Or is it Pathways 2? Or maybe Pathways II? Oh I know! Pathways Next!
Ok, so it doesn't really matter. It is a team of 20 people from the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting together for a common purpose. And when Missouri convenes a team to help discern a direction for the Conference, we call it a "Pathways" team. It's what we do.
At our first meeting on Wednesday, October 30, we began our work by clarifying that purpose. Our Bishop, Bishop Bob Farr, has called this group together to discern a way for the Missouri Conference to be in ministry together pending the outcome of General Conference 2020.
The group present last Wednesday agreed on a lot of things. We began with Scripture and prayer. Each one gave permission to share our names as participants in this process. We took some time getting to know one another. We started talking about some common ideas of covenant to guide our work. And we heard the Bishop lay out one possible idea for how we might proceed after June 2020 (the Annual Conference session).
There are people from every district in the conference. There are elder, deacon, licensed local pastor, and laity. There is racial diversity. There is one person who is gay and out. (There may be others, but I don't know everyone at the table personally and we didn't really take a poll.)
And there are people at the table who believe being LGBT+ should disqualify a person from getting married and/or being ordained, alongside people who believe sexual orientation and gender identity should be celebrated as an important part of what makes a person unique and gifted. And I'm sure there are people somewhere in between, too. So it goes.
One of the helpful filters that Bishop Farr added to our work was this: we are not going to try to change one another's minds about what we believe. Our conversations are to be focused on how we can, in the bishop's words, "multiply our witness for the sake of Jesus Christ." In my own words, the question is, "What can we do together that would sow the seeds of the Reign of God in our varied contexts of ministry and service?"
Bishop Farr has a way of speaking pretty powerful truths in pretty accessible ways. Sometimes you don't really catch it until it's past. Recently he said that it seems like there's an earthquake happening in the United Methodist Church; but maybe the church "needs to be shaken up."
At our meeting on the 30th, he uttered a doozie, a real "Farrism." He said, "Whoever wound up the United Methodist Church did not want it to be unwound." What he meant by that was that our system is a giant hairball of overly complicated processes and procedures that nobody really even understands, much less follows completely. So the work of this Pathways team is not around "unwiding" the church, but orbiting that hairball as best we can.
So here's the process - we are meeting at least four more times (December 17, January 18, February 27, and April 21). Our work will be presented to the Mission Council, who would, pending their approval, present it to the Annual Conference in June.
One of the unresolved questions as I see it is, "What would trigger consideration of the Pathways plan?" Meaning, what outcome of General Conference would cause us to say, "Okay let's do our thing instead of that?" Would affirmation of the status quo trigger it? Would voting to divide the entire UMC? Would voting in favor of full inclusion and affirmation of all people, including ordination and marriage?
Or will we just do it anyway, regardless of the specific outcome in May?
This is one of the myriad of questions that the Pathways team will be asking. And there are so many. It is my hope that we are as transparent as we can possibly be in this process, and for me that includes listening to your hopes and fears as well. Please comment, email, or message me with your questions. Your voices are important to this conversation.
And finally, I just ask that you please pray. A lot. Pray a lot. Pray for God's wisdom. Pray for an awareness of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Pray for our church. We are living through a season of reform, and the future is uncharted territory. In prayer together, we can navigate what lies ahead and continue to become the church that God desires.
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