A member of the commission that plans the General Conference, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton encourages leaders to approach their work in the right frame of mind, body and spirit to make the best decisions.
Seeing a Way Forward:
The Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai
The Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, chief connectional ministries officer for the Connectional Table, reminds all United Methodists that once the conference ends, God will still be calling them to mission in the world.
Supporters for the Simple Plan hold banners and sing before the afternoon session at the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference. The demonstration was held inside the Dome of America's Center in St. Louis on Feb. 24. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.
Before voting even began, delegates learned that the two petitions that are part of the Modified Traditional Plan would first go to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The permanent committee of General Conference deals with legislation that affects central conferences — church regions in Africa, the Philippines and Europe.
Neil Alexander said his unofficial advocacy group Uniting Methodists, which supports the One Church Plan, is not giving up.
“We are in the beginning of a complex legislative process,” Alexander said. “There is much debate and many decisions to come. We will be sharing information and ideas we believe will win broad support.”
The Rev. Edwin Momog, a delegate from Sierra Leone, said the hall was charged and tense during the vote. But he believes a majority of delegates are happy.
“But God has a way of doing things. He has some sense of humor. When we feel so much anxious, that’s when he comes in with his own way. It is God’s church. And, I think the voting just went God’s own way.”
Audun Westad, lay delegate from the Norway Conference, said it saddened him that the disaffiliation petitions got such huge support.
“That does not look good for their willingness to stay together with people of a different mind,” he said.
The German delegation was surprised that the plan was ranked so low with less than 50 percent of the vote, said Klaus U. Ruof, German communicator. They likewise were surprised the delegates wanted to talk pensions and money before talking about a plan, he said.
The Rev. Alex da Silva Souto, an openly gay clergy delegate from the New York Conference, was less surprised. He has championed the Simple Plan.
“Today’s results are not the first time we as LGBTQIA United Methodists have been hurt by our church, and not the first time that our denomination contradicts its mission, and still we are here,” he said. “We will continue to trust in God's priorities for our welfare.”
After the prioritization votes, delegates elected officers for the single legislative committee: The Rev. Joe Harris, Oklahoma, chair; the Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, North Katanga, vice chair; Carlene Fogle-Miller, Florida, secretary.
The Book of Discipline requires that all petitions receive a vote in a legislative committee.
Usually General Conference has multiple such committees, but because the whole gathering is dealing with the same parts of the Book of Discipline, there is only one committee with all delegates. The legislative work will continue on Feb. 25.
In the legislative committee’s first vote, delegates passed Wespath’s petition 768 to 44, moving it on to the plenary session.
Concerns about being so close to their scheduled adjournment led delegates to vote to adjourn early and take up discussion on the Traditional Plan first thing tomorrow.
Bishop Carter, who was one of three moderators for the Commission on a Way Forward, said in his sermon that his work with the commission was not unlike his 28 years as pastor of local churches. The commission was charged with finding ways to resolve the divisions over the church’s stance on homosexuality.
When people disagree about how to interpret Scripture, “they imagined they were still learning and growing as disciples and had not arrived,” Carter said. “The divisions are easy to see. What would it be like for us to watch and listen for the connections?”
The continued rise of fracking activity in West Virginia has divided not only communities but also churches — usually between those who stand to profit and others concerned about the long-term environmental impact.