year.
We must come to grips with the fact that it is not a matter of if, but when, the next storm will hit. We must be prepared, and we must think about how to respond quickly. As soon as a storm hits, our phones start lighting up with questions of how we can help.
Tornadoes, unlike hurricanes, are random. In a hurricane, you have days to prepare and the option to think about evacuation. A tornado comes quickly, and one has a matter of minutes to decide where to seek cover. Evacuation is often not an option. One house is leveled, and the house next door is spared. One community is leveled and the next is not touched.
Across the Nashville Episcopal Area, we have numerous places that were damaged by the storms of Friday night and early Saturday morning. While Mayfield, Kentucky is getting the media attention (I’ve never seen so many camera crews in one place in my entire life as when I was there on Sunday) many of our communities have been overlooked. These include Cayce, Clear Springs, and Benton in Kentucky and Dresden, Samburg, and Kingston Springs in Tennessee. And each day, we hear about more.
If we are not careful, in a few weeks, another news story will capture the hearts and minds of America and our needs will be forgotten for the next storm. Even now, Waverly, Tennessee, has only begun to make sense of the flooding that occurred earlier this year, and now attention will be drawn to other places.
The truth is, The United Methodist Church is committed to long-term recovery through our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). We are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave in any disaster that visits our communities. Every donated dollar given to disaster response goes directly toward the survivors, and no dollars are expended to fund the organization. To be clear, UMCOR is us. It is the good people of The United Methodist Church responding to the needs that arise in the aftermath of any disaster. UMCOR leverages its relationships with other agencies who have the skills we do not have and together we forge a future. This is what we have done. This is what we are doing now.
I am proud of the way in which our pastors are leading in the midst of this challenging season. I am proud of the Methodists who are showing up with resources and skills to begin the recovery process.
To be clear there are some simple things to remember.
#1. The first phase of any disaster is search and rescue. This is a time when those credentialed and skilled are tasked with the awesome responsibility to discover where people are and what lives have been lost.
#2. The second phase is clean-up and debris removal. This phase lasts from one week to several weeks depending on the damage done. (Individuals needing property clean-up assistance can call a Crisis Cleanup Helpline at 800-451-1954.)
#3. The third phase is long-term recovery which can often take 2 or more years to complete.
On this blog are resources for you to access for responding.
First of all, pray. Pray for the survivors, pray for all the communities affected. Pray for pastors who are standing in the gap, especially those whose congregants’ homes and businesses were destroyed. Pray for the servant ministers who come to our aid. Pray for our future in Christ.
Second, give. Give your contributions to the long-term recovery efforts. Here is the online giving link and the mailing addresses for you to send checks directly to this effort (please note Disaster Response in the memo line):
Checks made out to the Tennessee Conference – PO Box 440132, Nashville, TN 37244
Checks made out to the Memphis Conference – PO Box 10667, Jackson, TN 38308
Third, plan. Plan how your congregation can engage in the long-term recovery effort. Is it to send a work team? Is it to provide support for other teams? Please let us know by completing the Volunteer Form when is posted on our disaster response webpage. Trained Emergency Response Teams will be the first to respond. But, in a few weeks, it will be safe for other groups to help, and we will contact you.
Fourth, prepare your church with a disaster response plan. Should a disaster hit your community, how will you contact your membership? If a storm were to emerge in the midst of worship, where would you direct people? We have learned through this storm that had persons been in a fellowship hall underneath the sanctuary, there would have been a great loss of life. Think carefully about this.
Fifth, how can you offer spiritual and emotional care to persons displaced by this storm?
It is my observation that the people called Methodists do not shy away from challenges but rather they step into them. I look forward to seeing how God will empower our people to offer Christ to a hurting world as we engage in the long-term recovery from the most recent storm.
Your prayers and support are appreciated.
A few days ago, the religion writer for The Tennessean approached our team about writing a story about our new conference. We believed in the good faith of the writer to offer a story to the readers that reflected the good and faithful work of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. We were asked many things and offered several positive expressions of this work over the last nine years. Much of what we offered was not included in the article.
The Future of the UMC
There were some questions about the future of the United Methodist Church in light of the Protocol for Separation with Grace. To be clear, the Protocol is legislation that is being proposed to be considered when the General Conference is held. You will recall that the 2020 General Conference was postponed due to Covid-19. Currently, it is scheduled for September of 2022. If it is safe to travel worldwide and if we can gather for the important work of the United Methodist Church, the Protocol Legislation will be considered along with hundreds of other petitions and resolutions that shape our Church.
We are not sure where the reporter found the information he initially included in the story. It was not from those of us who were interviewed.
The implication of the writer of The Tennessean was that the potential divide of the denomination was already approved and action was waiting to occur. Unfortunately, this new writer is unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church and inaccuracies were reported.
The reporter has since made corrections to his online version of the article that more accurately reflects the truth.
In the age of social media, several opinions are expressed about the future of our beloved Church. When General Conference meets, whether it is 2022 or after, only ideas that have been offered properly will be considered. It is premature to speculate what the outcomes of General Conference will be.
To be clear: no denominational decisions have been made by the general Church or by our future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference (TWK). If you have heard otherwise, the information is incorrect.
Our New Conference
The article paints a picture that reflects more about the editorial perspective of the newspaper than about the reality of how our new conference has been formed.
Likewise, this article seems to want to produce a story about a church in distress. That is not what is happening in our conference – our churches are evidence of this. In 2012, when I was assigned to the Nashville Episcopal Area, the rationale for my assignment was my history in Mississippi of being a part of two Annual Conferences that had formed a new conference. I understood that one of my responsibilities was to lead the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to form a new Conference. This we have done with a steady pace over 9 years. On December 4 we will hold the organizational meeting that is the next step as we officially become the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference.
One of our commitments, which we have intentionally led over the last 9 years is to allow congregations to retain more of their tithes and offerings at the local church rather than hold apportionments at the previous rate. The fact is that the apportionments across the two legacy conferences have been reduced by 40%. Our goal has always been to strengthen our local churches. The reduction of apportionments has been one of the strategies.
Another strategy is that our new leadership structure redefines the roles for conference-employed staff. In recent years, our conference staff has become smaller and more decentralized. Our strategic direction and conference ministry are now in the hands of volunteer leaders with staff there to support them.
Here is what is true: God has provided us with abundance – strong, connected churches with spiritually gifted leadership. God has equipped us with a nimble, hopeful vision for the future.
In Christ Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope, rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ as we seek to serve in love. We have not wavered from that foundation.
Over the last 9 years, many people – more than 500 lay and clergy members from both legacy conferences – have worked diligently to create this path to our new conference. These teams collaborated and created our new leadership and funding models for the new TWK conference. Because so many faithful disciples of Christ provided input and have been a part of the journey, we are stepping into a new era with strength.
Our new funding model that we chose together at the annual conferences is simple. Local churches will begin working toward giving a simple tithe as a connectional commitment to the ministries of the conference. Choosing to gradually reduce the commitment over the next several years reflects the new focus of keeping financial resources in the local faith community.
Finally, our strategic decision to create a new conference is rooted in our response to follow God’s call so that we can share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. At no time was the vision of a new conference rooted out of financial necessity. Certainly, we are looking for efficiencies, which we have found.
Our Call Moving Forward
Our call has been to follow God’s leading to create a new vessel for us to share the transforming love of Jesus Christ in a deeply connected way. It is in that connection that we will find strength. In the midst of the stress of Covid 19, we have found strength together.
This has not been an easy time for any of us.
Here’s what I know:
I know that God is still at work.
I know that God has work ahead for us to do.
I know that God is going to raise up something powerful out of this moment.
I invite you to join me on a journey of paying attention to God’s call on our lives so that we are able to nimbly respond to that which God invites us to be and do.
May the peace of Christ be with all of you,
Check out these 50 WAYS to take church to your community throughout the year:
These 50 WAYS from our friends at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership include useful tips to:
- Embrace an expansive concept of community
- Get to know the community surrounding your church
- Extend your congregation’s spiritual presence beyond church walls
- Turn your existing ministries outward
- Reach out through community events
- Connect spiritual outreach to community service
- Build authentic relationships
- Prepare spiritually
- Listen and learn
…it’s on my mind because this is Advent and we are on a journey to Bethlehem, a journey we take annually as a Church. There was a time when the Church began the season with a period of penitence and fasting. Perhaps these are practices that would serve us well in this current environment.
Have you ever wondered why purple is the liturgical color of Advent? It is to create a visual connection between Advent and Lent, the two periods of preparation for Jesus’ birth and death. For early Christians, it was essential to understand the link between the cradle and the cross—that Jesus came as the “Word made flesh.”
There will be great joy among us as we celebrate in our congregations in the coming days. We will celebrate the coming of Christ’s birth. Will we also hold before us the tension held within the reality that his life led to his crucifixion, resurrection and the promise of new life for all of us?
Kate Lasso, a member of the Eighth Day Faith Community suggests that during Advent we celebrate God’s invitation to reconciliation. To be reconciled to God is to be actively living what Jesus taught: Love God and love neighbor. Jesus’ invitation is also a call to discipleship.
Lasso continues: “The first ones to hear the news, and thus mark the advent of an age of reconciliation with God, were poor shepherds, some of the lowest ranking members of Jewish society. Their work made it impossible for them to observe the Jewish ceremonial laws and temple rituals, so they were considered religiously unclean and unacceptable. They weren’t considered trustworthy and were not allowed to give testimony in a Jewish court of law. They were social outcasts, yet they are at the heart of the joyous message—that Christ came for lowly shepherds, for all the forgotten people of the earth, for all of us.”
To be engaged in discipleship is to choose downward mobility. It is to take up one’s cross and follow daily our Leader. It is to be so in love with God that love for neighbor is the natural response. As you make preparations, make room. Make room in your heart, in your family, in your work, and in your re-creation. When you do, you will be ready for Christmas in the deepest places of your soul and you will be one with Christ and one with each other.
> The TN Conference Children & Families Ministry is publishing an excellent daily Advent devotional via email, CLICK HERE to subscribe – I recommend it!
Over the last several days the United Methodist Council of Bishops has been in session at Lake Junaluska, NC. Of the many topics on the agenda this week, none was more significant or more engaging than the discussion that resulted in this statement (posted below).
This statement from the Council of Bishops is a result of discernment, prayer, and deep reflection. It arises out of the recent actions of retired Bishop Melvin Talbert in the residential area of Bishop Debra Wallace-Padget.
Retired and resident bishops of The United Methodist Church throughout the world came to the Council of Bishops with widely different contexts, culturally and theologically, to craft the following points:
1. An acknowledgement of our dependence on God and our need for prayer
2. A recognition that United Methodists are not of one mind on the subject of human sexuality, and that there are deep divisions among Christians who read scripture in different ways and whose consciences move them to opposing convictions.
3. A direct response to the action of Bishop Talbert, which was in violation of the 2012 Book of Discipline by undermining the ministry of another.
4. A commitment to lead honest and respectful conversations around human sexuality, race, and gender in light of our theological convictions for the sake of our mission.
I ask you to note three facets of this development:
1. The General Conference, not the Council of Bishops, speaks for The United Methodist Church.
2. The Council of Bishops does not hold an individual bishop accountable; this practice is given by the General Conference to the (jurisdictional) College of Bishops.
3. The response of the bishops is a reflection on two subjects: a) the violation of the Discipline by a member of the clergy, b) the ongoing struggle of the church with our ministry with gay and lesbian persons.
As the resident bishop of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, I take seriously the calling to be a shepherd to the clergy and laity of the Nashville Area. I am aware that there are deep divisions among us on this subject. We are in a difficult time as we navigate the changing cultural landscape. We are also an incredibly diverse Church. I covet your prayers for all who are harmed by this action.
Peace and Deep Prayer,
– Bishop William T. “Bill” McAlilly
*For those who follow a number of bishops on these matters, Bishop Ken Carter was the chief architect of the above statement with slight variations for the Nashville Area. I am indebted to Bishop Carter for sharing his willingness to be collaborative. A small group of bishop colleagues collaborate on a number of issues of this nature from time to time.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Council of Bishops
Contact: Diane Degnan (email)
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C.: Following the action of a retired bishop to conduct a same-gender ceremony in violation of church law, the United Methodist Council of Bishops took a series of actions to address the issue during their annual meeting this week in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
The Council requested that Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference file a complaint regarding Bishop Melvin Talbert’s action, for “undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.”
“When there are violations of the Book of Discipline, a response is required,” the bishops said in a statement.
The Council also voted to initiate a task force to lead conversations about human sexuality, race and gender in a global perspective. The goal of this effort is to come to a shared theological understanding amid diverse opinions in the church about these issues.
These actions followed days of prayerful discernment and conversation about the action it would take after retired Bishop Melvin Talbert conducted a ceremony on Oct. 26 celebrating the marriage of a same-gender couple in Center Point, Ala. – a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy.
Church law says that, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
Both the presiding bishop of the North Alabama area where the ceremony took place, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, and the Executive Committee of the Council had requested that Bishop Talbert not perform the ceremony.
Under church law, the College of Bishops – which is constituted of the bishops in a jurisdictional or central conference – has authority and accountability for processing complaints against a bishop who serves (or served) in that area, which would be the Western Jurisdiction in this instance.
Earlier this week in the President’s Address, Bishop Wenner acknowledged there is diversity of opinion about many issues in the church. “We have to lead together although we are not one minded. We do not need to hide that we are diverse,” she said. In the address, she also noted, “Serious conflicts have to be brought to the tables where leaders are present,” an acknowledgment that supports the plan for further discussion of the issue through a task force.
In a statement, the Council said that when followers of Christ and people of conscience hold conflicting views, honest and respectful conversation and prayer are needed throughout the church. The Council expressed pastoral care and concern for all people. (Read the full statement online.)
# # #
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – United Methodist bishops from around the globe will gather in North Carolina at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center for the Council of Bishops meeting, November 10-15, 2013.
“The clear priority for the Council of Bishops is to increase vitality in our congregations in all the regions where we are present,” said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council. “We will engage in prayer, theological reflection and visioning so that we help one another to train leaders, to create new faith communities, and to engage in ministries with the poor and health programs like Imagine No Malaria.”
On Sunday, November 10, a memorial service will be held at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville. Bishop Wenner will present the President’s Address at 9:45 am on Monday. On Wednesday, the Council will travel to the Qualla Boundary, which is part of the original homeland of the Cherokee Nation. The area is currently home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, direct descendants of those who were able to avoid forced removal to the area that is now Oklahoma.
“We will spend an afternoon with our sisters and brothers of the Cherokee Nation, following up on Acts of Repentance at General Conference,” said Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Western North Carolina Episcopal Area. “We will remember the start of the Trail of Tears 175 years ago and point toward our Council meeting in Oklahoma later this quadrennium,” he said, referring to the Council meeting scheduled for November 2014.
The Council will spiritually center itself in daily worship and communion, along with small covenant groups for prayer and reflection. Plenary sessions, held each morning Monday-Friday, as well as Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, are open to the news media and the public. Among other reports, some of the items that will be discussed include:
• Objectives for the quadrennium: adaptive challenges and vital congregations
• Four Areas of Focus, agency alignment, 2016 budget process
• Elections: President, President-Designate, Secretary
• Preparing for 2016 General Conference
• Imagine No Malaria
• 2016 Episcopal Address
• Theological foundations of United Methodist identity and mission
During the six-day meeting, the bishops will also have various small group meetings, including accountability groups which were created as part of a covenant to hold one another accountable as they work together to increase the number of vital congregations and engage congregations in mission and ministry in the Four Areas of Focus.
About the Council of Bishops | The Council of Bishops – made up of 46 active bishops in the United States, 20 bishops in Europe, Asia and Africa, and 97 retired bishops worldwide – provides leadership and helps set the direction of the 12 million-member church and its mission throughout the world. The bishops are the top clergy leaders of The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
January 18, 2014 – 8:30 am to 4:30 pm | Location: Brentwood UMC (MAP) | Please RSVP by Jan. 6, 2014
Bishop Bill McAlilly has announced an Area-wide training event for all Memphis and Tennessee Conference local church clergy and lay leadership scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 at Brentwood UMC in Brentwood, TN.
The training event will feature Bishop Bill McAlilly and Dr. Derrick-Lewis Noble, a United Methodist pastor from Los Angeles, CA, who was also featured Bible Study leader at both the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences this past June. The theme for the event is “Evangelism & Mission: Making Discipleship Possible.” The event will be an all-day gathering with registration beginning at 8:30 am. More details and an agenda will be released shortly.
Pre-registration is available online for $10, which covers lunch and materials. All registrations for the event will close on January 6, 2014.
Do not grow weary in well doing for in due season you shall reap if you do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9
Five months ago we placed before the Nashville Area of the United Methodist Church to challenge to raise $87,500.00 to assist in building an episcopal residence for Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel. I am happy to share with you today that we have exceeded our goal!
As of today, October 29, 2013, we have these totals:
Memphis Conference: $55,894
Tennessee Conference: $34,862
A special thanks goes to the Youth of Martin First United Methodist Church who raised $6,700! Three youth delegates from Martin FUMC were delegates to Annual Conference came home and decided to tackle this challenge and did they ever! I’m convinced the Martin youth set the pace and helped us reach our goal.
I look forward to greeting Bishop Unda in November at the Council of Bishops meeting and sharing this great news with him. Additionally, we are having conversations with Bishop Unda about preaching for us at the 2014 annual conferences. He has tentatively agreed to be with us. His God Story will touch you deeply.
In keeping with our desire to follow Jesus into the neighborhood, you are blessing our brother in Christ and his family even as they grieve the loss of his daughter and sister Kabibi. I can not thank you enough for making a way where there was no way.
As we continue to journey together, may the peace of Christ dwell richly within you.
Expecting Greater Things!
Notice: Below is an image of letter head and a letter from the desk of Bishop McAlilly. If you can not see the image/read text, please CLICK HERE.
CLICK HERE to read “Bishops urge Bishop Talbert not to officiate same-sex union” by United Methodist Communications
Since Annual Conference, we have been drawing closer and closer to our goal of $87,500 to build the parsonage for the Bishop of the East Congo Annual Conference.
With the most recent tally, here is what has been contributed:
The Memphis Conference has contributed $52,136.66.
The Tennessee Conference has contributed $31,892.33.
The total raised as of this blog post is $84,023.99!!!
It would be great to be able to share with East Congo Bishop Unda Yemba at the Council of Bishops meeting in November that we have accomplished our goal. You will be reminded that in May when I last spoke with Bishop Yemba about this opportunity, he said, “I need a place for my family to live.” Bishop Yemba currently has no residence to lay his head, and remains separated from his family for long periods of time. This offering will build an episcopal residence which will also include permanent office space for the conference.
All we need is 35 churches to step up with a $100.00 donation. A special thanks to all who have gone the second mile to make this happen. Youth groups and many of our small membership churches have stepped up to make sacrifical gifts to help us reach our goal.
Expecting Greater Things!
by Heather Heinzman*
A few years ago, Highland United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina was contemplating using a portion of their precious green space to expand the parking for crowded Sunday mornings and highly attended special events. At certain times of the morning, a parking spot could not be found, and people were forced to park up and down the streets bordering the property. But was this really the best use for the land?
Highland UMC had hosted a weekday English as a Second Language (ESL) program for several years, and as some of the church leadership began connecting with the staff and students, a greater use for the proposed parking lot emerged—a community garden. Many of the students came from agricultural areas and not only missed farming the land, but could not afford to buy fresh, healthy produce at the grocery store. After gaining support from the congregation, including a member with a background in agriculture who agreed to head up the project, the Highland Victory Garden was born.
The results from the garden far exceeded expectations. Not only were church members and ESL students working side-by-side in the dirt, other residents in the community volunteered and joined in the effort. The garden also became a place of refuge. People driving by would stop to spend a moment on one of the benches interspersed between the beds, and family members of patients at the nearby hospital would come to the garden for some quiet time away from their loved one’s bedside.
Within a year, the Highland Victory Garden produced enough food to not only feed those who regularly worked in the garden, but provided hundreds of pounds of fresh, healthy food for the local food bank. As churches and community groups were inspired by the garden, at least forty other gardens were also started in the area.
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Questions for Discussion
• How are your church’s resources utilized? Are you building bigger barns or seeking to use your resources to meet needs in the community?
• How is your congregation intentionally building relationships with its neighbors, particularly those who are the most vulnerable?
• Are you aware of the needs and hopes of your neighbors? What are you currently doing to be Christ’s hands and feet to bring hope?
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About Romans 12 | Romans 12 is a project of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church to communicate effective principles and practices demonstrated by congregations that are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
These congregations are marked by:
– Clarity around the mission and vision of the congregation.
– Practice of spiritual disciplines, both corporately and individually.
– Nurture of growth in discipleship through mutual support and accountability.
– Cultivation of intentional and mutual relationships with the most vulnerable–the poor, children, the imprisoned, the powerless.
– Consistent concern for inviting people into relationship with Jesus Christ, combined with wise practices for initiating them into the Body of Christ.
– Connectional relationships that facilitate participation in God’s mission of global transformation.
– Shared clergy and lay leadership.
Romans 12 Newsletter. Issue #174 © 2013 GBOD. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy this newsletter for use in United Methodist congregations. This newsletter is provided as a service of the General Board of Discipleship and is funded through World Service apportionment giving by local United Methodist congregations.To subscribe or discontinue a subscription contact Deb Smith at email@example.com. For previous issues of the newsletter go to www.gbod.org/Romans12
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