ST. LOUIS – The Special General Conference of The United Methodist Church gathered in St. Louis, MO on February 24-26, and passed the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Way Forward in a vote of 438 to 384. This plan affirms the present policies in The Book of Discipline which prohibits same gender weddings and ordination of gays and lesbians. This plan was preferred over the One Church Plan, a plan sent forth by U.S. United Methodist Bishop’s, by giving annual conferences, congregations, and clergy greater flexibility to make decisions based on individual and communal convictions as well as the needs of specific ministry contexts regarding the LGBTQ community.
The special legislative session was called by bishops to try to deal with the denomination’s long conflict over human sexuality. General Conference is The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly, comprising delegates from around the world.
The effects of the legislation that passed remain unclear given constitutional questions that will be addressed by the Judicial Council, the denomination’s Supreme Court, which meets in April. Parts of the plan have already been declared unconstitutional. The final rulings from the council will likely not be received for several months.
“We continue to teach and believe that all persons are welcomed in the church, all persons are persons of sacred worth and we welcome all to receive the ministry of Jesus. Human sexuality is a topic on which people of faith have differing views,” said Bishop Ken Carter, President of the Council of Bishops, after the conference ended. “Despite our differences, we will continue to work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and share God’s love with all people.”
At the close of the Special Session, United Methodists tried to come to terms with a gathering that was meant to unify but instead underscored divisions and had all sides acknowledging a high level of pain.
“Personally, I experienced the church more contentious and divided at this General Conference, than any of the previous seven General Conference I have attended,” said Bishop John Schol. “GNJ is clearly a model for our church for how to honor difference, and in the midst of difference, to respect one another. We recognize that we are in ministry with LGBTQ people in different ways. I came away from this General Conference appreciating even more the rich diversity and different expressions of GNJ. We have been a continued example of Christ-like love and grace in the midst of difference which makes me proud to be GNJ’s bishop.”
In a statement, Bishop Schol addressed gays and lesbians and their families in GNJ.
“You are welcomed and accepted by me and most of the people of GNJ,” he said. “While our denomination wrestles, we welcome you with the arms of grace found through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You are of sacred worth to God and I, and I pledge to create space for you to worship, serve and engage through The United Methodist Church of GNJ.”
Schol called upon GNJ clergy and congregations to dedicate themselves to a season of prayer.
“We are a conference in which churches hold different beliefs and understandings and engage in different ministries with gays and lesbians,” he said. “I will lead so that each of our congregations and clergy will have different expressions and ministries and yet serve one God, one Lord Jesus Christ and one mission – to transform the world as we make disciples and grow vital congregations. I will be a bishop of the whole church and all of our people.”
Schol acknowledged that challenging days face the church.
“But we are blessed to have creative, resourceful and whole leaders who will guide us through this time,” he said.
Since the legislation is not the official church law until January 1, 2020, for churches in the U.S., the bishops are urging all Methodists to stay focused on the mission that glorifies God and reaches new people with the gospel. The legislation takes effect in churches outside the U.S. after the 2020 General Conference.
GNJ Special Session on March 16
On March 16, a Special Session of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference will be held at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft to learn more about the actions of General Conference and how GNJ will move forward together in mission.
Rev. John Edgar, Pastor and Executive Director of The United Methodist Church & Community Development for All People in Columbus, OH, has been asked to address GNJ’s Special Session on asset-based community development. Edgar will share how acknowledging God’s abundant grace and building relationships can lead to the transformative potential of rejuvenating neighborhoods.
In October 2017, 36 GNJ laity and clergy took a road trip to Columbus to dream, envision, and learn from The United Methodist Church of All People, leaving inspired and equipped to live out what it means to truly be a church of all people.
“We invited Rev. Edgar because it’s just as important that we’re rooted in and focused on our mission,” said Schol. “And he will speak directly to that.”
All GNJ clergy and laity are asked to attend. Visitors and guests are welcome but must register in advance. For details and to register, click here.