Next Steps after General Conference

Dear First Murphy,

The Called Special Session of The UMC’s General Conference came to a close on Tuesday evening.  The exclusive focus of the Conference was to find a way forward through our denomination’s apparent impasse when it comes to deeply convicted and divergent views on human sexuality.  At the end of the Conference, the body voted 438-384 to pass the Traditional Plan.  The Traditional Plan reaffirms the denomination’s current language around homosexuality–including the prohibitions against same-sex marriage and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay or lesbian pastors, and also statements affirming the sacred worth of all persons, including those of the LGBTQ community.  The Traditional Plan added to our Book of Discipline stronger measures of accountability and punishment for those who would break these guidelines.

Some received the outcome with celebration and relief.  Others are deeply grieved and discouraged.  The vote–and, in truth, the entire General Conference–showed that the people of The United Methodist Church are not of one mind on this matter (and plenty of others).

Portions of the Traditional Plan were ruled unconstitutional (in relation to the UMC’s constitution) by our Judicial Council, so the full implications of the General Conference’s decision are not yet known.  The Judicial Council will take up this matter more fully (and finally) at their next meeting on April 23-25.

Weeks ago, at our congregation’s information session and in a recent Facebook post, I shared that we would have a follow-up meeting to share the outcome of General Conference.  Just today (Wednesday) I learned of two opportunities that I encourage you to participate in, along with a third that was already on our calendar:

  • Friday, March 1 at 2pm Bishop Paul Leeland (our Bishop in Western NC) along with two of our other delegates to GC will deliver a video message to the conference  addressing what happened and what’s next.  I plan to show that video message in First Murphy’s Fellowship Hall.  I invite you to arrive at least 10 minutes early, so we can begin that time in fellowship and prayer.  If you aren’t able to be there in person, the video will be available on our conference website:
  • Sunday, March 3 at 2pm Bishop Leeland will lead a conversation along with worship and holy communion at Hendersonville UMC.  This event will be live streamed and I plan to show that live stream also in First Murphy’s Fellowship Hall.  Again if you can arrive at 1:50, we’ll begin with a little fellowship and prayer before it gets underway.  If you aren’t able to attend in person, you can also follow the live stream here:
  • Saturday, March 16 from 10am-12pm Bishops McCleskey and Kammerer will be at First Murphy to lead a conversational forum in response to General Conference.

I will also be working with our church leadership to determine a good strategy to keep our congregation informed and involved, more than likely including me leading a session just for our congregation.

So while we still do not know the implications of the work of General Conference, and won’t for at least a little while, there are some things I believe are important, which I want to share with you below:

  • The vote to pass the Traditional Plan was far from a landslide and showed that we are a denomination that is not of one mind when it comes to the matter of human sexuality.  Our global denomination passed the Traditional Plan, while the majority of U.S. delegates (along with the majority of the Council of Bishops and Commission on a Way Forward) favored the One Church Plan.  My observations are that we too, as a congregation, are not of the same mind on this matter (and likely many others).  What do we make of that?
  • Church is sometimes messy and even ugly.  If you’ve read the New Testament, you know that isn’t new for us.  In the thick of disagreements, even when we might have good intentions, people get hurt.  I said in last Sunday’s sermon, the people who have the ability to hurt us the most are often our family.  Some have been hurt badly enough by church that they’ve left or at least keep it at arms length.  So for times and ways the church (and I / we) have hurt others or made them feel unloved, I am sorry.  I believe a life of faith is one that includes ongoing repentance–turning toward God and toward one another in reconciliation.
  • Church is sometimes beautiful and even holy.  In the midst of General Conference there were moments of holiness–in worship, in reconnection with friends, in expressions of humility and love for God and the church.  For all our warts and baggage, the church is still a means of grace in the world.  It is a place of belonging, hope, transformation, and service.
  • Through experiences in the church, I have come to know and respect people who think very differently about human sexuality.  I know people on all points on the spectrum that there are deeply committed followers of Christ who have dedicated their life to the church and are serious students of Scripture who seek to live it out in real ways.  Judgment and contempt toward those who think differently only harms the body.  A better way might be what Bishop Carter (former District Superintendent of our district) calls “convicted humility“–which says, “At our best, we hold deep convictions.  And at our best, we hold them with humility.”
  • To those who are glad for the passing of the Traditional Plan, as your pastor and fellow pilgrim in faith, I want to say I love you.  In some settings, people holding this opinion have been unfairly labeled unloving and narrow-minded.  But that misses the sincerity of heart and studied faith.  I am grateful that you are part of the body of First Murphy and for the witness of your faith.
  • To those who belong to or have a loved one in the LGBTQ community, as your pastor and fellow pilgrim in faith, I want to say I love you.  I understand there can be some real pain and disappointment at this outcome.  I am sorry.  Without question, you are of sacred worth.  Along with all people.  I am grateful that you are part of the body of First Murphy and for the witness of your faith.
  • To the whole church, as your pastor and fellow pilgrim in faith (do you know what’s coming?) I want to say I love you.  I am grateful that you are part of the body of First Murphy and for the witness of your faith.  I’m thankful to be serving a congregation that shows a spirit that rises above and resists the easy temptation to divide into camps.  I hear so often that we’re a family, and we are!  Some may have your pew, but in the living room of life I’ve seen us get up, move around, mingle, serve, celebrate, laugh, and care for one another.  Thanks be to God!
  • While we do not know the implications of the outcome of General Conference, I believe First Murphy will keep being First Murphy.  I said early on when I came to First Murphy that I expect to spend a lot of time just saying, Wow!  And I have, and I still am.  We are a congregation full of life and vitality, worshipping God in spirit and truth, serving our neighbors with selflessness and generosity.  Our mission and who we are stay the same.

So what’s next?  I understand there’s uncertainty in some places about what comes next for The UMC.  That’s sometimes the case when we don’t know everything.  It’s more comfortable when we have a clearly charted plan, and know every turn from here to there.  In moments when it’s hard to know all of what comes next, faith teaches us to take the next right step with Jesus.  This Sunday’s gospel lesson from Luke 9, the transfiguration, shows the next right step is coming down from the mountain, with Jesus,   and ministering to the community.  So what’s next?  One step, with Jesus, in ministry to others.  Then another.  Then another.

I thank God for the privilege of being here in ministry with you, and hope you know you are in my prayers.  Reach out to me any time if you have questions or want to talk.

Peace be with you,

Pastor Wil

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