A small group of United Methodist bishops and U.S. traditionalists, centrists and progressives met this week as part of negotiations about the denomination’s future.
The Dec. 16-17 meeting in Washington was an outgrowth of discussions that Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu initiated in July to find consensus on any potential church separation ahead of the 2020 General Conference. Participants, who represent varied perspectives on LGBTQ inclusion, agreed to confidentiality while their delicate conversations proceed.
Although they offered few details on the closed-door session, group members struck an optimistic note at the meeting’s conclusion.
“We have completed two days of additional meetings which have been very productive,” the group said in a joint statement. “We are hopeful and prayerful about the direction of these conversations.”
Anything the group recommends will need the approval of General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body.
However, the hope is that these meetings will help lead to a less rancorous gathering than the church experienced at the special General Conference in February. By about a 53% vote, the multinational delegates approved legislation that strengthens church prohibitions against same-sex weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
In the months since, some United Methodists have supported the outcome while others have launched plans to resist. Meanwhile, the drumbeat to divide the church along theological lines has only grown louder. The next General Conference will meet May 5-15 in Minneapolis.
The discussions initiated by Yambasu have brought together United Methodist leaders who represent advocacy groups across the theological spectrum.
Many of the participants were involved in the development of different plans for church separation heading to the 2020 General Conference. Specifically, group discussions have included backers of the New Denominations of United Methodism, better known as the Indianapolis Plan; and the Next Generation UMC, better known as the UMCNext Plan.
Those in attendance at the first meeting on July 19 included: The Revs. Tom Berlin, Keith Boyette, Junius Dotson, Maxie Dunnam, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, Adam Hamilton, Mark Holland, Rob Renfroe, Kimberly Scott and Jasmine Smothers as well as lay members Jan Lawrence, Patricia L. Miller, Randall Miller, Karen Prudente and Mark Tooley. Guiding the July conversation were Bishops Christian Alsted, Mande Muyombo and Yambasu.
Other bishops also have been involved in the ongoing conversations. Other bishops also have been involved in the ongoing conversation including Bishops Kenneth Carter, the Council of Bishops president; Cynthia Harvey, the president-elect; Thomas Bickerton; LaTrelle Easterling; Rodolfo “Rudy” Juan and Gregory Palmer.
A smaller group was involved in this most recent meeting, and the identity of all those present was not released.
Yambasu is upbeat about the discussions.
“Our mediation meeting concluded today in a very friendly and peaceful atmosphere,” he told UM News on Dec. 17.