Among the 150 people at the Council Grove United Methodist Church for the Flint Hills District town hall meeting Oct. 21 were five Emporia State University students, along with the Rev. Kurt Cooper, campus pastor.
The students, who met with Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. for an impromptu discussion following the two-hour town hall, said they had various amounts of knowledge of the human sexuality issues facing the denomination before the session.
“I’ve heard a lot about this through campus ministry,” said Abraham Ruffcorn, a senior from Basehor. “I didn’t really know what all was in store and in the plans.”
Ruffcorn said he came to the town hall wanting to learn more, “and I feel like I did.”
He and his fellow Emporia State students, who sat in the front row in the sanctuary, felt good about what they heard.
“I’m with Bishop Saenz, I’m optimistic about our future,” Ruffcorn said. “I think we have people who are thinking about our future, and I think God’s going to lead us in a way that’s right for our denomination.”
Bishop Saenz presented an overview of United Methodist church structure, and the three plans – One Church, Connectional and Traditional – that will be put before delegates at a special session of the General Conference, Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
In all but the Traditional Plan, Bishop Saenz said, congregations will have to determine their stances on same-sex wedding ceremonies and LGBTQ clergy.
“It’s a hard situation,” the bishop said. “We’re not talking about an issue, we’re talking about human beings.”
The Connectional Plan, where churches are joined by their stances and not geography, Bishop Saenz said, will come with a “resegregating” of the church, depending on their beliefs regarding sexuality issues.
“We’ll agree to disagree,” he said, “but we’ll still call each other brother and sister.”
Cathryn Harrison, a member of Emporia First UMC, said she is considering several gay children of friends as the church struggles to make its decision.
“They want to get married in this church because they were baptized in this church,” Harrison said. “They made a commitment.”
Harrison said the town hall “opened my mind a little more,” but knows the denomination needs to work through its differences.
“Like the bishop says, we need to find the things we’re united in,” she said.
Marvin Tischhauser of White City UMC is the Flint Hills District Lay Servant Ministry director.
He said the town hall confirmed what he had already believed was the future for the denomination.
“It just reaffirms for me that the One Church (Plan) is for me the only sensible way to go to keep our churches from imploding on each other,” Tischhauser said.
Tischhauser said he had heard most of the arguments for the three plans already, but thinks the full information needs to be studied by all church members.
“What I don’t think our laity understand is how democratic our church is, how equally voiced they are, and how they’re able to influence what our church does and the polity we have and the discipline and everything else,” he said. “I think it’s a great asset that we really don’t toot our own horn about, because we’re so different from other denominations.”
The next town hall is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, at Hays First UMC.