Members and Friends of Central United Methodist,
I know many of you listened closely as our denomination met in a special General Conference session earlier this week to discuss and decide a way forward for the UMC regarding our ministry to and with sisters and brothers who are gay. Whether you have been attentive or just curious, I want you to understand what happened and how it impacts Central Church.
When it all came down the General Conference was tasked with deciding between two plans. The One Church Plan would have removed all probative and negative language regarding those who are gay from our Book of Discipline. It would have also allowed pastors, churches and annual conferences to follow the Spirit of Christ in their context when it came to ministry with LGBTQ persons. Ordination of gay pastors would be permitted as would same gender marriage by UM clergy and churches. No pastor or church would be compelled to marry gay persons, hold same gender weddings or accept a gay pastor for their congregation. This plan would have preserved the unity of the church for most and allow for greater outreach in mission. It was also endorsed by the majority of our bishops.
Sadly, this plan was voted down. What has been approved by the General Conference is the Traditional Plan which preserves the current probative and negative language toward persons who are gay and requires stricter enforcement of the rules prohibiting the ordination of gay pastors and same gender weddings by UM pastor in UM churches.
How did this happen? Many U.S. southern conferences and churches are conservative in their views as are most of the Central Conferences overseas. Delegates from Africa make up about 30% of the voting members at the General Conference. Add to that the caucus work of the conservative Wesley Covenant Association before and during the conference and you wind up with the 438 – 384 vote that defeated the One Church Plan.
What does this mean for us here at Central? Well, some of you may be relieved that the UMC you know and love has not changed its views on this matter. You know Central to be a warm and welcoming church for all and want us to stay this way. Both Pastor Chris and I are honored to be your pastors and we appreciate where you stand.
Others of you, like me, are heartbroken and frustrated. We had hoped our General Conference would have allowed us to express our calling to more deeply accept and affirm persons who are gay in our local ministry context.
So now what? Certain parts of the accepted plan are being reviewed to see if they are in line with our UM constitution. But the essence has been approved and the damage has been done. Even so, we can and should be hopeful.
Why am I hopeful? Because God is still loving and kind and welcoming of all. No matter what the General Conference has decided, gay persons are included in that love and welcome. UMs with differences will never agree on how scripture should be interpreted in this matter. That’s why the One Church Plan offered hope. Even so, our mission has not changed. People are still searching for God and we have good news to offer. Christ is alive to bring new and abundant life! A hope-filled way of living is available for all. Central Church has so much to offer to this greater mission of Christ.
Please know the Central United Methodist Church you loved being a part of before General Church has not changed. Do not be anxious or worried. The church you walked out of after worship last week is the same church you’ll walk into this week. We will keep doing the important ministry Christ has called us to do and we will continue to seek to be faithful in new ways. This is true in what we say to our gay brothers and sisters. Please know even though our denomination says your “lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching;” I, along with hundreds of others here and thousands everywhere, say to you: “God loves and calls you just as you are.”
This Sunday we’ll share a special message from our Bishop, David Bard. An All-Church Meeting is planned for March 10th following the 11am worship service. There we will share the latest updates regarding the decisions of the General Conference, answer questions, and remember our vision for ministry here at Central. On Saturday, March 16, we will host the first of our monthly Serving Saturday opportunities in the community. Let’s remember that’s why we are here: “Together in Christ, Reaching Beyond our Doors.” We’ve got work to do friends; let’s enjoy doing it together!
Filled with Hope,