The 2016 General Conference came closer to addressing the irreconcilable conflict in The United Methodist Church (the “UM Church”) than any prior church-wide gathering. The General Conference was confronted with unprecedented circumstances. Conflict over doctrinal and ethical issues was not new. However, sustained and organized disobedience of the church’s settled and agreed upon doctrine and polity without accountability was new.
As a result, the UM Church acknowledged it was deeply divided. Mistrust in the institution’s leadership has only escalated in recent years. Warning signs abound of an entity in a death spiral, including declining worship attendance, aging congregations, escalating closure of churches, and the necessity of consolidating districts and annual conferences.
The creation of the Commission on a Way Forward (the “COWF”) by the Council of Bishops (the “COB”) at the direction of the 2016 General Conference represented an effort to stop the hemorrhaging and reverse the decline. Eighteen months have elapsed since the adjournment of the 2016 General Conference; nothing new has been placed on the table. The three sketches recently proposed by the COWF are essentially the same ones presented in 2016.
Neither the COWF nor the COB has indicated a preference for any of these proposals. Both entities are deeply divided and unable to reach consensus around one of them. If anything, the fault lines running across the UM Church have become more pronounced. Local churches can no longer engage in business as usual; they must face the hard facts before all of us. In just fifteen months we reach the next decision point – the special called General Conference, which will occur February 23-26, 2019.
Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries, in a blog released last week, estimates that there are “at least 55 options still on the table for the future of the denomination . . . and the ultimate outcome may not be evident until sometime in 2020.”
Amidst all the uncertainty, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (the “WCA”) has provided leadership for those dedicated to the advancement of the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition. The WCA has repeatedly urged churches and pastors to remain committed to the UM Church and to participate fully in the life of the denomination. We have interacted with the COWF and COB in good faith. We have maintained fidelity to our church’s doctrines and its polity, and we have promoted its good order even as others have sown seeds of discord. And finally we have advocated for resolutions that are consistent with Scripture and the church’s historic teachings.
Meanwhile, the Gospel imperative to go and make disciples of all nations is our highest priority. The WCA has not been and will not be marking time in this environment. We are committed to developing a plan for a positive and faithful future, including the continued renewal and revival of local churches. And that work is proceeding in earnest.
Given the current environment, the responsible next step for every part of the UM Church is to be fully engaged in contingency planning. We know that Wespath, the UM Church pension and health benefits agency, has been engaged in contingency planning for a number of years. Likewise, the General Council on Finance and Administration has been preparing for the denomination’s uncertain financial future.
The WCA is also developing contingency plans for potential implementation in a variety of scenarios. In the coming months, those individuals (clergy and laity) and churches who are members of the WCA will have an opportunity to be part of this contingency planning process through a variety of surveys that will be conducted as well as through a series of events hosted by regional chapters.
If you want to be part of this process and have meaningful input into the next chapter of advancing the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition, now is the time to become a member of the WCA. We are engaging some of the best thinkers in this process, and we are desperately dependent on God for leadership, wisdom and vision. We are preparing for a faithful future; we hope you will join us. In addition to membership fees, your financial gifts will help us amplify our impact and prepare for the next Methodism. We invite you to join, renew your membership and/or make a tax-deductible gift today.
We believe that God is in the process of doing a new thing among the people called Methodists. We are grateful for your prayers and for your support as we embrace that future together. Join us!