The United Methodist Council of Bishops executive committee received an email petition on Laity Sunday with more than 500 signatures from lay members urging that more non-clergy serve on the special Commission on a Way Forward.
The commission has the responsibility of reviewing church policies related to homosexuality and working toward church unity.
“This is one of the most important conversations of our time,” the group wrote in the letter.
The composition to the special commission that will look at and possibly recommend changes to church teachings on homosexuality was announced on Oct. 5. The nominees, whose names have not yet been made public, included eight bishops, 13 other clergy and eight laity.
“The church is made of laity and could not function without our volunteer hours, evangelism and missions, service on various committees, singing in choirs, financial contributions, and so much more,” the group wrote.
The letter also points out that General Conference, the denomination’s law-making body, has guidelines on membership of church boards and commissions that call for one-third clergy (including bishops), one-third laywomen and one-third laymen.
The letter asks the bishops to rethink the balance of clergy and laity.
Council of Bishops president Bishop Bruce R. Ough, in response to the letter, said voices of laity “absolutely” are important.
“We absolutely agree that the voices of laity are important, and they will have a prominent role in the commission’s work alongside of clergy and bishops,” said Ough, who also leads the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.
“The process for nominating persons to the commission is ongoing. The concern about the number of laypersons nominated to serve on the commission has been heard and is being taken seriously. The pool of original nominees is currently being reviewed in response to this concern.”
Irene R. DeMaris, one of the lead organizers of the petition, is hoping to hear from Ough some “tangible steps remedying the situation.”
“There needs to be a larger conversation of lay inclusion in the church, and I hope the bishops start to take this seriously, especially as we seek a way forward,” she said.
DeMaris said the petition was “a grassroots movement that was Spirit-led.”
“It was a beautiful reflection of the church — what it is and what it can be,” she said.
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].