Bishop on Way Forward

Bishop David Bard reflects on A Way Forward in June’s Joyful Journey blog.

BISHOP DAVID A. BARD
Michigan Conference

I am writing this before Annual Conference, knowing it will be printed afterwards. Let me begin by thanking all those who worked so hard to make Annual Conference happen. Since coming to Michigan as your bishop, I have been absolutely blessed by the quality of leadership I have had the joy of working with, lay and clergy, and that includes all the people who work so diligently to make Annual Conference happen. I am also grateful for each person attending Annual Conference. You all are among the wonderful leaders of The United Methodist Church here in Michigan, and it is a joy now to be working together as one conference.

Michigan is coming together as one conference even as The United Methodist Church is trying to discern the shape of its unity moving into the future. As was shared at Annual Conference, the Council of Bishops after receiving the final report of the Commission on a Way Forward, agreed to submit the three plans the Commission had been working on (Traditionalist, One Church, Connectional Conferences) to the 2019 General Conference, with a recommendation that the General Conference approve the One Church Model. The manner in which this will happen is that the One Church Model will be submitted as legislation, and the other models will be part of a longer historical narrative on the work of the Commission and the Council. It is important to note that the other models will have enough detail and substance to them that they could become substitute motions. Additionally, the Judicial Council has not yet ruled on whether other petitions with plans for a way forward might also be submitted. There will be no lack of legislative ideas going to the 2019 General Conference. Please also note that the final report from the Council of Bishops will be released in early July and I encourage you to read it carefully and prayerfully.

Without going in to all the details, which are still being finalized, allow me to say a few words about the One Church Model as a way forward for The United Methodist Church. The appeal of the model for many, including many of the bishops, is that the model is relatively simple (requiring no constitutional changes), it holds together important values that have been articulated in this process (expanding United Methodist witness, recognizing different contexts of ministry, seeking as much unity as possible given our diversity), and it offers space in two senses – space for and space between.

The One Church Model offers new space for LGBT persons in the church who experience the current language of The Book of Discipline and our denominational practices and policies as telling them they are deeply defective. I know that is not the intent of many who want to maintain current language and practice. They genuinely want to “love the sinner” while clearly identifying the practice of homosexuality as sinful. These people love Jesus, love the church and seek to live faithfully. There are other United Methodists who love Jesus, love the church, seek to live faithfully and think that we need to minister with and to LGBT persons while fully accepting them, holding their relationships to biblical standards of love, care and covenant faithfulness. The One Church Model offers space for congregations and conferences to determine how best to minister in their contexts, while not compelling persons to minister in ways that violate their conscience.

While offering space for differing ministries in differing contexts, the model also offers more space between persons whose views on the appropriate place of LGBT persons in the church differ dramatically. If we are to hold together values of expanding United Methodist witness and recognizing differing contexts, while seeking as much unity as possible, then we have to offer more space between United Methodists whose deeply held convictions differ. The One Church Model does not compel clergy to officiate at same-sex weddings and offers protection for their choices. The Model does not compel conferences to ordain LGBT persons. The Model offers some financial firewalls such as every episcopal area within the United States funding its own bishop’s expenses.

This One Church Model does not permanently resolve our conflicts and differences. Questions about LGBT persons and human sexuality are wrapped together with questions about reading the Bible, about what it means to love Jesus, love the church and live faithfully. For some it is clear. For some, the Bible condemns homosexual practice while enjoining us to love all, so inclusion matters but cannot mean condoning sin. For some, biblical justice demands the inclusion of all persons, and the history of the church suggests that we have often failed to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God – think the doctrine of discovery, think slavery, think the subordination of women. For some, our shared mission and the on-going conversation between us matters as we seek to love Jesus, love the church, and live faithfully.

The questions we need to ask as we approach General Conference 2019 are questions about space. How might we balance space for and space between in a United Methodist Church? Even knowing that such shared space created will continue to be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, is our shared ministry and mission worth the effort? Can we envision such shared space as a place where all are committed to love Jesus, love the church, and to live faithfully as we together work to make disciples of Jesus Christ so that lives can be different and the world transformed? Can such shared space be a place where we allow the winds of God’s Spirit to blow freely?

Another part of preparing for General Conference 2019 includes prayer. The Council of Bishops has been organizing efforts to “pray our way forward.” We participated in weeks of prayer together. Moving forward, this endeavor asks us to consider the following:

  • A weekly Wesleyan 24 hour fast from Thursday after dinner to Friday mid-afternoon. For those who health would make food fasts unadvisable, a fast from some other activity could be considered.
  • As the 2019 General Conference will be held February 23-26, 2019, you are invited to pause and pray for our church’s mission and for that General Conference for the four minutes from 2:23 through 2:26 am or pm each day.
  • Beginning June 2 www.UMCPrays.org will offer a prayer calendar.

This is all very heavy stuff, especially heading in to summer, so I also invite you to listen to these words from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.”

      I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

      into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

      how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields

Please listen again to these words from my recent pastoral letter: Breathe. Pray. Cultivate a mind of wisdom and a heart of peace and love. Listen well. Speak gently.

Summer affords us some time to rest and renew, to be idle (in appropriate ways!) and blessed and to breathe. Take time for that. One of the books I have on my summer reading list is Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day. Even amid all the turmoil in our world, even amid all the swirling conflict in the church, we need to be renewed within. To be idle and blessed and to breathe are practices of faith, evidences that we trust the goodness and graciousness of God. Furthermore, without inward renewal, we will be more reactive than responsive as we seek to find our way forward in the church and as we seek to live faithfully in the world.

Be Idle, Be Blessed and Breathe on This Joyful Journey.

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