May 1, 2019
The post-Easter Gospel message tells the story of Thomas, who wasn’t with the rest of the disciples and so questioned their story of the risen Christ. He said, “Unless I see the mark of nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The risen Christ comes to him, stretches out his hand and invites Thomas to touch. It is then that Thomas recognizes Christ and realizes the truth of the resurrection.
While Thomas is forever cast as “Doubting Thomas” because he was unwilling/unable to believe the stories of the other disciples, we forget that all the disciples had trouble believing in resurrection until they, too, experienced its truth. They doubted the story of the women and they doubted in the face of an empty tomb. It took their own encounter with the risen Christ to believe.
The role of experience is central to faith, and in particular to we who call ourselves Methodist. John Wesley called himself “a man of one book, and a student of many.” While the Bible was central to his faith, it took his experience to open the fullness of scripture to him. It was his Aldersgate experience, when the Holy Spirit caused him to feel his heart strangely warmed, that furthered his faith. Experience, for Wesley, was an important component of faith.
On April 26, 2019, the Judicial Council released its decisions regarding General Conference 2019. While parts of the Traditionalist Plan were found unconstitutional, the parts that remain are an affront to many in our annual conference who have had the experience of receiving God’s love through the lives and ministries of LGBTQ people. The mandatory penalties belie the grace that has always been a foundation of our United Methodist tradition, which expressed itself in seeking just resolution and reconciliation rather than legalistic rules and punishments.
As your bishop, I will continue to ensure that all people who seek to follow Jesus — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, abilities, ethnicity, theological orientation, class, or language spoken will continue to find a safe home in our Mountain Sky churches.
Jesus told his followers, “You shall know them by their fruits.” I will continue to appoint clergy on the basis of their faithfulness to God’s call and the fruits their ministry bears.
I will continue to support all our churches, no matter where they are on the theological spectrum, and seek to ensure that our conference resources are used to help them be vital mission outposts, sharing the life-giving, life-changing love of Christ with their communities in tangible ways.
Our conference will work to make sure that our young people have both straight and LGBTQ role models and mentors so they can grow up in a loving and accepting environment.
We will continue to equip lay and clergy with the tools they need for robust ministries and disciple-making in these conflicted days in which we are living.
Our Board of Ordained Ministry will not make heterosexuality a prerequisite for commissioning or ordination when examining ordination candidates.
Our pastors will continue to hold the prerogative they have always had — to determine for themselves what weddings they will and will not perform.
We will not require mandatory celibacy on couples for whom God has gifted with the mystery of love.
We will not tell a whole group of people they are unwanted in the body of Christ, that their calls are invalid, and their love an abomination. This creates second class citizenship in the household of faith and is abhorrent to the ways God’s Holy Spirit keeps broadening the circle of faith. As Peter learned in his vision, God’s wide and generous grace makes clean what was once thought unclean. We will not narrow down this grace and deny the movement of God in the lives of those who follow Jesus.
The Mountain Sky Conference has a legacy of modeling a church that welcomes everyone. We will continue to be a beacon of hope to those who are wondering if there is a place for them in God’s family.
In June 2018, we joined together Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain annual conferences to form the Mountain Sky Conference. Our mission is to "live in God’s grace and abundance as we lead a re-energized peaceful and compassionate movement to claim the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people." Now, more than ever before, that mission is needed within our conference boundaries and beyond.
The General Conference vote and Judicial Council decisions have implications for our shared future. Information and resources are available at Mountain Sky on the Way Forward. Check this site often as it is regularly updated!
Additionally, we are hosting regular Zoom meetings. These Zoom meetings vary in content: some are informational, some are for leadership skill building for these days we are living in, others are for spiritual grounding. So far, we have had nearly 500 people from across our conference participate in these meetings.
This is a difficult time in the life of our denomination. Now, more than ever before, we need to participate in the Means of Grace, those spiritual disciplines that keep us connected to God and each other. Additionally, treat each other tenderly and with generous love. Know that there will be people with deep wounds as the Judicial Council’s decision has ripped off the scab that had been healing since General Conference. Welcome and receive each person as you would Christ.
God is calling us into the future. May we have the courage and boldness to follow.