While some of his colleagues have publicly endorsed one of the three plans for the future of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. says he is “taking the position of impartiality” when presenting the proposals to church members in the Great Plains Conference.
“From where I’m sitting, I see both sides of this concern,” Bishop Saenz said during one of his three stops in western Nebraska on Sept. 22-23. “It’s not that I’m neutral, I’m just trying to be impartial.”
More than 100 people attended each of two town hall meetings Saturday in the Great West District in Scottsbluff and Ogallala. About 150 attended a town hall Sunday in Cozad. The town hall meetings were three of 18 scheduled across the conference’s 17 districts.
Bishop Saenz outlined the history and structure of the United Methodist Church, and then detailed the three plans that are scheduled to be voted upon at a special session of the General Conference, in February in St. Louis.
The bishop said that he will return to several sites in both Nebraska and Kansas after the February special session and its result to discuss next steps for the churches.
“The real work is going to happen after February,” he said.
Bishop Saenz said each of the three plans – One Church, Connectional and Traditional – are grounded in Scripture.
“These are not baseless proposals,” he said. “That’s where the tension is, where we refer to Scripture.”
The bishop said he recognizes the differences of opinions among churches, individuals and even families over LGBTQ issues.
“Christians are deeply divided on this issue,” he said. “They are not all of one mind.”
Marcy Shalla, a member of Grant UMC, said she appreciated hearing the discussion about the plans.
“I think it clarified some things,” she said. However, “I don’t know if I’ve made a decision yet.”
Insung Kim, pastor of Tryon and Mullen UMCs, said the presentation gave him a “very clarified concept” of the proposals submitted by the Commission on a Way Forward.
Kim said his congregations vary in their opinions.
“One church is very interested in having this conversation, but another church is very conservative,” he said following the Ogallala town hall. “I wasn’t able to discuss it and the decisions of the church. I’m really praying about that.”
Kim Parde, whose wife, Alisa, is pastor of Culbertson Trinity and Trenton UMCs, said the Cozad town hall solidified his beliefs in the Traditional Plan.
“To me, we took vows with the United Methodist Church as Methodists with the Book of Discipline that’s there now,” Parde said. “If they change the Book of Discipline, then it’s not the same anymore as when we took our vows.”
Parde said the One Church plan defies Scripture in the Book of Matthew because it “serves two masters.”
The Rev. Neil Kloppenborg, pastor of Eustis and Farnam UMCs, said he read the proposals but appreciated the explanations that Bishop Saenz gave.
“I’m more clear about the process they’re going through and what the proposals are actually saying,” adding “It’s more clear what I want to do” while not disclosing his preference.
Kloppenborg said the two churches in his charge also have varied opinions.
“They’re very concerned about several things in one church,” he said. “In another church, they’re saying it doesn’t matter, whatever.”
Valerie Geiger, a member of Cozad UMC, said her “beliefs are very firm” after reading the 93-page report from the Commission on a Way Forward and Bishop Saenz’s discussion.
“I prayed a lot about it, and I’m not happy,” she said of the results of the commission.
“We spent how many millions of dollars that could have been spent feeding the hungry, that could have been taken care of needs, that could have done mission work. This was all unnecessary.
“I have no problem with anyone coming to this church,” Geiger continued. “We are to love everyone, I understand that. But I think when we cross over a point and change the way God wrote His holy word, then we’re messing with things. You cannot serve two masters. I feel very strongly that my church all of my life, and I’m 68, is done.”
The next town hall meeting – and the final one scheduled in Nebraska – will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Grand Island Trinity UMC.
David Burke, communications content specialist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.