UMAC 2017: Panel Discusses Commission on a Way Forward
April, 07, 2017
by Sybil Davidson
Four bishops and a member of the Connectional Table joined the 2017 gathering of the United Methodist Association of Communicators to discuss the Commission on a Way Forward. Moderated by Skyler Nimmons, the panel shared insights, hopes, and information on the commission and the future of The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops; Bishop Ken Carter, co-moderator for the Commission on a Way Forward; District Superintendent and member of the Connectional Table the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai; Bishop John Schol and Bishop Cynthia Fierro-Harvey participated.
About the commission
Bishop Carter began the discussion by outlining the steps the Council of Bishops took to assemble the Commission.
First the bishops defined the mission, vision and scope of the work based on what General Conference 2016 approved. The second step was determining the composition of the committee itself, then the structure of the meetings of the committee.
Carter noted that the 2017 Annual Conference sessions are the last meetings of annual conferences before the report from the Council of Bishops is expected to be made the following spring.
“Unity is very important to me—not at the expense of justice—but unity is important,” said Carter. “I agreed to do this work not for myself but for people 20 and 30 years younger than me. So that they have a chance to serve and lead in the church. That’s my hope.”
Bishop Ough echoed Carter, saying that the work of the Commission is future oriented work.
“We do not need to focus on the people in the church now, but on a process that leaves a future for the church,” he said.
Putting the work in context
Bishop Ough explained the challenge of determining if the church will become more contextual or less contextual.
“Is unity the same as uniformity?” he asked. “Are there different structures that could emerge? How do we make sure the result is the expansion of the witness of the United Methodist Church—witness around the globe?”
Bishop Schol shared his experience in the Greater New Jersey Conference where the membership is very diverse in culture, ethnicity, native language and theology.
He emphasized that his job as bishop is to represent the whole church and to invite people into conversation and relationship. His conference has organized discussions called “Graceful Controversy.” In a recent gathering, 100 people gathered to share perspectives on the Way Forward. He came away with two messages: They did not want to divide. They feel we can’t continue as we are.
Bigham-Tsai comes to the discussion as the writer of some of the legislation that did not come to the floor of General Conference and is now before the Commission. She offered advice to communicators.
“The tendency is to look at issues as binary and to be U.S.-centric. This invites people to choose sides,” instead she suggests communications professionals “ask different kinds of questions.”
“Ministry is happening many, many contexts in our world-wide church,” she said.
She told the story of a meeting with a local church just last night. The congregation had a burning desire to reach out to their community.
“What people are passionate about is the ministry,” she said.
The called session
Bishop Ough addressed another question from the floor: What might the called session look like?
“The Council of Bishops is clear that we are going to call a session of General Conference,” he said.
He explained that there is a rough timeline driven by two factors. First, adequate time for the commission to finish the work and for the Council of Bishops to engage that work. Second, the need to meet requirements of any General Conference for amount of time the delegates have information in hand.
That timeline will likely lead to a February or March 2019 session. The call for the session will come once a venue is under contract according to Ough.
He also shared that there will some things to expect because of disciplinary requirements such as the need for a very clear stated reason for the call. The scope will be limited to recommendations that are directional in nature, according to Ough.
Closing and advice
In closing remarks the panel shared hope and offered advice for communicators.
Bigham-Tsai challenged UMAC members to be creative and prayerful. Bishop Harvey compelled the group to “hold nothing sacred but the mission.” Bishop Schol assured the communicators that God has a future with hope for the UMC. Bishop Ough shared that with talk of unity it’s important to qualify that it’s unity for the sake of the mission.
“I believe we have been called to this moment because God is trying to do something new with us,” he said.
Sybil Davidson is the conference communicator for the North Georgia Conference.
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