Southwest Kansans got to learn and speak their piece about the proposals for the future of The United Methodist Church in a town hall meeting with Great Plains Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.
About 340 people filled the sanctuary of Garden City First United Methodist Church on Sept. 9 to discuss the three known plans regarding human sexuality issues leading up to a special session of the General Conference in February in St. Louis.
Bishop Saenz explained the structure of The United Methodist Church, from the local churches to the quadrennial General Conference, and outlined the three plans that are scheduled to be put before the delegates: One Church, Connectional and Traditional.
He said the delegates have a chance to make a statement about the future of the denomination.
“I think this will be our finest hour,” Bishop Saenz said. “We can model what it means to be people of faith in the 21st century.”
The bishop asked for questions from the audience rather than statements favoring one ideology over another.
“There are people highly committed on both sides of the issue,” he said.
Lay members in the audience said they remain conflicted after hearing more explanation about the tree plans.
“All three plans have problems,” said Martin Miller, a member of Dodge City UMC. “No matter which plan happens, there’s no guarantee I’d be able to stay.”
Miller said he’d researched all three of the plans before coming to the meeting.
“It clarifies parts of the different plans,” he said. “It led me to think what I would do personally, depending on which one the conference chooses.”
Dr. Roger Fairbanks, a veterinarian and member of Cimarron UMC, says he’s “committed to the Traditional Plan, but every plan that will be considered promotes division.
“There’s no plan that promotes unity,” he said. “I think there’s problems with all of the plans.”
Fairbanks said he is afraid of the implications of a decision at the special session.
“Down the road, you’re going to lose a lot of churches and lose a lot of membership,” he said.
Two pastors attending have varying views on the plans.
Berniece Ludlum, pastor at Dighton and Beeler UMCs, attended as did 15 to 20 of her parishioners.
“I think it solidified my beliefs that the One Church is the way for us to go,” she said.
Ludlum said her churches have had several discussions about the issue and the plans.
“There are people on both ends of the spectrum and a lot of them in the middle,” she said. “But they’re open to having these discussions and really looking at it from all points of view.”
Rev. Terry Mayhew, pastor at Plains and Kismet UMC, said his congregations are concerned about the choices.
“They’re very concerned about being careful about who we associate with,” he said. “If we start saying we do ordain homosexuals, and we do (gay) marriages, what does that tell other people about us? Because that’s not our stand.”
A moment of levity came late in the session, as the bishop’s cellphone rang – with a call from his 84-year-old mother in Texas.
“Hi Mom, I’m in the middle of a meeting,” Bishop Saenz answered. “I’ll call you later, OK? Love you, mom.”
Hanging up the phone, he told the audience that his mother was his first spiritual guide.
“She was my Sunday school teacher,” he said, then laughed. “She’s the one to blame for this,” referring to his decision to live as a man of faith.
The fifth town hall is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, at Nebraska’s Norfolk First UMC.