Pastoral Letter Part I
Dear Members and Friends of Brunswick UMC,
First of Two Pastoral Letters
Next week, The United Methodist Church will be in the news everywhere when there is a special session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri (Feb 23-26). This is an important and history-making event you will want to be aware of. In the past, I have been disappointed by secular news coverage about our church, and so I am concerned that you have accurate information with as much detail as you prefer about these events. This first message contains “big picture” information about United Methodists as a whole and links to denominational resources. A subsequent message will reflect somewhat more personally on Brunswick’s ministry and on my own pastoral experiences. If you were able to be with us in worship on February 10, then you are already at least partially informed on these matters.
General Conference is the global gathering of United Methodists; it is normally in session every four years. General Conference is a group of people, equal numbers of lay and clergy, elected from each Annual Conference around the world in ratio to the total church membership in each local area. The General Conference session is the two-week long meeting of these delegates for fellowship, worship, study, debate, and legislation. The United Methodist Book of Discipline may be revised only by action of the General Conference. This is our doctrinal and ministry standard for all UM ministries, and UM clergy are expected to uphold it.
Role of Clergy, Laity, and Bishops
The United Methodist Church holds clergy and laity equally to account in determining the church’s doctrine, mission, and ministry. General Conference delegates, equal numbers of clergy and laity, are elected from each Annual Conference, in accordance with the number of members in that area. Minnesota will have four representatives (two clergy and two laity) at the special session. United Methodist bishops are clergy elected to a pastoral office of leadership over Annual Conferences. They play several important roles at each General Conference session: they facilitate worship and moderate debate; they help to manage the legislative order; they provide support, advice and spiritual care. However, the Council of Bishops is not authoritative over the General Conference. Bishops do not vote at General Conference and may only speak to an issue when given specific permission by the delegates. The fellowship of all UM bishops globally is referred to as the Council of Bishops; they often speak both to the church and to the world as one body, but they do so as pastoral leaders and not as authority figures with rank over others.
Commission on a Way Forward
This special session of General Conference is being held now because of action taken at the 2016 session of General Conference. At that meeting, the Council of Bishops asked the session to consider forming a diverse “Commission on a Way Forward” with the mandate to make "a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” The hope was that the church could put to rest the decades of debate and unrest around this issue and instead come to some positive understanding for our continued shared ministries. The General Conference approved this idea and elected members of the Commission representing different global regions and theological perspectives. The purpose of the special session is to consider the Commission’s report and to take action on its recommendations. Four separate plans are currently being considered as possible ways for the church to organize for continued ministry.
The links provided here offer you official information from The United Methodist Church about this issue and the special session of General Conference. The entire report of the commission is available to you, as are a number of helpful summaries. You will be able to watch the conference session by livestream or to receive daily written reports of its proceedings. Minnesota delegates to the general conference will be sharing their experiences through social media.
Please pray for our church, its leaders and delegates. Please use these links and other official resources of The United Methodist Church as your best source of information about the General Conference and the future of our denomination. To know more about how I understand Brunswick’s particular role in this issue, please look for my second pastoral letter.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Ruth Ann
Prepare Spiritually for General Conference
Quick Info - Summaries
Detailed Policy and Procedural Information
Context and Conversation about the Issues Facing General Conference
Keep Up to Date with General Conference As it Happens
Minnesota Annual Conference Twitter Feed (@MinnesotaUMC)
Minnesota Annual Conference Facebook Page (Minnesota UMC)
Minnesota Annual Conference Instagram Page (minnesotaumc)
Ruth Ann Ramstad