Thank you for your ministry leading up to, and at General Conference. Thank you, too, for sharing your thoughts so we could pass them along to our brothers and sisters in East Ohio.
When I left Tampa on May 6, 2012 at the conclusion of that year’s General Conference, I had a bad taste in my mouth and a sense of gloom in my soul. The Conference had been costly – both in terms of the dollars spent, and in the divisiveness created across the denomination.
As General Conference 2016 came to an end on May 20 I was hopeful – and so, too, was the atmosphere among most of the delegates inside the convention center.
I have to admit that this hopeful feeling surprised me.
For four years I had felt, and countless people had told me, that General Conference 2016 would be no different than General Conference 2012 – costly and unproductive.
Countless hours had been spent over nearly four years to improve the delegate experience at this year’s Conference. But when business sessions began in Portland we – the United Methodist denomination – did not put our best foot forward.
We began the session using an i-Pad at each table to get the attention of the presiding bishop, even though the rules in place when we left Tampa called for a placard to be used.
After delegates voted to allow the use of the i-Pads, the system didn’t always work and the delegates and presiding bishops had trouble using them.
At the times that a presiding bishop misspoke, some delegates pounced on the opportunity and questioned our Episcopal leaders’ knowledge of parliamentary procedure. There was even a request from one delegate for a presiding bishop to step down – the first time that had happened in the history of The United Methodist Church.
Sadly, my worst fears were being realized: the atmosphere in the plenary sessions was contentious and social media was abuzz with talk of an imminent schism in the Church.
My mood lightened on Tuesday when the Council of Bishops was asked to meet that day and to return on Wednesday with a plan for moving forward. The subsequently proposed plan was accepted by the body. With it came the creation of a yet-to-be-named special commission that will examine “every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”
The decision did not please everyone but it seemed to accomplish three things: it tabled debate of human sexuality language in The Discipline – debate that has often been divisive; it offered the possibility of a special General Conference before 2020 to discuss such legislation; and it created time on the agenda to debate and decide other legislation.
We, again this year, spent more than $10 million on General Conference, and were unable to get to each of the proposed items on the legislative calendar – but I leave Portland hopeful. And I am not alone.
In her morning sermon on the last day of Conference Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area reminded all of us that “we will not leave divided because God is not finished with us yet!”
That’s great news, thankful news, hopeful news.
By Rick Wolcott, East Ohio Conference director of Communiations
All General Conference photos may be found @ EOC Flickr
This year’s General Conference theme was born out of Matthew 28:19, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On several occasions Thursday delegates heard reminders of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Mary and Aaron Vandersommers were commissioned as missionaries with United Methodist Global Ministries during the morning worship service. The East Ohio Conference husband and wife team, who are serving in the Congo, heard – along with the other 27 newly-commissioned missionaries – the challenge issued by Bishop John Yambasu.
Following nearly two weeks of often contentious debate, the message delivered by the Sierra Leone bishop seemed to be directed at all bodies in the room, and not just at the new missionaries seated on stage.
“Beneath the Logo of our denomination, some congregations have inscribed the words ‘Open hands, open hearts and open minds,’” Yambasu said. “I tell you what. I love that motto. But I have a problem with it.
“For far too long we have opened our hands and nothing seems to happen. Instead of open hands, what we need now most are embracing hands. We need hands that embrace. Church, we need to and have to and must embrace each other. We must embrace in spite of.
“For far too long we have had open hearts and yet nothing seems to happen. What the church needs now is compassionate hearts.
“For far too long we have spoken of open minds. But it seems to me that nothing has happened. What we need now and most is engaging minds.
“Friends we need to engage each other or we perish as a denomination. Red and yellow black and white, poor and rich; have and haves not; gay or straight, heterosexual or bisexual we need to engage each other.
“Yes, it was passion that caused Simon of Sirene to move to the scene where Jesus was forced to carry the cross, but it was compassion that caused him to take the cross from Jesus and carry it upon himself.
“Friends, the church is called by Christ to dismantle the demons of poverty and injustice, the demons of racism, wars and diseases, the demons of hunger and all forms of inequalities in our world. We must do so with passion, but even more, we must do it with compassion.”
Passion and compassion are qualities shared by the 19 retiring bishops who were recognized Thursday morning. Bishop John Hopkins joins Bishop Michael Coyner of Indiana, Bishop Jonathan Keaton of Illinois Great River, and Bishop Deb Kiesey of Michignn as the four bishops from our North Central Jurisdiction who will retire at the end of August.
During their years in ministry the retiring bishops made countless disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Most United Methodists will tell you that “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is the mission statement of the denomination.
But did you know the official statement has a second sentence?
It is – or it was – “Local churches provide the most significant arenas through which disciplemaking occurs.”
I say “was” because on Thursday General Conference delegates voted to change the second sentence. By a vote of 603 to 175, delegates voted to add the words “and extension ministries of the Church.”
The new United Methodist Mission Statement is: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arena through which disciplemaking occurs.”
In introducing the motion, Faith and Order subcommittee chair Scott Johnson said, “the committee made this recommendation knowing that discipling occurs in a variety of venues and sought to confirm those in extension ministries. It was not intended to deemphasize the importance of local church ministries in making disciples, and so the recommendation comes before you.”
After the vote, Stefan Schroeckenfuchs, asked presiding bishop Minerva Carcano for a moment of personal privilege. The delegate from Austria said, “I just realized that we have been spending six or seven days where we were talking about rules and many, many things. Now we just spent five minutes, or maybe three, talking about the mission of our church. What is the mission of our church? For what are we United Methodist? I just wonder why this seems to be so less important compared with other things?”
Carcano asked Schroeckenfuchs to remain at the microphone and “to lead us in a moment of prayer for the mission of this church.”
“Gracious God you have called us to be your church. You have called us to lead together with you. You have sent Jesus Christ to us, who is not only our Lord and Savior but has showed us what it means to be human beings, children of God.
“We’re loved by yourself and I thank you for this love you have shown us and I ask you that in every moment you will help us to give this love to others. When Jesus preached from the mountain he spoke of his vision, about the kingdom to come for the poor, and the mourning, and for those who do not know how to deal with the important question will be happy in residence in your heavenly kingdom. Help us be focused on what it means to be your followers. Help us to stay together. Amen.”
Find 2016 General Conference photos @ EOC Flickr