The Great Plains Conference’s Forward in Unity Process Team experienced what a town hall-style meeting would be like for future participants as they learn and discuss the Council of Bishops’ recommendations to help The United Methodist Church find a way forward.
The team, an assembly of leaders from throughout the Great Plains Conference, is designing resources for local congregations to disseminate accurate information and to hear the hopes and concerns from people throughout Kansas and Nebraska as The United Methodist Church prepares for a special General Conference in February 2019 to address the church’s teaching on human sexuality and church unity.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said the team will provide tools that local congregations can use to talk about this sensitive subject.
“We want to promote the unity of the church because we are far stronger together than we are individually,” the bishop said. “To accomplish that, we need to talk about how we can have meaningful dialogue with people we may disagree with, but who we must recognize also love our church.”
The team walked through a presentation prepared by the Arkansas Conference. The PowerPoint display provided a brief background on the history of human sexuality legislation in The United Methodist Church dating back to the 1972 General Conference and then walked through what was known at the time of the presentation’s creation as three possible proposals to come from the Council of Bishops. For each proposal, the team used the polling tool Mentimeter to gain feedback on perceived strengths and weaknesses on each plan. Participants then discussed the possible strengths and weaknesses in pairs or in small groups.
The Council of Bishops has narrowed the list of possible recommendations to the 2019 special session since the presentation was first developed.
Bishop Saenz said he plans to travel to each of the Great Plains Conference’s 17 districts in the fall to conduct town hall-style meetings so United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska are as informed as possible about the models. A presentation similar to the one developed in Arkansas will be created for use in the Great Plains Conference.
The two most recent possible alignments of The United Methodist Church have been presented to the Council of Bishops for consideration by the Commission on a Way Forward – a group comprised of 32 people from around the world after the 2016 General Conference. One model maintains a single church and removes restrictive language from the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of governance. A second model reorganizes the five U.S. jurisdictions into three branches, known as connectional conferences, with one branch being more progressive, one being more traditional and one taking into account the context for ministry for a given region. In the second model, annual conferences would decide to which connectional conference they belong, and individual congregations that differ with their annual conference could vote to affiliate with an annual conference in one of the other branches. If neither model is approved by the 2019 special General Conference delegates, the current Book of Discipline would remain in place.