In Layman's Terms: Resources for our way forward
Anyone who has attended one of the bishop’s town hall meetings knows that the three plans to be considered at the upcoming special session of General Conference can be confusing. The plans – offered by the Commission on a Way Forward and approved by the Council of Bishops – are meant to help our denomination move past our impasse over human sexuality.
This is incredibly difficult content to learn, process and understand. For those of you who don’t know, The United Methodist Church is hosting a special meeting of delegates from around the world to decide the denomination’s stance on same-gender marriage and on ordination of LGBTQ persons. We United Methodists have talked about these subjects – no, people – since 1972, when the Social Principles were crafted in the first General Conference after the birth of the UMC.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has completed 12 of 18 town halls across the conference as of this writing, and while there certainly are similarities, each event also has been unique, in some cases because of the questions asked, in some cases by the mood in the room.
It’s clear that people are interested in this subject. We’ve had about 2,750 people attend the first 12 sessions, an average of 230 people. If you haven’t made it to a town hall yet (we recently completed seven meetings in the six Nebraska districts), I encourage you to do so. Remaining events are:
- Oct. 14 – 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Salina Trinity UMC
- Oct. 21 – 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Council Grove UMC
- Oct. 28 – 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Hays First UMC
- Nov. 11 – 3 to 5 p.m. at Topeka First UMC
- Nov. 17 – 10 a.m. to noon at Parsons Wesley UMC and 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Lawrence First UMC’s west campus.
Our communications team understands that this can be a difficult subject to address in some congregations. After all, we have some churches that are quite progressive and others that are quite traditional. And we have a whole lot of churches somewhere in between.
So, our team has been working with Bishop Saenz to develop and compile resources meant to help you learn about the three plans that we know will be presented at the special session of General Conference from Feb. 23 to 26 in St. Louis. We’ve also provided some information about books on the overall topic of human sexuality that can help you better understand the various views on same-gender marriage and ordination of LGBTQ persons.
You’ll find all of it in a special section of our website at www.greatplainsumc.org/cowf
. Those last four letters stand for Commission on a Way Forward. You can either go straight to that link or just go to our home page and click on the box labeled “Way Forward Resources” directly under our top stories photo carousel.
Here’s what you’ll find:
- Landing Page – This is what we call the section front for this content. You’ll see a brief description of the work at hand, a summary of the process that has been followed, the scriptural foundation from Galatians 6 for this work, a link to download a copy of Bishop Saenz’s PowerPoint presentation from the town hall meetings, and John Wesley’s sermon on the “Catholic Spirit.” All of it is meant to help you learn a little more about what the denomination is doing, why we’re doing it, and details about the three plans.
- Commission on a Way Forward – This page is dedicated to helping you learn about the process that 32 people of varied backgrounds, ethnicities, and affinities who comprised the commission took in helping craft three plans for the denomination. You’ll find links to explain the commission’s work over an 18-month timeframe. And you’ll see a video from the Rev. Tom Berlin, a member of the commission from the Virginia Conference who does a great job of explaining the basics of the three plans.
- Way Forward Report – Bishop Saenz presents a video inviting you to read the full 93-page document. This page has a link the report for your convenience, a link to an email address to allow you to send your thoughts and prayers to the Great Plains Conference’s delegation to the special session of General Conference, and a link to times, dates, and places for our town hall meetings.
- Prayer Life – None of this is going on without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Recognizing the importance of prayer throughout the season of discernment, the Congregational Excellence team has put together resources for a prayer movement across Kansas and Nebraska titled “Prayer on the Plains.” You receive an email each week with an idea for prayer or strategy to enhance your prayer life by subscribing either to our daily devotion or to our weekly GPconnect email newsletter. Learn about different types of prayers and about how to use the Great Plains Conference app and its Spiritual Fitness Trackers to help you stay up to date on your prayer life.
- Sharing with the Congregation – This page features links to resources developed by Discipleship Ministries, a sample outline for discussing human sexuality in your church, and information about discussing other courageous conversations on such topics as gun violence, immigration, race, and climate change. It also provides a link to a summary of the Biblical and Theological Foundations for each of the three plans, as shared in the Commission on a Way Forward report.
- Bible Studies and Books – Bishop Saenz urges the audience at each town hall to step out of their comfort zones and read books written from all perspectives related to human sexuality so that everyone can better understand the positions people take and why they take them. We recently posted a 15-page summary of a really good 180-page book by Dale McConkey, a local licensed pastor and sociology professor in Georgia that provides what I call a “Dragnet” (just the facts) approach to this subject. We also have a list of Bible studies and books to help you present this information to your congregations and small groups.
- Presentations, Essays, Videos & Sermons – Admittedly, this is a bit of a catch-all page, with essays, links to videos, audio recordings of sermons – all from a wide variety of perspectives – from people within our conference, leaders from other conferences and people who took part in the discernment process with the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops.
- General Conference News – This is a relatively new page that we created to post links regarding stories from United Methodist News Service, secular media, and news curated by our staff directly tied to the special session of General Conference.
At the bottom of each page, you'll find quick links to what we think are some important documents and email addresses:
We have several items – that we know of – still to come. We’ll record the bishop’s town hall meetings a couple of times and will post a video sometime soon after the final meeting Nov. 17. We’ll update the bishop’s PowerPoint presentation and will post a final version with his notes and the full animations that help explain the process and the three plans. We’ve also been compiling the questions asked at the town hall meetings and will post answers in a frequently-asked-questions document by the time we end our town halls tour of the conference.
That’s what we know of. As other things arise, we’ll do our best to post them to the pages within this section of our website.
Please remember to pray regularly for the delegates to General Conference – not that they will vote the way you prefer but that they will gain enlightenment and discernment from the Holy Spirit to vote according to God’s will for them, our church, and our world.
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 785-414-4224, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.