A Word from Bishop Leeland: General Conference 2016

June 01, 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
 
The General Conference of The United Methodist Church always creates great expectations and hopes for our denomination. This hope was certainly embraced by the 2016 General Conference held in Portland, Oregon, as it became evident that delegates, volunteers, bishops, clergy, and church leaders clearly and consistently expressed a desire for our United Methodist Church to remain cohesive in our witness and mission. The words of Christ, spoken to the church of Philadelphia in the book of Revelation contributes to this hope saying, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut…you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Rev. 3:8). These words remind us the Church is of God and as a response, our United Methodist Church has deliberately chosen to remain united for the sake of staying in mission.
 
The door which Christ has opened that no one can shut is an expression of the very Presence of Christ, reflecting the Glory of God, in a number of ways:

  • Inspiring worship;
  • The celebration of raising $68.5 million to eliminate malaria;
  • The consecration of deaconesses and home missioners;
  • Commissioning twenty-nine missionaries;
  • Witnessing a strong Episcopal address calling the entire church to a spirit of humility.

In addition, the General Conference continued to embrace our primary mission as “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We are proud of our entire AWF General Conference delegation and those who were present working, volunteering, and serving as reserve delegates. Rev. Robin Wilson was elected to chair the Discipleship legislative committee; Dr. Lawson Bryan was elected to lead a sub-committee for Financial Administration; Rev. Ashley Meyer served in the General Conference Secretary’s Office; Clara Ester participated as a deaconess in the consecration of our United Methodist Deaconesses and Home Missioners; Dr. Steve Furr was elected to the Commission on General Conference for an eight-year term preparing and planning for General Conference; and Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary for COSROW, worked tirelessly to protect gender and age rights. The Alabama-West Florida Conference was well represented!
 
The Council of Bishops received a request from the 2016 General Conference to help lead our United Methodist Church forward regarding issues related to human sexuality. This was a “non-binding” request since bishops are unable to shape the legislative work outlined in our Book of Discipline. I hope you will read carefully the proposal by our Council of Bishops, “An Offering for a Way Forward.” The General Conference received the Council of Bishops’ response and then acted on it, making it part of the work of the 2016 General Conference.
 
As you read this document, it is important to note:

  1. The General Conference expressed its commitment to remain united and to work for the unity of the Church.
  2. Expressed once more that “we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another.”
  3. Bishops accept our role as spiritual leaders and commit to lead “in times of worship, study, discernment, confession, and prayer for God’s guidance.”
  4. To name a Commission which will “include representation from differing perspectives on the debate” of human sexuality.
  5. To explore options that will help the church avoid further complaints and trials.
  6. There is no change in our Book of Discipline and we also commit to “uphold the Discipline.”

While the Council of Bishops has been asked to form a Commission to be named sometime between now and November 2, 2016, this Commission is still to be named. It is true that the Council of Bishops may choose to call a special session of the General Conference before 2020, but no decision has been made about whether this will be done.
 
This offering by the Council of Bishops provides leadership without usurping the responsibility of the legislative committees and delegates who are elected by our annual conferences to actually shape and frame our Book of Discipline. The 2016 General Conference asked the Council of Bishops to bring a proposal on this specific issue in order to guide the work of this General Conference. The work described is the outcome of our delegates response to receive and shape the bishops’ requested offering as reported above.
 
While all of this heightens our expectations of what will come, my faith is placed in the ONE who said, “I have opened a door before you and it cannot be shut.”

With Deep Gratitude, 
Bishop Paul L. Leeland