As we announced last Sunday in worship, and as many of you have seen in the news, a group of 16 United Methodists from across the world, representing many of the streams of thought within our church, have been meeting with a professional mediator and have arrived at a unanimous agreement around “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation”. This mediation agreement is offered to the General Conference that will meet in May of 2020 as a possible template for a way through the current impasse that has remained within the church for over 40 years and has only grown more contentious since the actions of the February 2019 General Conference. While this is only a proposal, what is different about it from other proposals that have already been submitted for consideration by the General Conference is that the 16 people who have signed this protocol have pledged their full support and the support of the constituencies they represent, in taking action at the 2020 GC that will live into this protocol. Again, as it is only a protocol (basically a framework for navigating the future of the church), there are specific legislative details that will still need to be addressed at the General Conference. However, I believe the protocol helps in crafting the legislation needed to fulfill the framework of the protocol. All of that said, let me say again that final decisions around the acceptance or the rejection of this protocol can only be made at GC 2020.
As we said on Sunday, we encourage you to read the actual Protocol itself to be best informed on this issue. While some secular media reports have represented it well, others have been less than helpful in the ways they have summarized the protocol. It is always best to go to the actual source of the information you need. The following are links to:
I am available, as are all the pastors at Suntree, to talk with you about this Protocol and its implications for the future of the UMC. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions. Also, we will schedule opportunities for dialogue about this as we get closer to GC 2020. In the meantime, I offer these personal thoughts about this development:
First, I believe that this Mediation Protocol is a gift of grace to the church. It is a fair, grace-filled and loving attempt to resolve the conflict within the church around the question of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the total life of the church. It seeks to put an end to harm that this division has and continues to cause to persons and the witness of the church. It seeks to offer to the world a gracious witness that even in separation, the work of God’s grace is present as we respect and love one another enough to seek compromise that best benefits the good of the whole. And it seeks to enable the witness of the global UMC to thrive even as we bless new expressions of the church in different contexts.
Second, as I believe this Mediation Protocol is a gift of grace, I believe we need to respond to it with grace. Will it be hard? Yes. Is it sad to see any part of the body of Christ that is the UMC separate from the larger body? Absolutely. I have deep relationships with both pastoral colleagues and laity that I know will choose to become part of the new church that will emerge if this Protocol is followed. However, I realize that if those relationships are true and strong, we are bonded together more in our love for Christ and our desire to be faithful to Christ’s call in our lives than in our denominational affiliation. I love them enough to want them to flourish and thrive, even as I long to flourish and thrive in my ministry setting. Just as we have shared in deep relationship while holding different understandings of certain issues now, we can and will continue to share in those relationships and we must continue to extend grace and love to one another as we walk through this process.
Third, Suntree UMC will remain Suntree UMC, a body of Christ where throughout its history people who hold diverse understandings on any issue imaginable, live and love and serve together in the cause of offering Christ to our community and our world. That will not change. The Book of Discipline will probably change for the United Methodist Church in the US. For some that will be experienced as a gift. For others, that will be experienced as a challenge. But we have never all agreed on every aspect of our Disciplinary life together, just as we do not all agree about many other things. Still, we have chosen to love God, love each other, and love our neighbors in extraordinary ways, for the mission of Christ in this world, in this extraordinary expression of the body of Christ that is Suntree UMC. That is who we are and who, I pray, we will continue to be in the future.
Finally, I am a United Methodist pastor and I will continue to be a UM pastor in the future. The same is true for each of the pastors that serve at Suntree UMC. We are and will remain committed to serving Christ through the global UMC even as it changes and adapts. I’m also clearer than ever about Christ’s call in my life to offer pastoral leadership to Suntree UMC at this time in our life together. Just this morning, I was reading and reflecting on Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:7 “Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.” I am ever so grateful for God’s gift of grace that called me to ministry and brought me to this place of ministry at this time. It is a joy and a privilege to share in that calling with you.
In the meantime, there is much work to do in living out our call as disciples to live as salt and light and fulfill the work of Christ in the world. This Sunday, in worship we will be reminded of that call and that commission as we come again to the waters of baptism and renew our commitment to our baptism vows. This week we will begin a new message series “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” where we will explore the ways we can fulfill our baptism vows by seeking to build neighborhoods where love, respect, and compassion flow, where walls of division are dismantled and healthy, God honoring relationships can flourish. This series flows directly out of our 4D Vision commitment to reconciliation and bridge building in our church, community and our world as an expression of the reconciliation we know in Christ and in recognition of the diverse beauty of God’s creation. I look forward to beginning this journey in worship as we move into this new year and new season of mission and ministry together.
Grace and Peace,
PS - Thank you for your continuing response to our “Take the Next Step” Generosity Campaign! Estimates of giving to our mission and ministry for 2020 are now at $1,275,814. This represents an increase of over 32% from 2019 estimates. Thank you for taking the next step in generously sharing in God’s work here at Suntree UMC. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good!