More than 800 United Methodists in the Great Plains Conference heard the known options for the future of the denomination in the opening weekend of town hall meetings with Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.
“It’s important that we pause and pray and think through our way forward,” Bishop Saenz said at the first meeting, at Omaha St. Luke UMC, which drew approximately 350 people on Aug. 25. About 200 attended that afternoon’s session at Lincoln Trinity UMC, and more than 250 packed into Olathe Grace UMC the next day.
Bishop Saenz outlined the three plans presented by the Council of Bishops, after recommendations by the Commission on a Way Forward, including the anticipated effects for local pastors, churches, conferences and agencies with each plan.
The plans – One Church, Connectional Conference and Traditionalist -- will be discussed and voted upon at a special session of the General Conference, Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
Participants were asked to discuss each plan for several minutes at their tables, and those with questions about each plan could address the bishop.
“We’re not here to debate. We’re here to dialogue,” Bishop Saenz said at the Olathe meeting.
Some of those with questions shared their own life experiences, which informed their decisions.
Annette Dickman, a member of Omaha First UMC, identified herself as a lesbian during her question, and said that previous denominations to which she belonged would not acknowledge the fact that she was gay.
“God loves me, no matter who I’m in love with,” Dickman said during the Missouri River District session at St. Luke.
Those in the audience for the meetings said they learned a lot about the choices.
“I appreciated the opportunity to see all three plans spelled out,” Mary Hoover, a member of Elkhorn Hills UMC, said following the Omaha meeting. “This really helped inform me.”
The Rev. Don Brethauer, a retired pastor affiliated with Omaha First UMC, said the session reinforces his support of the One Church Plan. He supports and has contributed financially to the Mainstream UMC lobbying group.
“I think that’s the only way to preserve as much unity as possible in the church,” Brethauer said. “The other plans would be very divisive.”
Brett Horton, a member of Olathe Grace UMC, said he was encouraged by the conversations.
“It gave me hope that we would continue to have dialogue, and that we would continue to think about it going forward in a way will help,” Horton said. “We have to keep in mind that everyone wants to be loved, and as a church how do we do that? It’s a big calling on the pastors, the DSs (district superintendents) and everyone else.”
Deloris Pinkard, a member of Mason Memorial UMC in Kansas City, Kansas, said she was glad to hear the church wasn’t straying far from its intended roots.
“I was just so happy to hear that we have some people who are still thinking that we are about making disciples of Jesus Christ, no matter what these peripheral arenas happen to be,” she said. “I know they’re there, but we need to focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. Anne Kiome Gatobu, who was installed earlier that afternoon as the Kansas City District superintendent, urged congregations to take the information they have received and to keep talking about the issues.
“We need to initiate these kinds of conversations in our own churches,” she said.
The opening weekend was first three of 18 scheduled town hall meetings with Bishop Saenz, continuing through Nov. 17. The next is at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at Garden City First UMC in the Dodge City District.
The conference’s Forward in Unity page, constantly updated, includes resources such as Bible studies, books, sermons, prayers and videos.
Read the summary of the three plans that is being distributed at the town halls.
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.