Caring for our historic and honored dead, addressing gun violence, committing to creation care, and endorsing a path for the church to address its differences over human sexuality were the focus of the resolutions adopted by the members of the237th Annual Conference Session.
New BWC Cemetery Association approved
Members voted, (546 in favor with 18 opposed) to create a BWC Cemetery Association that will oversee funds for the upkeep of three historic cemeteries: Mt. Auburn, Mt. Olivet, and Mt. Hebron.
“The Baltimore-Washington Conference has the one-of-kind blessing to be the birthplace of both the Methodist movement in America and the United Brethren,” said John Strawbridge, president of the Conference Trustees and the maker of the resolution. “We have the opportunity and duty to protect a heritage, which is the heritage of our global denomination. In particular, we have a moral obligation to care for the saints on whose shoulders we stand.”
These cemeteries were once cared for by many congregations. But most of those congregations have closed and transferred their property to the Conference, leaving a disproportionate burden on only a few small congregations to care for the legacy of a denomination.
“Mount Olivet Cemetery, Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Mount Hebron cemetery contain our DNA,” Strawbridge said. “In these ‘God’s Acres,’ as they were once called, lie the mortal remains of our forbearers.”
Mount Olivet in Baltimore is the final resting place of Methodism’s first bishop, Francis Asbury, and more than 200 early preachers and other notable church leaders. Mount Hebron Cemetery in Keedysville holds the founders of the United Brethren Church, as well as the site of their first meeting house. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Baltimore is the historic burying ground for African Americans. It is the final resting place of many notable leaders in the church and community, including Lillie Mae Jackson Carroll, a civil right leader and founder of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP.
The new cemetery association will ensure these burial grounds do not become a drain on mission shares, Strawbridge said. An endowment fund for the on-going care of our cemetery grounds will be created and, once fully funded, the investment income from the fund will provide for the annual maintenance required.
Members declare gun violence a public health crisis
A spike in gun violence in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore has alarmed church leaders. But just as devastating, said Sue Bender, are the effects that routine gunfire has on the fabric of people’s lives.
Speaking in favor of the resolution she brought forth, Bender, the chair of the BWC’s Gun Violence Prevention team, cited the cases of children dying in the streets of our conference.
“A 1-year-old baby killed in his car seat; a 6-year-old girl killed walking with her family in D.C.; an 8-year-old boy killed near Landover by a gunshot through his apartment window,” she said.
The resolution brought some debate among the members. A clause that spoke about prohibiting the purchase of guns was amended to change the phrase “those who suffer from mental illness,” to “those who suffer from mental disabilities.”
The amendment sought to speak more compassionately and accurately about those who experience mental challenges.
Dan Higgins, a lay member of Lisbon UMC, said he regrets the way that violence is being accepted and normalized in our culture, but does not believe that outlawing guns for all is the right approach. “It’s not a gun problem, but a people problem,” he said.
Speaking in favor of the amendment, the Rev. Valerie Barnes cited a young woman who was murdered last week in the alley behind her house and claimed the rise in gun violence is now an epidemic. The Rev. Michael Parker, who has buried loved ones as a result of gun violence, told the members, “silence will simply speak to our complicity.”
BWC members voted 387 in favor and 75 opposed, to adopt the resolution to declare gun violence a public health emergency in the conference. The resolution calls on every congregation to “enter into meaningful conversations and action” as they explore “Our Call to End Gun Violence,” #3428 in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions.
Among the priorities churches are called to address are:
- Providing universal background checks on all gun purchases;
- Ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers;
- Prohibiting all individuals under restraining order due to threat of violence from purchasing a gun;
- Prohibiting those persons with serious mental disorders who pose a danger to themselves and their communities from purchasing a gun, and ensuring greater access to services for those who have mental illness;
- Banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled, (this issue has been addressed at the federal level); and
- Promoting new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.
Learn more and become involved in the BWC’s gun violence prevention ministries.
Addressing the environment and creating a Green BWC
To address the climate crisis and reverse global warming, members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference heeded the call of the Rev. Rebecca Vardiman and the resolution, which passed in a vote of 456 to 128, to create a “green conference.”
The resolution calls on congregations to:
- Study creation care, using Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action, edited by Pat Watkins, or some other environmental-focused book.
- Support and encourage one or more members to complete Earthkeeper online training (https://umcmission.org/EarthKeepers). The BWC currently has 14 Earthkeepers.
- Create a Green Team that will organize to educate and activate their church in creation care. These teams are encouraged to create relationships with Interfaith Power & Light (org) and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (org), both of which are important regional partners in creation care.
Those interested in starting green teams are encouraged to visit www.interfaithchesapeake.org/faithful_green_leaders_training_program.
In another environment-related resolution put forward by Mike Koob, conference members voted 450-139 to endorse the passage of the Maryland Environmental Human Rights Amendment and encourage BWC congregations in Maryland to publicize this endorsement.
The amendment states: “Every person has the fundamental and inalienable right to live in a healthful environment, including clean air, water, land, and a stable climate. The state is a trustee of Maryland’s natural resources, which shall be protected, preserved, and enhanced for the benefit of all of the people of this state including future generations.” Learn more.
The constitutional amendment is expected to come before the Maryland legislature this spring and, if passed, will go to a voter referendum in November 2022.
Endorsement of the General Conference Legislation Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation
The resolution to endorse The Protocol that was created to guide the denomination’s response to homosexuality was brought by two individuals representing groups with differing points of view: Greg Witte of the Baltimore-Washington Chapter of the Wesley Covenant Association, and the Rev. Deborah Scott of the Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling Methodists.
The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation is expected to be considered by the delegates to the postponed 2020 General Conference, who plan to meet for the world-wide gathering of the denomination in Minneapolis, Minn., Aug. 29 – Sept. 6, 2022. The protocol is expected to lead to the formalized creation of the Global Methodist Church and allow each part of the church to remain true to its theological understanding.
Opponents to the amendment, like the Rev. Mark Gorman, spoke against the idea of schism and separation, asserting that “unity in Christ is a cross-shaped work of love.”
During the debate on the resolution, Ann Brown Birkel, a lay member from Foundry UMC, proposed an amendment that called upon the BWC to “endorse the passage of General Conference legislation that supports global regionalization and an option for a fair and gracious exit expressed in the spirit of the Protocol.” And, to “encourages United Methodist bishops to uphold the abeyance in clergy complaints included in the Protocol.”
The amendment, proponents like Jennifer Milewski of Dumbarton UMC asserted, would embrace the spirit behind the protocol, while embracing the “breadth of ideas that have come forward since.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 323 to 247. The resolution to endorse The Protocol passed by a vote of 501 to 133.
Following the vote, the Rev. Rudy Bropleh, pastor of Asbury UMC in Shepherdstown, W.Va., prayed. “The church is the hope of the world,” he said. “We pray that we will be that hope.”
Conference members also passed a resolution that brings the BWC’s rules in alignment with the Book of Discipline, stating that that all delegates elected to General and Jurisdictional conferences must be elected by a minimum of a simple majority of the votes of the members present, and a resolution clarifying the deadlines for submission of resolutions to annual conference and reports from BWC committees and agencies.