Forward in Unity team prepares for annual conference presentations

Todd Seifert


Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. talks about the recent Council of Bishops meetings while the Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina District superintendent looks on during the May 16 Forward in Unity Process Team meeting. Photo by Todd Seifert

The Great Plains Conference’s Forward in Unity Process Team heard a message about interpretation of scripture from the Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the denomination’s largest church, and discussed how best to share information with people who attend the upcoming annual conference session during the team’s meeting May 16 in Topeka.

The team – comprised of pastors, lay people, district superintendents and conference staff – gathered in the new conference office to review the proposal handed forward by The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops regarding human sexuality. Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. shared insights from the council’s meetings April 29-May 4 in Chicago and presented discussion questions for the team aimed at helping members sort through known details about a way forward for the denomination. The bishop also led discussion about how to present factual, clear information to attendees of the annual conference session.

“There were times in our deliberation where we got stuck,” Bishop Saenz said about the council’s meetings to decide on which recommendation to send to the special General Conference set for February 2019 in St. Louis. “Prayer throughout our deliberations led us forward.”
The Rev. Adam Hamilton explains his interpretation of scripture about human sexuality during the Forward in Unity Process Team meeting in Topeka. Photo by Todd Seifert

The bishops wanted to honor and affirm the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, Bishop Saenz said. The commission, formed after the 2016 General Conference in Portland, is a group of 32 people from around the world serving in various capacities in the denomination who were tasked with providing a recommendation for helping the church move forward amid disagreements over human sexuality.

Ultimately, a majority of the bishops voted to recommend what has become known as the “One-Church Model.” If that model is adopted, restrictive language related to LGBTQ persons serving as pastors and the performance of same-gender weddings by clergy would be removed from the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of polity and governance. Under this proposal, language would be added that protects the prerogatives of pastors and churches who choose not to perform or host same-gender weddings and Boards of Ordained Ministry and bishops who choose not to credential or ordain LGBTQ persons.

Bishop Saenz explained that there was not a super-majority of bishops supporting the One-Church option, meaning there was enough support for the two other options that the council decided to include those plans. The Traditional proposal would uphold the current Discipline. The Connectional Conference plan would require annual conferences to determine whether they would support same-gender weddings and LGBTQ people to be ordained, and churches that don’t agree with that stance would be allowed to join an annual conference that matches their affinities.

Bishop Saenz said an overwhelming majority of the council voted to share the recommended One-Church Model along with the other two for information purposes to ensure the effects on the various segments of the United Methodist Church are understood before taking action – local churches, clergy, annual conferences, Council of Bishops, general agencies, UMC-related institutions such as camps and colleges, the global church, financial and pensions considerations, and the mission field.

Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, leads the largest church in the denomination. A well-known author of books and Bible studies, Hamilton shared some of the concepts in his book “Making Sense of the Bible.” He acknowledged that interpretation of scripture is difficult, but the basic teachings of Jesus should be easy for followers of Christ to grasp.

Hamilton shared his testimony and how he has studied scripture intently over the years since accepting Christ as a teenager. Hamilton used a standard kitchen colander to illustrate how he views scriptures from the Bible. He explained that many Old Testament scriptures are no longer followed, from instructions to kill people for what we consider to be small offenses today to prohibitions on some of the foods we eat.

He said regardless of where people stand on human sexuality issues, the message of love for all people should wash through for everyone.

“Love God, love neighbors, do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Hamilton said while holding up the colander. “It strikes me Jesus is telling us that love should win out above all things, if you can distill it all down. Jesus is the colander, really.”

Plans for sharing information at annual conference are still being refined, but a listening session is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In that setting, the bishop will share the basic details of the One-Church Model as well as some of the key elements of the Traditional and Connectional-Conference models. Participants will have a chance to take part in some of the same discussions as members of the Forward in Unity Process Team.

Approximately one hour is set aside in the annual conference session plenary time for a quick overview of the three models and a presentation on the book “The Anatomy of Peace,” a publication by the Arbinger Institute being used across the denomination as a means of helping people engage in respectful conversations. The book is a story of a man’s strained relationships with his son, wife and employees at his startup business. The institute helps individuals, teams and organizations move from the often-default self-focus and an inward mindset to an outward mindset that sees and treats others with respect.

Arbinger’s book promotes the concept of seeing all others with whom a person interacts as people instead of as objects. The premise is that by objectifying people, it becomes easy to “horribilize” them and justify discounting their stances, beliefs and worth. Through the narrative, readers learn how to become self-aware of the “box” they often find themselves in when in conflict, and the various justifications for their thinking that keep them in that box. Then they learn strategies for getting out of the box and for achieving personal peace and harmony in all human interactions: in the home, at work, in the community, and for our purposes, in the church.

The Rev. Nathan Stanton, director of congregational excellence, will lead the presentation on “The Anatomy of Peace.”

Bishop Saenz concluded the Forward in Unity Process Team meeting by sharing that he will visit all 17 Great Plains districts for town hall meetings to share details of the three models. Details of times, dates and locations will be released as soon as they are solidified. The first meetings are expected to be in late August, with all meetings concluded just prior to Thanksgiving. They will take place on Saturdays or Sundays to allow for more laity to attend.
Contact Todd Seifert, communications director, at

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