A letter from Bishop Karen about 'Future of MSC' brochure
July 22, 2019
To the clergy of the Mountain Sky Conference,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ.
These are difficult days to be a United Methodist pastor. There is so much unknown about the future of our denomination and that has created great anxiety and fear. I share that anxiety and fear with you. However, I know anxiety and fear are not the places God would have us live. Faith teaches us that “perfect love casts out fear.” I have been trying to live into more love these days as I listen for God’s still small voice.
It is in that spirit of love that I want to apologize to some of you who felt blindsided by "The Future of the Mountain Sky Conference" brochure that is being used in your one-on-ones with your district superintendent. Our desire was not to raise anxiety but give you tools as well as a possible vision for our shared future.
The content grew out of the work being done in our conference since General Conference 2016 and 2019. As you know, several post-GC teams were created to respond to the crisis caused by the 2019 special session. These teams included clergy and laity from across our conference. Together, these teams sought to respond to the harm caused by General Conference. With moderate churches seeing many people leave due to the punitive measures of the adopted plan and with LGBTQ people wondering if they would still be welcomed in our pulpits and pews, we – clergy and laity – knew we needed to make an honest assessment of the future and look at options should GC2020 continue down the path set at GC2019.
This work, which began in the spring by the Core Team, was formalized by the actions of Annual Conference as the newly created Pathways Team. It picked up where the original Core Team left off. At our post-AC retreat, the cabinet and I finalized the agenda for summer one-on-ones. Prior to AC we already knew – as we reviewed petitions coming forward as well as the questions and concerns raised in our churches – that it was critical to have honest conversations with pastors about our shared future.
With petitions on both resisting the Traditionalist Plan as well as creating the Pathways Team to explore possible future scenarios receiving votes above 95 percent and a GC petition calling for the dissolution of the UMC receiving more than 70 percent affirmation, it became evident that we had to begin to equip pastors for the kinds of conversations that will be required of all of us in the coming months. I have been present to listen with too many churches whose laity have been angered and upset because they felt blindsided by the actions of GC 2019 – their pastors hadn’t discussed the special called conference, why it had been called, and the decisions it would be making. This cannot happen again as GC2020 approaches. Congregations need to be informed and clergy need to be able to share conversations to deliver current and accurate information so that congregations may make informed decisions.
The brochure was created to help with the conversations of our teams and churches and begin to envision our shared future. Our prayer is that GC2020 will make decisions that honor the diversity that exists in the UMC which will allow us to continue within the UMC to carry out the historic legacy of our conference that welcomes all people in the Body of Christ to the mission and ministries of our churches. However, should GC2020 make decisions that continue to codify exclusion, do harm, and reject the ways God’s Holy Spirit moves in the lives of family members and loved ones, we want to be prepared with a way forward that will not only preserve our legacy, but ensure a future that will assist us in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
I confess and ask forgiveness for my naiveté: these brochures were for clergy in one-on-one settings. We did not mail them out all at once because we wanted to use them in the context of a sacred conversation. I failed to consider that they might be shared with those who haven’t had one-on-ones yet, or that they would be sent to people outside our conference. I know that all this has raised anxiety, and for that I apologize.
Here is what you need to know: our future is still unfolding. Nothing has been set in stone by the Pathways Team. There will be listening sessions and reports back to the Annual Conference as we, together, discern a way forward. No matter what your theological conviction or stance on homosexuality, your wisdom is needed as we move forward. Engage the process! Your leadership, both in your local church and in the broader conference conversation, is so necessary for these days we are living as United Methodists.
And here is what I need of you:
- Pray for our beloved denomination. It has helped each one of us know God, be in relationship with Jesus Christ, and enabled the Spirit of God to lead us into ordained ministry. Each of us is a testament to the church’s power to make disciples. Pray for its future and the global relationships that are sustained in our connection.
- Pray for our conference. Pray as we seek to equip our churches and leadership to serve in each town as mission outposts, sharing in tangible ways the love of God which transforms lives.
- Teach United Methodism 101 to your congregation this fall – many of our churches need a reminder of the unique aspects of our doctrine and polity.
- Preach in ways that deepen discipleship and spirituality so that our congregations will have the spiritual resources to navigate the rough waters that lie ahead.
- Don’t shy away from the difficult and controversial but speak always from love, grounded in the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People in our pews face untold challenges that are sucking the life out of them. When we model how to move faithfully through difficult things, we give them hope.
- Reach out directly to your superintendent or to me when something doesn’t feel or seem right. We are in this together.
I hope you are having a summer that provides you with renewal and rest. I invite you to pray with me these words from scripture:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3: 12-15
May it be so.