Last week the United Methodist Church was in the national media headlines regarding a potential split in the denomination. A press release about a proposed agreement for separation sparked this media attention. Many of the secular headlines caused confusion, as they often do.
I am sure by now many of you have read these articles, commentaries, blogs and opinions about this new proposal. It is often my preference to prayerfully reflect before I comment in haste. I am grateful for the space you allowed me to do this. This past Sunday we celebrated Epiphany and I have found myself reflecting on Matthew chapter 2 where the wise men follow the light of the star. I would respectfully ask each of us to consider where we need to seek God’s light as we move through 2020. It will be imperative that we look for those Epiphany moments only God can provide.
First, the most important thing to understand about this proposal is that it is another piece of legislation that will come before the 2020 General Conference delegates. As a reminder, General Conference is the only voting body that can consider structural and policy change to our denomination. The next meeting is in May in Minneapolis, MN. The Alabama-West Florida elected four clergy and four lay delegates to represent us at this upcoming gathering. At this point, the proposal is something that will have to be voted upon by our delegates and the other 854 delegates in May. No changes to our denomination have been made thus far.
Next, there were many voices at the table to craft this proposal including Bishops, denominational leaders and representatives of interest groups. This shows me that progress has been made in allowing each of us to minister in the best way we feel God has called us to lead. However, as with any group, even within interest groups, people are not of one mind. Therefore, it remains to be seen if this proposal will be adopted by the aforementioned delegates. As with any legislation, it can be amended, passed or rejected.
If I can speak honestly, this proposal has caused a lot of emotional pain for me. Whether you were born a United Methodist or have recently found your place in our connection, you grieve the possibility of a denominational split. I have the same questions and uncertainty as many of you. You might be asking, “What does this mean for my church, my pastor, my ministry, my job, my calling to help others?” These are just a few uncertainties that I have heard from many of you. As your Bishop, I prefer to lead you in the best way I can but I simply cannot answer these questions, yet. What I do know is that the hope I have is in God.
This week we have had the honor of hosting the 2020 annual Southeastern Jurisdiction Bishops and conference leaders in Montgomery. As you might expect, we have discussed this proposal in depth and will continue to do so. There are so many questions and ideas to consider. Most importantly, how do we work best for the Kingdom?
I have asked time and time again that you remain focused on the mission of our church. The work of the local church is the heart of this denomination. I respectfully and humbly ask you to continue this work. Believe it or not, there are many United Methodist members sitting in your pews who know nothing about this plan, or any other plan. They come to church each week to hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ. Continue to lead these people in a way that is a reflection of Jesus’ love.
In my 41 years of ministry, this is one of the most uncertain times I’ve witnessed. The next few months will be emotional, challenging and exhausting. As your Bishop, I offer myself in any way to help you continue fruitful ministry in your corner of the world. I will be transparent with you and will communicate with you when appropriate.
I ask for your prayers and in turn, I will pray for you daily. Together, let us glorify Christ and show the world the best United Methodists have to offer.
David W. Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference
United Methodist Traditionalists, Centrists, Progressives & Bishops sign agreement aimed at separation
The agreement, the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, was achieved on December 17, 2019, and announced today.
The action comes amid heightened tensions in the church over conflicting views related to human sexuality after the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference failed to resolve differences among church members.
Legislation to implement the Protocol statement — an eight-page document detailing the terms of a split of the 13+ million-member denomination — is expected to come before the United Methodist General Conference for a vote at their legislative meeting in Minneapolis, Minn. in May 2020.
The 16-member group came together as an outgrowth of a consultation initiated by bishops from Central Conferences located outside the United States. The parties sought assistance from prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Feinberg, who served as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, along with a number of other complex matters, agreed to provide his services pro bono.
Meeting over several months, the unofficial group reached an agreement by signatories associated with all of the constituencies within the UMC for a mutually supported pathway for separation, bridging differences among other plans to be considered by the General Conference. “The undersigned propose restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person,” says the Protocol Statement.
The document’s signers include representatives from Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and the United States, and include persons representing UMCNext; Mainstream UMC; Uniting Methodists; The Confessing Movement; Good News; The Institute on Religion & Democracy; the Wesleyan Covenant Association; Affirmation; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Reconciling Ministries Network; and the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus; as well as bishops from the United States and across the world. The representatives have pledged to work together to support the proposal and develop legislation to implement it.
The Protocol anticipates the formation of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Once formed, the new church would receive $25 million over the next four years and give up further claim to the UMC’s assets. An additional $2 million would be allocated for potential additional new Methodist denominations which may emerge from the UMC. Acknowledging the historical role of the Methodist movement in systematic racial violence, exploitation and discrimination, the Protocol would allocate $39 million to ensure there is no disruption in supporting ministries for communities historically marginalized by racism.
Under the Protocol, conferences and local congregations could vote to separate from The United Methodist Church to affiliate with new Methodist denominations created under the agreement within a certain time frame. Churches wishing to stay within the UMC would not be required to conduct a vote. Provisions exist for entities that choose to separate to retain their assets and liabilities. All current clergy and lay employees would keep their pensions regardless of the Methodist denomination with which they affiliate.
Under the Protocol, all administrative or judicial processes addressing restrictions in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings, as well as actions to close churches, would be held in abeyance until the separation is completed. The Protocol also references a plan which calls for a special general conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Special Session would be to create regional conferences, remove the current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, and to repeal the Traditional Plan.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Bishop John Yambasu (Sierra Leone) stated, “All of us are servants of the church and realize that we are not the primary decision makers on these matters. Instead, we humbly offer to the delegates of the 2020 General Conference the work which we have accomplished in the hopes that it will help heal the harms and conflicts within the body of Christ and free us to be more effective witnesses to God’s Kingdom.”
The signatories to the Protocol have provided a FAQ document to provide additional information about the agreement. Comments and questions may be directed to the signatories at email@example.com.
A livestream event will take place on Monday, January 13, to provide further clarity and explanations of the plan by members of the Mediation Team.
This statement is being released by the Council of Bishops Office on behalf of the Mediation Team members.
Members of the Mediation Team
- Bishop Christian Alsted (firstname.lastname@example.org), Nordic-Baltic Episcopal Area
- Rev. Thomas Berlin (email@example.com), representing UMCNext, Mainstream UMC, Uniting Methodists
- Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton (firstname.lastname@example.org), New York Episcopal Area
- Rev. Keith Boyette (email@example.com), representing The Confessing Movement, Good News, IRD/UM Action, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association
- Bishop Kenneth H. Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org), Florida Episcopal Area
- Rev. Junius Dotson (email@example.com), representing UMCNext, Mainstream UMC, United Methodists
- Bishop LaTrelle Easterling (firstname.lastname@example.org), Washington Episcopal Area
- Rev. Egmedio “Jun” Equila, Jr. (email@example.com), Philippines Central Conference
- Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey (firstname.lastname@example.org), Louisiana Episcopal Area
- Bishop Rodolfo Rudy Juan (email@example.com), Davao Episcopal Area, Philippines
- Janet Lawrence (firstname.lastname@example.org), representing Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network
- Rev. David Meredith (email@example.com), representing Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network, member of UM Queer Clergy Caucus
- Patricia Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org), representing The Confessing Movement, Good News, IRD/UM Action, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association
- Dr. Randall Miller (email@example.com), representing Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries Network
- Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org), Ohio West Episcopal Area
- Bishop John K. Yambasu (email@example.com), Sierra Leone Episcopal Area
For questions or comments, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Our thoughts and prayers extend to all those affected by the shooting that took place Friday morning at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Our own, Rev. Chris Terrell, serves as a base chaplain and has been very involved in ministering to those on the base. Please join me in praying for this situation. I encourage you to lift this up in prayer during your worship services this weekend. I appreciate our Pensacola District Superintendent, Dr. Tim Trent, and clergy in the area who are ministering to those affected. As we move toward Christmas, may our community and world experience the Prince of Peace that is found in the Christ Child."
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Today, children and their parents can play together on nearby Blountstown United Methodist Church’s playground or meet in one of the church’s classroom’s.
Two years ago, the Blountstown UMC congregation, through its participation in the Alabama-West Florida Conference’s Next Steps process, decided to dream about its future, assess its current reality, and become a better version of itself.
As they worked through the Next Steps process, they discovered their community’s need for a safe, welcoming, neutral environment for supervised visitations.
“The church developed a mentality that we needed to open our building to the community rather than trying to safeguard and protect it,” said Rev. Nicholas Hughes, pastor of Blountstown UMC. “It’s a resource God has given us to minister. These are people who don’t go to our church, and it’s meeting a need.”
This January, the Conference will relaunch Next Steps, a collaborative and creative learning process to help congregations identify next steps in their mission and ministry.
“This is not just a program to help a church make a decision about what to do next. Next Steps is a process for how a church can take the next steps in its ongoing mission to its community,” said Rev. Bill Kierce, Alabama-West Florida’s Director of Congregational Vitality. “What Next Steps provides a church is the gift of a process. If they learn it, it will serve them from now on in making critical, strategic decisions on how to be engaged in their community.”
For Blountstown UMC, Next Steps was a useful process that helped them explore their past, answer some “difficult but necessary questions,” investigate their community, and, ultimately, ask, “who is our neighbor and how can we minister to them?”
Through the process, which included prayer walks through the surrounding neighborhood and conversations with community leaders, the congregation became more aware of the community’s needs and how they could help meet them.
“We can’t do everything, but we’ve learned that there are some things we can do and we ought to do,” Rev. Hughes said.
Ready for relaunch
Designed by ministry consultant Dr. Victor Dingus, Next Steps is based upon Dr. Lovett Weems’ model of church revitalization and transformation.
“Vic gave us a wonderful gift by starting Next Steps in our annual conference and then being gracious enough to hand it off to our conference leadership so we can multiply it,” Rev. Kierce said. “We took what he does and built on it and adapted it for our conference.”
As the conference prepares to relaunch the process and make it available to all congregations, 30 clergy have been trained as Practitioner Coach-Consultants (PCC).
“This isn’t anything new,” Rev. Kierce said. “We’re building on the success we’ve had, expanding it to be able to offer this opportunity to more churches.”
Each of the 30 coaches will only serve as a consultant to one church per year, he said.
“Our commitment is to make sure that every church that gets approved for a Next Steps consultation gets served thoroughly, adequately, and effectively.”
The Next Steps process is available to all churches, regardless of size. All that’s required, Rev. Kierce said, is a desire to learn the process and serve the community.
“Next Steps will really be for those churches that want to engage their community, who want to take the next step in their ministry.”
Reflect and engage
The required self-reflection and assessment are the most important pieces of the Next Steps process, along with the community assessment, said Dr. Doug Pennington, superintendent of the Marianna/Panama City District.
It’s important, he said, that a congregation have an honest and intentional look at whether or not they are engaged in their community. The Next Steps process requires such an assessment plus conversations with community leaders to learn of needs.
Dr. Pennington sees the fruit that Next Steps has produced at Blountstown UMC as they saw the needs in their community and began to help meet them.
“They have done this together and built a strong sense of unity, enthusiasm, and momentum in the congregation. The church has grown and reached new people and baptized folks,” he said. “I would love to see every church take whatever is the next step in helping touch their community for Christ.”
Not just another program
Next Steps is not just another program, another process for church health.
It is, at its core, an outreach-focused process and tool designed to help congregations become more engaged with their community.
“This is about doing what Jesus told us to do and giving purpose to the reason we breathe. As the body of Christ, we are here to serve our communities and the Kingdom,” Rev. Kierce said. “This isn’t an approach to helping churches survive. This is about re-engaging the purpose for which Jesus created us. I want to see churches rediscover and reengage the purpose for why they exist in their community.”
A lot of good was done and is still being done at Blountstown UMC and in the community as a result of Next Steps, said Rev. Nick Hughes.
Nothing, though, is better than the baptism they celebrated not long ago.
“Some remarkable things have resulted just by the seeds that were planted by Next Steps,” he said.
If you’re interested in taking the next step in your ministry and in your church’s engagement with your community, please contact either Rev. Bill Kierce or Sandy Gutting in the Office of Congregational Development or your District Superintendent.
Members and Friends of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church:
The Committee on Standing Rules has begun its work in preparation for the 2020 Annual Conference session, June 7-9, 2020, at Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL. The committee will be reviewing the Conference Standing Rules and recommending revisions.
Please be aware of upcoming deadlines specified in our Standing Rules:
- Any proposed changes to the Standing Rules should be received in writing by the chairperson of the Committee on Standing Rules no later than February 1, 2020. You may submit proposed changes by email to email@example.com or by mail to Shirley H. Woodie, 171 Meadowview Drive, Ozark, AL 36360.
- Resolutions shall be submitted to the Committee on Resolutions and Petitions by February 15, 2020, except in cases where it can be demonstrated by the author of a late petition that the situation which gave rise to making the petition was not apparent until after the deadline for petitions. The committee shall provide copies of all resolutions submitted by February 15 to all voting members present at the conference session. The maker of the late resolution shall supply these copies of his/her resolution if submitted after February 15. No resolution will be received on the last day of the session. The Chairperson of the Committee on Resolutions and Petitions is Rev. Christina Shaver. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Materials and reports to be included in the Book of Reports shall be in the hands of the Journal editor NO LATER THAN February 24, 2020. Please email materials and reports to Sarah McWilliams, Journal Editor: email@example.com.
If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Dr. Shirley Woodie.
Shirley H. Woodie, Chairperson
AWFC Committee on Standing Rules