Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Missouri 2020 Delegation Update

The 2020 Missouri Delegation has been working hard in these past couple of months.

+ In November, the Missouri Delegation officially endorsed Rev. Sally Haynes as a candidate for bishop. Sally had shared with the delegation at our September meeting that she was discerning a call to bishop. At that meeting, there was a sharing of initial thoughts, a prayer for discernment, and an outline for the process ahead. In November, Sally shared some updates with the group, there was a time of questioning and healthy conversation, and then the delegation voted our support of Sally’s candidacy. We ask for continued prayers for the remainder of the process ahead. 

+ In our meetings thus far, we have been coached by Rev. Melissa Bailey-Kirk, who is a trained facilitator in the Circle Way of meeting. Our hope has been to set a different tone for our work together, one of trust and openness, so that our work may be done as a spiritually centered and fully engaged delegation. We are so grateful to Melissa for coaching us through our first few gatherings.

+ We have had several other guests with us, providing input into our work process. Rev. Jessica Foster and Rev. Chelsey Hillyer spoke with us about their participation in the UM Forward meeting last Spring. We spent some time speaking with Terry Shoemaker and Ross Lundstrom from Wespath about legislation Wespath is proposing for General Conference this year. We had conversation with Rev. Bob Phillips of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference about his participation in the Wesley Covenant Association. Each guest was invited so that Missouri might be fully engaged in our important work.

+ Delegation member Rev. Kim Jenne was able to connect with members of both Mozambique Annual Conferences’ delegations on a recent trip. She conveyed greetings on behalf of the Missouri delegations, presented a letter, and had a very meaningful conversation about General Conference legislation and the hopes and dreams for the future of the United Methodist Church. It is our intention to stay in contact with our siblings from Mozambique, and to share a meal with them in Minneapolis in May.

+ The delegation is anticipating receiving our written material in January 2020. Once we get our copies of the “Advance Daily Christian Advocate” we will know exactly what individual petitions are connected with what larger “plans” you may have read about. There are fourteen legislative committees that initially deal with General Conference petitions, prior to them coming to the larger group during the conference’s second week. That means the General Conference is never talking about a single plan in its entirety. Our system breaks the plans down into smaller petitions based on the paragraph of the Book of Discipline that is impacted. Please keep your Missouri delegates in prayer as we carefully read through the pages of petitions that we will consider in May.

+ The next time the delegation will meet together will be in February, when we will meet in Oklahoma City with other delegations of the South Central Jurisdiction. At that gathering, individual delegations will have the opportunity to interview the endorsed candidates for bishop. There will be opportunities to discuss General Conference legislation, and to connect with other delegates from the various Annual Conferences of our Jurisdiction. 

It is our desire to be as transparent as we can about the work we are doing. This is a significant moment in the life of the United Methodist Church, and it is a privilege to be serving in this capacity at this time. We long to be centered in God’s Spirit, and to be equipped by God’s grace to serve the church to the utmost of our capacity. And we need your prayers in order to do so. Thank you for all the encouragement that has been offered thus far, and as we swing into Spring and get really busy, we’ll be relying on your prayers more and more. 

May God’s grace and peace be with us all. Amen.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Pathways, Too

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.