As Bishops of The United Methodist Church, we affirm that WE ARE OF ONE HEART in our desire to discern the mind and will of Jesus Christ for our leadership and the church. In the Northeastern Jurisdiction and around the world, we experience
great diversity of thought and practice within The United Methodist Church. In partnership with Bishops from around the world, we will continue to lead collectively and individually to value and provide room for our diversity as United Methodists.
-The Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops
Beloved of God,
Grace and peace to you. The Council of Bishops (Council) gathered in Chicago, Illinois, this past week to receive the final report from the Commission on a Way Forward (Commission), and to prayerfully deliberate its recommendation to the February 2019 Special General Conference.
In 2016, the delegates to General Conference asked the Council to discern a path forward for our denomination concerning human sexuality, same-gender unions, and full inclusion of our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters within all aspects of ministry. The Council created the Commission, specifically asking them to explore options that will help maintain and strengthen the unity of The United Methodist Church (UMC), while also respecting our diverse theological and scriptural understandings.
The Commission presented two plans: The One Church Plan, and The Connectional Conference Plan. The Council engaged in prayerful, passionate, and lengthy discussion as we received the report, analyzed its impact on our diverse contexts, and listened for the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Council overwhelmingly voted to recommend The One Church Plan to the 2019 General Conference.
During the Council's discussion, some bishops believed it would be important to include all of the plans that had been considered, including The Traditional Church Plan, which was presented in an earlier Commission
report, but eliminated after receiving fewer votes. Therefore, the Council's recommendation will include the other two models for informational purposes. The Council believes this will provide a full, transparent representation of The Commission's work, and our deliberations. It is also important to note that although The One Church Plan received overwhelming support, the other plans did have support within the Council. However, the Council is not recommending those plans.
The following is a brief synopsis of the Plans:
The One Church Plan (Recommended by the Council):
- Recognizes the diverse theological and scriptural understandings of our global church;
- Provides generous unity for conferences, churches, and pastors;
- Does not require any annual conference, bishop, congregation, or pastor to act contrary to their convictions;
- Maintains the current leadership structure of the denomination as one body;
- Removes the restrictive language from our current Book of Discipline.
The Connectional Conference Plan (Not recommended by the Council):
- Creates three values-based connectional conferences with distinctive definitions of accountability, contextualization, and justice;
- Allows for a Book of Discipline within each connectional conference;
- Current central conferences have the choice of becoming their own connectional conference;
- Creates a re-defined Council of Bishops focusing on ecumenical relationships and shared learning;
- Episcopal oversight, accountability, elections, assignments, and funding occur within the College of Bishops of each connectional conference.
The Traditional Church Plan (Not recommended by the Council):
- Strengthens the current language of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality;
- Streamlines the process for violations of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality;
- Maintains the structure of the church as it currently exists;
- Continues the current relationships between the church and all general agencies and commissions.
The Council believes that its recommendation represents our best thinking and judgment around these critical and sensitive matters. This recommended plan will now be sent to the February 2019 Special General Conference for their consideration. The full report, which will include a complete description of each Plan, and a historical narrative of the Commission's work, will be published no later than July 8, 2019. I invite you to continue your earnest and effectual prayers for our church as we enter into this season of deliberation, discernment, and holy conferencing.
I will be meeting with members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference delegation to discuss this in detail on Saturday, May 12, 2018. Conference members will have an opportunity to hear more about this recommendation during our Annual Conference Sessions on Thursday, May 31, and Friday, June 1. I will also be touring the conference in the fall to be in conversation with clergy and laity as we explore what this recommendation could mean for our ministry context.
As The United Methodist Church continues to work toward a faithful and faith-filled General Conference, one thing is abundantly clear: our mission has not changed. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In response to that calling, we continue to be the hands and feet of God in the world. I have witnessed our conference in mission and ministry, and I know the difference we are making in our communities. May we continue to get proximate with those we serve and love, standing as one beneath the cross.
Blessings and peace,
Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling