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).
There is a Church Council Meeting scheduled for Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. Family, Friends, and Allies will be bringing the following statement for approval as an official stance of our local church:
Aligning ourselves with the biblical witness, First United Methodist Church affirms Jesus’ example of inviting all people into God’s loving embrace. We believe that the diversity of our community enriches our journey together in faith. We welcome all people regardless of differences in the human condition including (but not limited to): race, sex, age, ethnicity, culture, marital status, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, educational level, and economic status. All people are welcome to join in our life together as we strive to live as a profoundly Christ-like church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors and work for the coming kingdom of God.
This action is not meant to be a controversial move in a new direction, but instead an explicit statement of something that has long been true in our church. Even non-LGBTQ-affirming members of our congregation have stated that they want to welcome all people, including LGBTQ folk, to First UMC. Furthermore this action in no way changes the denominational-wide stance of the UMC prohibiting LGBTQ ordination and marriage.* Please feel free to let me know what you think, but in the words of John Wesley, smite me gently.
*That’s regrettable in my opinion, but I’m aware that opinions vary.
Next Month (February) is one of the months when we look for volunteers from the congregation to host coffee and cookies after the 10:30 service, but I forgot to announce it Sunday. Anyone up to hosting? Please let me know.
Yesterday we sang the version of “Be Thou My Vision.” It put me in mind of the version that Francis Hendricks sang at Gary Coleman’s funeral. Here it is (from Francis’s own notes):
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me save that thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be my compassion, my love of the poor.
Break my distraction, so I can’t ignore.
The least of your children, the ones you adore.
For by them, Jesus, I worship you Lord.
Lord make us healers, of body and mind.
Give us the pow’r to bring sight to the blind,
Love to the loveless, and gladness for pain,
Filling hearts with the joy of your name.
High God of heaven, when vict’ry is won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’ns Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
“It is as impossible for us to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle.
All-wise. All-powerful. All-loving. All-knowing. … God cannot be expressed but only experienced.
In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but can only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands. The way he carries his cross. The way he carries me.’ ”
— Frederick Buechner 
 Frederick Buechner, “God,” in Wishful Thinking (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 36-37.
This coming Sunday (January 27, 2018), I’ll be kicking off a new sermon series titled “Confirmation for Adults.” This being the first Sunday, I’m going to start with a sermon about the nature of the Triune God we worship. We’ll also have a piano special (at the 10:30 service) from Todd Gugler. Hope to see you there.
Even after preaching last Sunday, I’m preaching this coming Sunday and probably the Sunday after that because Jenny’s has a lot on her plate—including some duties for the Great Plains Annual Conference, that I’m thankful I don’t have to do.
A Service of Death and Resurrection for Phyllis Newell will be held this coming Saturday, January 26, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. A visitation will follow.
Abilene Schools have cancelled classes and activities for Wednesday (January 23, 2019) and we are doing the same. The church office will be closed. Power & Light, Communion, Choir, Youth Group, and Bell Choir are all cancelled. We encourage you to stay inside with a good book, or perhaps even The Good Book.
Abilene Schools are closing due to the ice and the fact that the weather is getting worse. For that reason, First UMC is also closing at noon today (January 22, 2019). We encourage you to stay home, stay warm, and stay safe.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
The quote above is from his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. It is a profoundly Christian sentiment, because those who follow Christ affirm that God is (unconditional) love and Jesus is the way, the (unarmed) truth, and the life. The resurrection is the downpayment that guarantees that truth and love will win in the end.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech,” Nobelprize.org, accessed January 21, 2019, http://bit.ly/2MkeHeY.
At our meeting in Kansas City, I heard one of the best “explanations” yet of the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
“In one of Jesus’s wildest parables, he compares the kingdom to laborers picked up to work at all hours of the day (Matt. 20:1–16). The ones who work an hour are given a day’s wage. The ones who work all day expect ten times as much, but they also get the same amount. The employer is fair to them. He’s just exceedingly generous to the ones who worked less. In other words, God is fair at the end of all things. And God is generous far beyond fairness. When God takes stock of all things, God will be generous far beyond what we were able to muster workwise.”
— Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell and Jason Byassee 
“God is fair at the end of all things. And God is generous far beyond fairness.” That is good news. Let us set fear aside and simply do our best.
 Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell and Jason Byassee, Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2018), 133, Kindle.