Crowd at Hays town hall concerned over impact on local churches

David Burke


In a sometimes-spirited town hall discussion Oct. 28, some members of the Hays District said they believed United Methodist leaders are trickling the decision over human sexuality issues down to individual congregations through the proposed One Church Plan.

“That’s the whole issue, right?” asked Bob McCobb, a member of Russell Trinity UMC. “Now you’re going to pass it down to the local church to make them decide?

“We’ve been forced to do something you guys couldn’t do,” he said while asking a question during the town hall meeting.

Roger Kingsley, left, from Ellis UMC, asks a question of Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. at the Hays District town hall. Photos by David Burke

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., leading the 15th of his 18 town halls in the Great Plains to discuss the three proposals before a special session of the General Conference in February, said the General Conference delegates’ charge to the Council of Bishops to form a decision on human sexuality was comparable to that of Solomon in the Bible.

“(They were) saying, ‘Bishops, tell us how to slice the baby up,’” Bishop Saenz said, adding that such decisions would lead to heartfelt discussions at the local level rather than an edict from the top-down.

In the One Church Plan, supported by a majority, but not a super-majority of the Council of Bishops, individual churches would have the autonomy to decide whether to accept and LGBTQ pastor and whether same-sex weddings could be performed in their churches.

Several of those in the crowd of 260 at Hays First UMC who asked questions raised the scriptural context of homosexuality.

“I feel like we’re talking politics rather than God’s word,” said Judy Apy from Ransom UMC, who said she spent three months searching the Bible regarding the subject. “I feel the church is in danger of falling from God’s grace by adopting preconceits that cannot happen in God’s view.”

Bishop Saenz, who has remained impartial about the three plans, said nothing would be forced upon churches, particularly in the One Church model.

“I’m not here to twist your arm or convince you of something that’s against your values,” he said.

As he has done in recent town halls, Bishop Saenz noted there are five possible outcomes of the special session of General Conference – the One Church Plan could pass, the Connectional Conferences Plan could pass, the Traditional Plan could pass, a combination of one or more of the plans could pass, or the denomination’s polity could remain the same because of indecision. He acknowledged there likely would be changes made to each proposal by the time delegates complete their work in St. Louis.

“There will probably be a hybrid of the plans after our time together,” he said.

Following the 2½-hour town hall, several in the audience thanked the bishop for presenting the facts of the proposals and acknowledged the church would have to make some difficult decisions.

The Hays District co-superintendents -- the Rev. Dee Williamston, the Rev. Don Hasty (not pictured) and the Rev. Dennis Livingston -- lead a blessing of Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. at the conclusion of the town hall.

Julie Carter, from Jennings UMC, was near tears in talking about the divisiveness of the discussion.

“I was very sorry for the tone of the questions,” she said. “I feel bad when I hear people defend with Scripture, and in the same mouthful they talk about ‘those people.’ I just say ‘Love one another and trust God.’”

Jerry McReynolds, who attends Stockton UMC, praised the bishop for explaining each of the positions.

“It’s a really tough issue, and it’s obvious there’s a lot of people on different sides. It’s something we’re going to have to work through,” McReynolds said. “Where we go from here, I don’t know. I’m not in favor of some of these methods that’ve been used to force this upon us, but that’s the way our society is now.”

McReynolds predicted a hybrid of the plans will surface at the end of the discussion.

“I don’t think any of the three plans will survive at this time,” he said, “but I’m not a delegate.”

Gary Shike of Oberlin UMC said he felt discouraged after the town hall.

“I don’t see any solution. I really don’t,” he said. “I know what I’d like to see, but I don’t think I’m in a majority of my congregation.”

Among those asking questions of the bishop was Roger Kingsley, from Ellis UMC, who said following the town hall that he is “frightened that humanity has reached this point.”

“I’m upset that humanity is self-destructing. It doesn’t believe it is, but it is,” Kingsley said. “This is not Bishop Saenz’s problem. This is humanity.”

The next town hall will be in the Topeka District, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at Topeka First UMC.

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