By: Joey Butler (for UMNS) and Christa Meland
Before tackling the pile of petitions before them, delegates to General Conference 2016 voted to fill vacancies in key positions. And then, voting officially began.
Votes of note
Addition of bishops: Delegates narrowly defeated an effort to add two bishops right away, in Nigeria and in Zimbabwe. Instead, they favored the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to add five bishops after General Conference 2020.
“I think at its best, the addition of the bishops in Africa has the potential to strengthen the church there,” said Rev. David Bard. “But the bigger question for all of us is: Is the way we’re doing General Conference the best way to make the kinds of decisions we need to make? It’s really clear that, contextually, Africa and the U.S. have different issues and different needs. We need some kind of regional decision making.”
Tensions are mounting with regard to Central Conference issues, which will come up again later in the week. While the Central Conferences are growing and gaining a bigger voice within the global church, they are financially supported by the United States, where a growing number of people are advocating for more autonomy at a more local level.
Rwanda Conference: General Conference 2016 delegates approved a petition to make Rwanda a provisional annual conference of The United Methodist Church.
New study: The Ministry Study Commission titled “Deepening the Theology of Ordination” passed on the first consent calendar. It provides clarity around the meaning of ordination, sacramental authority and the Holy Spirit’s role in that.
Plenary pauses for Black Lives Matter demonstration
Chanting “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter,” close to 150 United Methodists swarmed the plenary floor at General Conference Monday to voice concern for the oppressed and marginalized. Clergy and lay men and women of all races—many wearing the rainbow stoles that signify full inclusion for LGBTQ—carried a banner proclaiming, “All #BlackLivesMatter: bisexual, transgender, poor, heterosexual, lesbian, gay, disabled, women, men, youth and children.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota delegates on the floor stood during the protest in solidarity with the protestors. “I stood in solidarity because I would like to see the church move in a direction that allows for more inclusion of LGBTQ people,” said Rev. David Bard. “For many of us, our hearts just ache. We’re struggling to find a little bit of space for more inclusion.”
Rev. Judy Zabel, who also stood during the protest, echoed Bard. “Jesus’ highest command is love God and love your neighbor,” she said. “When we make a group feel unwelcome in the church either overtly or through our policies, we are not being Christ-like we are not the hands and feet of Jesus… Civil obedience is to disrupt the status quo. It’s supposed to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. That’s what they were doing today. It’s a sign of a frustrated system and a signal to us that we have a lot more work to do on these issues.”
Shirley Durr, a Minnesota reserve delegate who was on the floor for Faye Christensen at the time of the protest, said she wished she was out there marching with the protestors. “We’re called to act with justice and to walk humbly with God,” she said. “I don’t think we always do that, especially act with justice.” She said white privilege and institutional racism are significant problems. Durr, who is an English teacher, believes education is key to solving these problems.
“God is the host for our “banquet,” be it General Conference or God’s “kingdom on earth,” Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said in her sermon on Monday at General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.
The Louisiana Episcopal Area leader reminded those attending General Conference 2016 that God calls all to “bear fruit for God’s sake.” Preaching from Matthew 22:1-14 and the parable of the king’s wedding banquet, she said God invites people to come as they are, but not to stay as they are.
Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle, a retired elder in Minnesota, sought a second eight-year term on the Judicial Council—the United Methodist Church’s top court. And Rev. Judy Zabel was nominated by Rev. David Bard to serve as the North Central Jurisdiction representative on the Commission on General Conference. Neither was elected.
As Africa University approaches its 25th anniversary, delegates to the 2016 General Conference took a few moments Monday afternoon to celebrate the Zimbabwean school. “You and The UMC have answered a call to witness through this transforming ministry,” Munashe Furusa, vice chancellor of Africa University, told delegates.
United Methodist Women called attention to the plight of poor and marginalized communities struggling with water contamination during a lunchtime rally May 16 at the Oregon Convention Center plaza. The event was part of the UMW Day celebration during General Conference, commemorating UMW’s upcoming 150th anniversary.
The May 16 session also contained celebrations for The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the church’s Four Areas of Focus and the 250th anniversary of John Street Church in New York City.
In other news
More than 1,500 United Methodist clergy have signed a letter stating they would refuse to fill the pulpit of a LGBTQ pastor who was removed for “God’s given sexual orientation or gender identity.”
United Methodist bishops have adopted a “Covenant of Accountability,” in which they pledge to work for church unity and remain in community with each other despite differences in Christian conscience.
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