Clergy Letter October 2019
Grace and Peace,
The last time we wrote a letter together in June, we thanked you for your participation in our church-wide conversations following the Special Session of General Conference. The letter also invited you to take the summer to continue your education and dialogue around the issues of the LGBTQIA community and the United Methodist Church. Finally, we promised you that we would follow up with you in the fall with information about General Conference 2020, the New York Annual Conference and SUM’s position on this topic. Before we do that, we want to assure you that what we’ve seen over the last few months affirms our previous certainty that an expression of Methodism that SUM can align with will emerge. What you will find below also affirms our belief that there will be a place for SUM to land so that we as a congregation can continue our work together.
General Conference 2020
Delegates for General Conference 2020 were elected during Annual Conference meetings across the United States in late Spring. These delegates, made up of an equal number of clergy and laity, will be tasked with voting on legislation at General Conference 2020. Many legislative proposals for the May 2020 General Conference have already been submitted with most of them offering a way forward that recognizes multiple expressions of Methodist doctrine though they all vary in what manner the larger UMC will continue in the future. Again, these proposals put forth roughly three plans -Traditional/Conservative, Centrist/Moderate and Progressive - which we have outlined below. Interestingly, many Annual Conferences had a strong reaction to the result of the Traditional Plan being adopted at the Special Session of General Conference in 2019, and as a result, a majority of the delegates that were elected hold moderate to progressive views. This is a marked change for many of the Annual Conferences.
NYAC Annual Conference
Our bishop, Bishop Thomas Bickerton, has been actively involved in direction-setting at the General Conference level, and he has also set a path for himself and the NYAC leadership to meet with clergy and lay leaders in clusters of churches throughout our conference this fall. In those meetings he will update us on the UMC’s direction as a whole and will listen carefully to the clergy and lay representatives about where each church stands on this issue. In other words, one of the important questions he will be asking is which expression of Methodism does each church most closely align with. He will meet with the Connecticut cluster on November 22in Torrington.
We think that SUM is in a good place to share where we stand with the Bishop. We have been creating space to allow all in the SUM community to learn, ask questions and reflect. Since February, we have intentionally created opportunities for all who desired to engage in educational events that featured connection and Christian conversation. However, we think it is time to draw our current reflections to a close and check the pulse of our congregation.
With that in mind, we will offer two church-wide meetings on November 3 and November 4 (the first after church and the second at 7PM) for updates, dialogue and an opportunity for a decision on our desired expression of Methodism. We’re asking that you attend one of the two meetings where will ask you cast a confidential vote on SUM’s stance towards the inclusion of LGBTQIA and the expression of Methodism with which you feel we should most closely align. We will tally the results after both meetings conclude, announce the results to the congregation, and share them in our meeting with Bishop Bickerton. However, it is important to note that while all are invited, only members of SUM may vote. If you are not currently a member of SUM but would like become one in order to vote at this important meeting, please let one of us know.
Friends, we have been walking a journey together, and we both look forward to continuing to discern where God is calling us. As we enter the month of October, you’re invited to pray for your church, its leadership and for a spirit of discernment before we gather. As always, if you have questions, comments or concerns Deacon Deb and I are available to talk or listen.
On the journey,
Pastor Gene & Deacon Deb
Sunday November 3 – Meeting #1
Monday November 4 – Meeting #2
Tuesday November 4 – SUM eBlast on vote results
Friday November 22 – Bishop’s visit with clergy and SUM lay leadership
A Traditional/Conservative expression holds to biblical inerrancy and is in full agreement with the current Book of Discipline stating that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This expression would maintain the punitive measures voted into place in the February General Conference which includes strong disciplinary action for clergy who perform same-sex marriages, vote to ordain openly gay clergy or ordain them as bishops.
A Centrist/Moderate expression is one that may not fully embrace the inclusion of LGBTQIA clergy, but it would allow for inclusion. It also likely wouldn’t engage in the strong disciplinary action as outlined by the Traditional Plan.
A Progressive expression fully embraces inclusion of LGBTQIA, and it calls for the removal of the language in the Book of Discipline stating homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This stance is based on the Methodist Social Principle of the full inclusion of all God’s children and the eradication of gender bias, racism, sexism, etc. Further, it also would not engage in the strong disciplinary action as outlined by the Traditional Plan.