Special-Called General Conference

Dear Fairfax United Methodist Church and Friends:

This letter is meant to pastorally address voting results of the special called General Conference in St. Louis, which concluded yesterday.  I know this letter reaches people who are in grief and also those who feel relieved.  I am not offering personal opinions or predictions of what comes next.   Also, I know many of you have a great interest in news of the United Methodist Church, others not so much.  Regardless, I want you to be aware.

The One Church Plan, which would have created local options for LGBTQI+ inclusion was defeated at the legislative committee level.  One Church Plan was also presented at the plenary session as a minority report and was defeated.  The Traditional Plan, which keeps the current positions regarding human sexuality, same gender weddings, and ordination of LGBTQI+ persons with added covenants to hold clergy and bishops accountable was the only plan to pass the legislative committee level and sent to the plenary session for a full vote.   The Traditional Plan ultimately passed, 438 to 384.  This Plan will be reviewed by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church.  Additionally, legislation was passed that provides a “gracious exit” pathway for any local church wanting to leave the Denomination for any reason.  This is also subject to Judicial Council review.

Please keep in mind what I shared on Sundays, February 10 and 17.  The United Methodist Church is not a D.C. Metro area church, nor is it a USA-centric church.  The United Methodist Church is global:  We are made up of people from the Philippines, the USA, the continent of Africa, Europe and some Latin countries.  When it comes to issues of human sexuality, namely same gender marriage and ordination of LGBTQI+ persons, not all United Methodists agree.  Even within the USA there are vast differences.  Currently, we are not like the Presbyterian Church USA or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, these being organized more specifically within the USA with looser world-wide ties.  We are the (global) United Methodist Church.

Also, as the United Methodist Church has grown globally, membership has declined in the USA, yet increased in such regions as the African and Philippine Conferences.  In 2004 19% of General Conference delegates were from outside the USA.  This General Conference had 42%.  This shift has a direct impact on the voting outcomes at any General Conference.  This was certainly true over the last few days.

Some of our brothers and sisters reading this are experiencing sadness, grief, or even frustration, for LGBTQI+ people, their families,  friends and allies who would have preferred a different result.  For these, it is difficult to accept what is experienced as exclusion, even knowing the reality of our global context.  To those experiencing grief in this outcome, please know your pastors are available to spend time with you.

Some of our traditional sisters and brothers will receive the reaffirmation of traditional stances on human sexuality and marriage, and keeping clergy accountable, to be good news.

On Monday, March 4, Bishop Lewis of the Virginia Conference will address this matter at 10:30am via live stream on vaumc.org.  Also, you may attend a summary event at Herndon UMC on March 13, 7:00pm to 8:30pm which will provide more information.

Allow me to end with a pastoral compliment and request:  I realize this is a divisive issue, with some people feeling elation and some feeling grief at the moment.  I assure you, I hear strong feelings on all sides regularly.  Yet, in the months leading up to this General Conference I have not heard any mean-spirited comments or accusations regarding one’s opponent on this topic from those currently belonging to FUMC.  I have certainly heard passionate and spirited positions articulated, but absent the malice.  This speaks well of you and how God is present in our church.  Please, keep this spirit within you!  Also, please keep praying for our Denomination as we seek to be faithful to Christ.  As further developments arise, you will be informed.

For FUMC’s way forward, I invite you to continue to work together being the hands and feet of the Lord Jesus as we seek to be in ministry to all God’s children.   The people we serve, and are in partnership with, has not changed.  There is a renewed sense of purpose at our church in that we are reorienting ourselves to better reach our community and world in a new century.  General Conferences or not, we have holy work to do.   I want to close with a prayer that incorporates some of the words of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

God, in United Methodism we often feel united in name only.  To many, this is one of those times.  May your blessing be upon those who feel defeated or sad and Christ-like kindness be reflected by those who feel victorious.  Above all, make us good friends to our neighbors and may we “look upon ourselves not as authors or ringleaders of a particular party, but as messengers of God.”  Amen.

It is an honor to serve with you.

David Bonney