Dakotas Conference clergy gathered in Aberdeen, South Dakota for worship, prayer and discussion. The gathering was preceded by United Methodist Bishops' recommendations for a way forward on the denomination’s debate about homosexuality.
The Council of Bishops, by a majority vote, recommended what it is calling the One Church Plan “as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church,” according to a May 4 press release.
The plan would allow decisions about whether to ordain LGBTQ clergy or allow clergy to officiate at same-gender unions to be made closer to the local level.
Currently, The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits pastors from officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member.
To begin their time together, Dakotas Conference clergy, gathered in small groups, shared with one another their individual responses to the questions: Why Jesus? Why the Church? Why the Dakotas United Methodist Church? As the gathering continued, they went on to share.
Dakotas Conference clergy shared in table conversations shaped by the book, God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church, by Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath, Dean of Duke Divinity School. Clergy discussed in small groups three questions based on Heath’s writing.
Heath wrote about the importance of exploring stories from our church tradition. The first question attendees shared responses to was: What United Methodist traditions do we need to hand on? Responses included: a balance of personal piety and social justice, the Wesleyan quadrilateral, grace, going to the people with Christ.
Clergy also shared the fears as well as hopes that they hear and/or anticipate from their local church, they experience as leaders and they feel as a follower of Jesus. Participants shared that their biggest fear for churches is the potential of a division among people and the denomination. However, they also hope this will be an opportunity to deeply wrestle with this challenging topic as followers of Jesus. As a leader, those attending shared most frequently the fear and anxiety about fractured relationships. At the same time, they are encouraged by the ways in which this has and will continue to be a prayerful process. As disciples, clergy frequently shared there is a fear that we will lose our focus on the mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. These challenging times, however, are inspiring them to be even more focused on making disciples and trusting Jesus through it all.
Those in attendance spent time thinking about what are some next steps for congregations and leaders. Respectful listening and spaces for conversations were actions that were prevalent among responses.
United Methodist congregations and small groups are encouraged to engage in conversations about the future and a way forward.
Read about the Council of Bishop’s recommendation here.
God Unbound: Wisdom from the Galations for the Anxious Church by Elaine Heath details here.