A special called session of the General Conference of the United Methodist denomination will be meeting in St. Louis from Saturday, February 23 – Tuesday, February 26. The purpose of the session is to make decisions regarding whether United Methodist churches or clergy are permitted to hold or officiate at same-sex weddings, and whether Annual Conferences can ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexual men and women. Ordinarily, the General Conference of the church meets every four years, with lay and clergy delegates from Annual Conferences around the world. In the regular session of the General Conference in 2016, a special commission (The Commission on the Way Forward) was appointed by the Council of Bishops to bring recommendations to this coming called session. The Texas Annual Conference elected nine lay and nine clergy delegates to the General Conference at our annual session in 2015. None of them are members or clergy of St. Luke’s.
At this General Conference, three plans will be presented, and one or none of them may be adopted, or there may be some amended plan adopted. If none are adopted, then the position of the United Methodist Church will remain as it is now – United Methodist churches or clergy cannot hold or officiate at same-sex weddings, and self-avowed, practicing homosexual men or women may not be ordained. However, enforcement of these policies has been left to different jurisdictions and different annual conferences, and this has created concern about accountability and covenant. If you would like more information on these plans, or if you would like to follow what is happening at the session of General Conference, you can find that information at https://www.txcumc.org/GC2019. The sessions will be livestreamed through www.UMC.org.
As Senior Pastor at St. Luke’s, I want to emphasize three things:
- We don’t know what will happen, but whatever happens, we will work through it in a healthy way. Some have asked me why I haven’t been preparing the congregation for something ahead. I really don’t know what to prepare us for, and it may well be that there is no change. My intention has been to keep anxiety low, because I know we can deal with whatever comes with grace and love. When the General Conference is over, we will get up the next morning and do the same things we have always done – we will pray and worship, study the Bible, make friends, tell our stories, and give ourselves away in generosity and service (our five inside-out habits).
- St. Luke’s always has been, and will remain, a church with committed, Jesus-following believers across the theological spectrum, with diverse views on a wide variety of social issues. We have always been willing to work and worship with people who disagree with us on various questions, holding fast to the essential issue – God is saving the whole world through the grace of Jesus Christ, received by faith, and put to work in love. On issues of human sexuality and many other issues of Biblical interpretation, we have pastors and leaders with differing views, each with his or her nuanced convictions. Our bishop has called us to “convicted humility,” in which we express our understanding and convictions with the humility of knowing we may be wrong. Most importantly, we are all committed to welcome all people gladly, and we will love all people with both heart and hand. I have adopted an image that has been helpful for me to understand where we stand: someone asked me “so are you like Switzerland – just neutral?” My response is that we are not like Switzerland – Switzerland just wanted to stay out of the war. Instead, we are like the International Red Cross. We live in an increasingly polarized time, and our calling is to be right in the middle of the cultural battle that rages in the world around us, rescuing, caring for, and loving all, regardless of how they feel about this and many other things. “And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
- We will continue to keep the main thing the main thing. Last week, we launched our new vision statement, common to every ministry center in St. Luke’s Family of Ministries – St. Luke’s Church, The Story Houston, The Gethsemane Mission, Nick Finnegan Counseling Center, St. Luke’s Day School, After School and Summer Camps, and Bridges Academy – we all are working to bring about “A city transformed by the love of Jesus.” Each of these ministry centers has its own mission statement, its particular mission to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to bring about this vision. This vision is our north star, and it will be the focus of our conversation and work in the days, weeks, and years ahead. We will always concentrate on making a difference, rather than simply making a point.
This Sunday we will pray for the session of General Conference, that God’s will, not our own, will be accomplished. I ask you to join me and pray personally to that same end. And then we will trust God with the result.