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Special Session of the General Conference 2019

Featured Special Session of the General Conference 2019

GCAH General Secretary Fred Day offers his reflections on the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference. This page will continue to be updated.

Day 1

Good morning from St. Louis and the Special Called Session of the General Conference meeting in this Great gateway-to- the-frontier-city. Woke-up with TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE whispering in my ears and tugging at my heart. This is THAT day, UMC. My we greet it and live into this time of holy-conferencing ripe with the fruits of the Holy Spirit — “affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” (Galatians 5:22-24, The Message) And may all that we deliberate, decide and do reflect our “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” heritage. May we look back on these days “lost in wonder, love and praise” at how God will use us to touch the world with hope and new life.

Day 2

The work today began with a Service of Morning Prayer with Bishop Ken Carter, President of the Council of Bishops preaching from Ephesians 2:13-16, 3:20-21 and 4:1-3. He challenged the Conference to be convicted by the Rule of Taize —“Never resign yourself to the scandal of the separation of Christians who so readily profess love for their neighbor and yet remain divided. Make the unity of the body of Christ your passionate concern.” This rule echoes scripture: “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Moving to business thereafter, the Conference is caring for organizational business — roll call, agenda, calendar and administrative committee reports and a report from the Council of Bishops and Commissions on a Way Forward. That Commission’s work-product is the basis for this special Session of the General Conference and decisions the Conference will make about how the UMC move into the future leaving behind its near 50 year impasse over human sexuality and the degree of including LGBTQ persons in its life, mission and ministry.

Lest such organizational work seem mundane, this will be some of the most important work we do, namely electing legislative officers who will lead an 864 member committee of the whole in prioritizing the legislation to come before the Conference. 

The famous quote comparing political processes to sausage making comes to mind. The words come from Lord Bismarck of 19th century Germany who said: “if you want to respect sausage or law DON’T watch either being made.” Reflecting on these words I do not sense Bismarck a cynic as much as a realist about the way of the world — even in the life of the Church. If you are like me, you love the smell sausage sizzling in the morning but don’t think much on how it is made. 

Cooking-up who and what the UMC will become these next few days and grinding all the complexities of any effort at a life-together, may the new-life energy of the Creator, the boundless love of the Redeemer and the abundant fruits of the Spirit be alive and thrive through the work of the General Conference. 

In the words historic prayers that express United Methodist DNA and aspiration, may we embody our original missional manifesto of “spreading scriptural holiness” (NOT biblical literalism OR holier-than-thou-ness). May the UMCs conjunctive theology of piety AND social holiness, inward faith and outward experience inseparably bound “kindle a flame of holy love leaping and running in an inexhaustible blaze spreading to the uttermost parts of the earth” and thereby “ignite faith that has cooled” to be vibrant and life-giving.

Day 3

Day 2 ended with organizing the GC to prioritize and vet the legislation to come before the body for eventual action. That work (described below) was accomplished by adjournment and sets the table for what the Conference will do today. 

The Conference voted to consider the WesPath recommendations for managing pensions for clergy exiting the UMC received first priority for legislative consideration.  
The priority given to the plans offered was in the following order as “high priority”: 

1. Traditional Plan with 459 delegates (55.5%)
2. One Church Plan with 403 delegates (48.67%)
3. A Simple Plan with 153 delegates
4. Connectional Conference Plan with 102 delegates

Other “high priority” items include matters pertaining to various Exit and Disaffiliation plans. 

The prioritization above is not definitive of the outcome of the Conference, but they indicate that more than 1/2 the body considered the Traditional Plan deserved high priority and fewer than 1/2 considered the One Church Plan high priority. 

Today, Day 3, the delegates will meet as a legislative committee to consider all the petitions before the body and fit them for GC final action. 

It is evident we continue to be an very divided Church on issues of human sexuality. It is also very evident that groups worked into the wee hours of the morning in an effort to build coalitions and make their plans more acceptable. 

The image I suggested yesterday comparing political processes to sausage-making continues to grind. God help us and Lord have mercy in our toil and travail. 

Charles Wesley is singing in my ears:

1. Blest be the dear uniting love 
that will not let us part; 
our bodies may far off remove, 
we still are one in heart. 

2. Joined in one spirit to our Head, 
where he appoints we go, 
and still in Jesus' footsteps tread, 
and do his work below. 

3. O may we ever walk in him, 
and nothing know beside, 
nothing desire, nothing esteem, 
but Jesus crucified! 

4. We all are one who him receive, 
and each with each agree, 
in him the One, the Truth, we live; 
blest point of unity! 

5. Partakers of the Savior's grace, 
the same in mind and heart, 
nor joy, nor grief, nor time, nor place, 
nor life, nor death can part.

Day 3 addendum...... DO NOT MISS THIS ROUSING MOMENT that brought many in the General Conference to their feet “lost in wonder, love and praise.”

Day 4

Day 3 closed with the General Conference operating as a legislative committte of the whole perfecting and deciding on what petitions it would bring forward to day 4, the Conference’s last and most decisive day. 

Regarding the most anticipated outcomes: 1) the Traditional Plan was approved (461 / 56.2% to 359 /43.8%) 2) ) The One Church Plan was rejected (386 votes / 46.96% for and 436 votes / 53.04% against; 3) The Simple Plan was rejected 323 votes / 29.53% for and 494 votes / 60.47% against. 

As a result, on Day 4, ONLY the Traditional Plan is slated come to the plenary from the legislative committee, though delegates will likely bring other plans to the plenary as minority reports. 

IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO NOTE that there are significant constitutional challenges to be faced by The Traditional Plan with Judicial Council ruling(s) to be relaeased early in the day. These will likely effect the TP’s viability and open new or different paths for General Conference action in forging the way forward. 

Before the gavel comes down on the General Conference tonight at 6pm tonight, there’s much still to be discerned and decided. Nothing is settled. Keep the faith! KEEP THE FAITH! 

I hope you will join me letting your heart and soul abide in this deep Methodist memory as penned by Charles Wesley: 

What troubles have we seen, 
what mighty conflicts past, 
fightings without and fears within since we assembled last.

Yet out of ALL the Lord
hath brought us by his love 
and still he doth his help afford and hide our lives above. 

Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power 
which saves us to the uttermost to the uttermost til we can sin no more.

To read the full report from UMNS, click here.

The day after the Special Called General Conference, St. Louis ....

It’s taken some time to process let alone to put forth a reasonable word about the heart-wrenching (from all points of view!) conclusion of the Conference.

I needed to take a breath before my frustration, anger and tendency to negatively predict had the first word. A colleague reminded me that when an aircraft is in distress enough that the oxygen mask deploys, the word is to first breathe deeply yourself before endeavoring to help someone else. Thanks Jeremy. With my deep breathing, this classic prayer: “New every morning is your love, Great God of Light and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us a desire to serve you, to live peaceably with our neighbors and to dedicate ourselves to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ the Lord.” (The Office of Morning Prayer, The United Methodist Hymnal.)

When the Bishop Ken Carter’s benediction brought the gavel down at 6:30 pm CT on February 26 (Methodists yielding America’s Dome to a Monster Truck Show — see future posts), The Traditional Plan (TP) was the Conference’s decided way forward by a vote of 438 (53.28%) to 384 (46.72%). This translates to The Book of Discipline’s language about ordination of LGBTQI persons and same-sex marriage being maintained with some streamlining some enforcement processes. 

The delegates directly thereafter voted to review the constitutionality of the legislation which had been previously and, more than once, held as unconstitutional.

It will take some time for the Judicial Council to clarify these matters. Further, the legislation (including dissaffiliation and exit strategies) does not take effect any sooner than January 1, 2020 with lots of constitutional scrutinizing between now and then. The Judicial Council next meets in April. I’d be surprised if our justices didn’t leave St. Louis with lots of items for reading and review. 

It is very legitimate to ask what will be left of The TP after yet another judicial review on matters the court has decided. It is also reasonable to wonder whether their decision(s) will contain the items TP proponents say are requisite to their remaining in the UMC. 

Though there is a clear message of increased intolerance for and enforcement against the UMC’s faithful LGBTQI constituency, the conference adjourned as unsettled and unsure of itself as it began. The analogy of the work of law and politics as sausage making that opened my blogs on Day One remains apt. (The smell of sizzling sausage in the morning is wonderful BUT no one thinks for a second what it took to get it on the pan.)

In the meantime Bishops will hold informational meetings for clergy and laity in their annual conferences in attempt to dialogue about what just happened and keep the Church mission focused.

God help us. God hold us to the word already on our books about the “sacred worth of all persons.” God forgive us for the damage done and fears of more to come. 

A few things worthy of note after my initial agita has settled some (but not completely): 

•    The decisive vote was extremely regionally divided with an estimated 65% of US delegates favoring The One Church (Contextual Ministry) Plan and 85% of the delegates outside the US in favor of the TP.

•    The clear and decisive majority of those who spoke for the TP and against the OCP were from outside the US. UMs still haven’t mastered the intricate levels and tricky nuances involved in operating as a global church. 

•    Even after the Judicial Council meets in late April, it may well be that little will change functionally from the present Discipline form and practice on matters this General Conference set out to settle.  

•    Colleague and friend from UMCom Heather Hahn wrote this day after report. Excellent and comprehensive summary. Great job by Heather as always.

Keep the faith!