If you drive by the parsonage, you may notice that there is another Camry parked outside. This is the conference car for Jenny’s new appointment as a District Superintendent. The conference provides each D.S. with a vehicle, not as a perk, but because it’s cheaper than paying them mileage. If Jenny drives the car for personal use, she’ll have to pay the conference back for the privilege, so you’ll probably see it sitting out in the driveway a lot.
The United Methodist Building is the only non-governmental building on capital hill. Their signs are almost always witty but profound. The latest iteration reads: “Standing together in solidarity six feet apart.”
I’m replacing a previous post with this one after hearing Bishop Saenz make clarifications at our Orders and Fellowship Meeting last Wednesday (January 15, 2020).
Bishop Saenz has released a letter to United Methodists in the Great Plains Conference about the recently released Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace. The protocol allows traditionalists to leave the United Methodist Church with their assets. Those of us who remain would retain the United Methodist name and organization. (Please remember that the UMC’s position cannot change until there is a vote of the General Conference.)
Under the protocol, local churches would not be required to take a make a decision or take a vote. I see nothing to be gained in taking a vote here at First UMC; nonetheless, I believe there is a great deal to be gained from the discernment process the Bishop put forth in his letter. I invite you to enter into a time of discernment with prayer, the reading of scripture, and requests for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Please also note that while the letter refers to progressives, centrists, and traditionalists for the sake of clarity, there are very few United Methodists who fall cleanly and completely under any of those categories. (The Bishop told conference clergy, at a meeting last Wednesday, that he regretted the use of the binary categories of traditional and progressive in the letter.) I would urge you not to let these labels, and the place they have in our political discourse, skew your discernment. As the Bishop noted at our Clergy meeting, the post-separation United Methodist Church will have a place for everyone: progressives, centrists, and even conservatives. As he said, “Nobody is told to leave, everyone is invited to stay.” The United Methodist Church will continue to be a place of diverse theological backgrounds and outlooks.
There’s an updated version of this post here: https://bit.ly/2twyCSX.
Leaders of diverse factions within the United Methodist Church are offering a plan of separation to avoid further infighting within the church over LGBTQ+ inclusion. You can read the article, the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” itself, and a set of FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) online.
If any of this inclines you to leave, please come talk to Jenny or I first. I have nothing further to offer below but idle speculation:
1. I think the chances of this passing are pretty good. [But I also thought that about the One Church Plan, which failed to pass.]
2. I have no reason to imagine that Abilene First will not remain a part of the United Methodist Church.
3. Even if the plan of separation passes (a big if), I do not think non-affirming folks in this congregation need to worry about an openly LGBTQ+ pastor being appointed here anytime soon. I believe that the conference knows that this church is not ready for that. I would remind you that were a woman appointed here as senior pastor (and not as part of a clergy couple), that in and of itself would be a first. Members of the congregation who are ready for an LGBTQ+ clergy person will have to content themselves with the fact that such folks are being appointed within the denomination. (Remember the above disclaimer about all this being only idle speculation.)
4. Regardless of what happens at general conference, I would encourage the Church Council to endorse Jenny’s and my decision to only perform weddings when at least one person in the couple is an active member of the church (or a previously active youth who graduated and moved away). That would mean that when the issue of a gay wedding arises for this particular local church, it will come up within the context of a beloved member wanting to get married in the church to which they belong. I know of no LGBTQ+ members of this church who are currently engaged. My goal here is not to cut down on the number of gay weddings in particular, but to cut down on the number of weddings that are simply using the building as a backdrop.
A helpful text from my mother pointed out that I did not include a link to the resolution with the underlined and crossed out changes. Here it is: https://revcollins.com/gpac-petition/.
We have been overwhelmed by the response to John’s resolution. We expected 300 supporters total not more than 300 supporters in less than 24 hours. We are unable to keep up. I thank those who have already responded, but we would please ask you to respond again through this Google Form which will automatically tabulate the results. If you cannot, we’ll migrate your information for you. I apologize for the inconvenience. Please feel free to share the link below.
Blessings, John Collins
In response to the 2019 General Conference, I’ve written a Resolution for the Great Plains Annual Conference. You can find it here: https://revcollins.com/gpac-petition/. Clergy and any members of any local church in the Great Plains Annual Conference (that’s us) can sign it. Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m doing this manually instead of on a site to try and make sure that everyone who signs up is in the Great Plains Annual Conference. But with over 300 responses already we’re a little bogged down. You can help by clearly listing which of the following applies to you: 1. Clergy Member of the Conference; 2. Lay Member of the Conference; 3. Member of a Local United Methodist Church (if so please include the name of the church, and the town/city and state). Thank you for your support.
I’ve been reading some of the coverage of the recent General Conference in non-United Methodist News Outlets. Many of them are missing a key element in their stories. That missing element is the fact that much of what was passed by General Conference was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council (the UMC’s version of the United States Supreme Court) before it was even adopted. What was ruled unconstitutional before it was approved will almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional when the Judicial Council meets again April 23-25, 2019.  That means we’ll have to wait until then to really know where things stand. I’ve also read several stories that assume those who affirm LGBTQ folks will leave the church. That has not happened in the past. In the past, it has been the non-affirming churches that have left. I may very well be wrong, but my guess is that past is prelude.
 Linda Bloom, “Wrap-up: Judicial Council at GC2019,” United Methodist News Service, February 27, 2019, http://bit.ly/2T5xn8T.
The 2019 General Conference just approved the traditional plan (by a vote of 438 (53.28%) to 384 (46.72%)). Much of the plan was ruled unconstitutional before general conference by the Judicial Council (the UMC’s version of the Supreme Court). Most of the parts that were ruled unconstitutional were not amended before the plan was passed and thus are, one assumes, still unconstitutional. We’ll have to wait a while to learn the exact impact of today’s action by the General Conference.
As for Abilene First United Methodist Church, we are still a church of open hearts, open minds and open doors. All people, and all means all, are welcome at First United Methodist Church.
If you are hurting because of this decision or concerned about what will happen next please feel free to text or call Jenny or I.
Tomorrow (Saturday, February 23, 2019) delegates from around the world will gather for a special called General Conference Session in St. Louis, Missouri.
The first day of the conference will be devoted to prayer. We know the power of prayer in our congregation to provide healing and comfort, strength and peace. The results of prayer can change lives, we have witnessed this time and time again in our lives and the lives of our church family. Bishop Saenz has prepared a video detailing this day of prayer. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2GWlHy9.
On Saturday, I will be praying for the delegates, Bishops and staff at General Conference, as well as for our denomination and all United Methodists around the world. I invite you, wherever you happen to be on Saturday, to join me. This is an anxious time for our denomination. By centering ourselves in prayer as General Conference begins, perhaps the anxiety can be lessened and we will have a greater sense of the Holy Spirit surrounding all of us in the days ahead.
Legislative sessions for General Conference will begin on Sunday, February 24, 2019 and continue through Tuesday, February 26, 2019. If you are interested in watching the conference via livestream, you may do so by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/2SZMsZW. (Note: the livestream has already started, at present there seems to be a band rehearsing.)
A word of caution. There will be a lot of information coming out via social media and secular media in the next few days. Please check your facts before sharing that information and remember that it isn’t over until it’s over. At the end of each day of conference there will be a daily wrap up sent out through the official United Methodist News Service. I will work to get the updates posted here so that you can see them. If you have any questions, please call, text or stop by the church. Jenny and I will do our best to answer all of your questions.
Remember too, that in the midst of all of this God still loves us, Jesus Christ still reigns at God’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit remains with us.
For the past two weeks, I’ve meant to write a calming, pastoral letter about the upcoming called General Conference meeting in a few weeks, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. Then, today, I received the following in the mail from Mainstream UMC. I’ve decided to share it instead of writing one of my own.
The One Church Plan is a strong, calm oasis among the clanging gongs and noisy cymbals of the other options at General Conference. This well thought out One Church Plan was created by the Commission on the Way Forward, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, and upheld by the Judicial Council. It is not radical. It does not force anyone out of the church or segregate us by belief. The One Church Plan maintains the Unity of the Church to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
This rational plan stands in stark contrast to the chaos and crisis being ginned up by those who seek to divide the church. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) posted another alarmist essay with made-up numbers guessing that “hundreds of congregations in every conference could lose twenty, thirty or forty percent of their membership” with the One Church Plan. Chris Ritter posted a guest blog that predicts, without evidence, “several hundred thousand US members will depart the existing denomination within 18 months” of the OCP passing. Tom Lambrecht has said plainly on video, “It is not possible for us to be in one denomination together.”
Schism is only possible if there is chaos and crisis. So those who seek to divide must create both.
The best thing we can do ahead of General Conference 2019 is take a collective deep breath. The 2016 General Conference asked the Bishops to lead. The Commission on the Way Forward represented all of us. They worked prayerfully for two years and came up with the One Church Plan as a genuine solution. Nearly 2/3 of the Council of Bishops prayerfully endorsed the One Church Plan. The Judicial Council prayerfully evaluated the One Church Plan and unanimously agreed that the United Methodist Constitution, “permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality.”
The leaders of our church have prayerfully, calmly, and decisively spoken.
While some splinter groups are banging a drum of chaos and crisis, the leaders of our church have positioned us for mission and ministry in our diverse settings for the years ahead. Our leaders have reminded us, the only issue that should define our life together is faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Please pray that the Delegates of the 2019 General Conference can tune out the noise and follow the graceful way forward our leaders have prepared.
I would also add that the One Church plan will not change anything in our local church without the approval of this local church itself (by a vote of either the Church Council or a Charge/Church Conference).