Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Connectional Table Weekly Update: General Secretaries Table and Prayers

Dear CT Members and Friends,

Greetings in God's Love!  This week the General Secretaries Table will gather in Washington DC to come together for the sake of mission and ministry.  Although, this is not a body sanctioned by the Discipline, it is an important body in the life of the church.  They voluntarily covenant to join with one another regularly to seek collaborative opportunities in which they can collectively impact the mission of the church.  In fact, many new ideas have emerged when this group has sought to learn from one another and be innovative and creative together.  

The General Secretaries of our denomination have a unique role in our connectional system.  By Discipline (Para. 703.7a), they hold the title "General Secretary" and are the "chief staff officer of a general agency."  They are elected by their Board of Directors and serve as the CEO of that corporation.  The general secretaries of the program agencies are elected quadrennially and can serve three consecutive terms.  They can manage anywhere from 7 staff members to 300-400 staff, depending on the general agency.  And they have a variety of expertise based upon their education and experience.  In this quadrennium, there have been five new General Secretaries who have been elected by their Boards.  

Because the CT Board doesn't get to hear from all of our General Secretaries, I wanted to highlight some of the ways in which our General Church agencies have been seeking to address the adaptive challenge we have identified as a denomination.  Several of the General Secretaries who are in their second term have made great strides in setting up systems of accountability by addressing their research and monitoring needs.  They have been using data and research to evaluate the outcomes in their objectives and have been seeking to better understand the needs of the local church as they resource Annual Conferences and local communities of faith for effectively carrying out the mission of the church. Some have begun using the "balanced score card" model and the "Logic model" as tools to determine their objectives and outcomes.  These leaders have a responsibility of helping build and increase capacity within our connectional system for greater missional impact.  As the CT has sought to continue the focus on increasing vital congregations, the systems that the agencies are developing and building and the tools that they are using to monitor and evaluate their work are critical to helping us see the big picture of the system.

The General Secretaries of our church are faith-filled members of The United Methodist Church.  Some are clergy, some are laity, AND all are devoted to the strength, well-being and vitality of our connection.  If you know them individually, you will know that they are called out leaders in our church seeking to make a difference by offering their unique gifts to God's mission through The UMC.  No member of the GST is perfect, but all are striving towards the call to Christian Perfection.  They join the Bishops in partnership, leading our denomination towards a creative, innovative and faithful response to the 21st Century mission field.  I hope that you will join me in praying for the members of the General Secretaries Table as they gather together this week.

Members of the GST:
Neil Alexander, United Methodist Publishing House (19 Years)
Barbara Boigegrain, General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (21 Years)
Rev. Dr. Tim Bias, General Board of Discipleship (1 1/2 Years)
Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (4 Years)
Rev. Fred Day, General Commission on Archives and History (1 Year)
Gil Hanke, General Commission on United Methodist Men (5 Years)
Dawn Hare, General Commission on Status and Role of Women (2 1/2 Years)
Erin Hawkins, General Commission on Religion and Race (8 Years)
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Board of Church and Society (1 1/2 Years)
Thomas Kemper, General Board of Global Ministries (5 Years)
Dan Krause, General Commission on Communications (3 months)
Moses Kumar, General Council on Finance and Administration (7 Years)
Harriett Olson, United Methodist Women (2 Years)
Gere Reist, Commission on General Conference (10 Years)
Rev. Dr. Stephen Sidorak, Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships (7 Years)

With God's Love,

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, PhD
Executive Secretary

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bishop Peggy Johnson: Loving Alike with One Heart

John Wesley the founder of the Methodist movement once said “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without a doubt, we may!”
     That is my prayer as we hear today’s ruling of the United States Supreme Court that struck down state laws barring same-gender couples from enjoying marriage on the same terms given to couples of the opposite sex. Included in the statement from the Supreme Court were these words: “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
     The justices also stated, “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."
     The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church has not changed with this ruling from the Supreme Court. Only the General Conference of the UMC can change our rules and policies; and General Conference will not meet again until May of 2016 in Portland, Oregon. At that time there will likely be many petitions appealing for same-gender marriages to be permitted for churches and pastors who feel called to engage in this kind of ministry.    

Unity of the church is in question
The denomination's coordinating body, The Connectional Table, has voted to put forth a petition for consideration known as “A Third Way.” This measure would allow UM Clergy to perform ceremonies that celebrate same-gender unions if they wish, and clergy who do not wish to perform such ceremonies would not be required to do so. This proposal also removes being a practicing homosexual or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies from the list of chargeable offenses for United Methodist clergy. (See proposal below.)    
     There are others who wish to keep the Discipline as it is written and who call for stronger accountability for those who break the current church rules about homosexuality and same-gender weddings. One such petition came my way just this week from the Mississippi Annual Conference.
Ministry with people in the LGBTQ community is affirmed in our current Book of Discipline, and for some today’s Supreme Court ruling favoring equality in marriage is a cause for great rejoicing. Other parts of the Discipline do not condone homosexuality and same-gender marriages, and for these people this a cause for concern and disappointment.
     The unity of the church is in question around this issue. It strikes at the heart of many things that we value as United Methodists: primacy of Scripture, tradition, holiness, diversity, social justice, and human rights.

'Both holiness and hospitality are excellent values'
In his sermon at the 2008 General Conference Bishop Hee-Soo Jung spoke of this tension in our church today: “One could argue that those who espouse greater openness are holding fast to biblical principles of hospitality. Those who desire clarity in matters of boundaries, however are adhering to biblical principles of holiness. Both holiness and hospitality are excellent values. Both are biblical and both are right. Of course, they can also both be wrong. The problem is this: When we concern ourselves only with holiness, we become rigid and inward looking. We make an idol of our purity. When we concern ourselves only with hospitality, however, we lose our sense of who we are. We become so open to others that we lose the language of our own faith.” (Celebrating God’s Love: Living into Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, edited by Donald E. Messer, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015, p. 39)
     It is my prayer that we as a United Methodist Church will stay unified in the one heart of Christ that is our core mission and mandate. The mission of the church we can agree on, as Wesley suggests, even if we are not of the same opinion around other issues.
     It is also my prayer that the 2016 General Conference can look seriously at the “Third Way” proposed by the Connectional Table as a means of continuing our main mission with added flexibility so that more people can receive the ministry of the church and more people can be empowered for ministry. To do this would mean that, even while thinking differently, we strive greatly to “love alike,” uniting our hearts in prayer and conversation, and humbly listening to one another.
     I believe we can become stronger and stay unified in the midst of this crucial time in the life of the church. Please pray with me and remain tender-hearted toward one another. Wesley says we can do this “without a doubt.” 

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
Philadelphia Episcopal Area

The United Methodist Church

A Third Way
PROPOSAL III-A THIRD WAY-(Draft legislation has been prepared for this approach).

Remove all prohibitive language from The United Methodist Book of Discipline, but with only minor changes to the existing Social Principles in anticipation of the finalizing of a global Social Principles which may come in 2020, while affirming the existing Disciplinary warrant about who clergy perform weddings for and while affirming the existing constitutional warrant for annual conferences to make decisions about ordination.

BOD: Minor changes to the Social Principles, 161.B and 161.F. Amendments to 304.3,310.2.d, 341.6, 426, and2702.

Impact: Would make minor changes to the Social Principles in anticipation of a global Social Principles. These changes would note, for instance, that historically The United Methodist Church has not condoned the practice of homosexuality.
     In terms of same-sex marriage, this approach would allow the exercise of conscience amongst clergy. Given the current disciplinary warrant (cf. BOD ¶340.2a, 3a) for clergy to determine whom they perform weddings for, clergy who choose to could perform same-sex weddings. Clergy who do not choose to would not be required to perform same-sex weddings.
     Annual conferences, as is already their constitutional warrant (cf. ¶33 of the Constitution), would continue to determine matters of ordination, including whether or not to ordain LGBTQ persons. Bishops would determine where to appoint based on the existing consultative process outlined in the BOD. This option also would remove the practice of homosexuality or the performance of same-sex ceremonies from the categories of chargeable offenses. It would leave the funding restrictions intact.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Connectional Table Essential Functions

CT Essential Function #1:
"To provide a forum for the understanding and implementation of the vision, mission, and ministries of the global church as determined in consultation with the Council of Bishops and/or the actions of General Conference."
There are few places between General Conference where almost all of the agencies, jurisdictions, central conferences, youth and young adult organization and U.S. racial-ethnic caucuses come together to better understand the actions of General Conference and discuss the "mission, vision and ministries of our global church." Not only does this body have the responsibility of looking at the church as a whole, but it is tasked with making the ethereal, theoretical, ecclesiological principles and policies become practical and real. It is no small task and it is wrought with wrong turns and pot-holes that often challenge this group of 59 people.

The Connectional Table is a body that is only ten years old to date. This body has been in existence less than three quadrennium, which in the life of our denomination is still in the "childhood" stage with much to learn and much to reconsider. The creators of the body were the members of the 2004 General Conference and (as much of our work in this connection) they named what they felt was the most reasonable and achievable expectations for our church at the time. What I commonly hear about that experience was that, "It was a compromise to address the matters of dysfunction and decline in our connection."

In real life, you don't tell your children, you were a compromise to save our unhappy marriage. In reality, you take the gift God has offered you in new life and you learn to live differently. That is what we have been doing this quadrennium in the work of the Connectional Table. Bishop Bruce Ough, the chair of the CT, started the quadrennium by reminding the CT that God has given this body new life and that we have an opportunity to live differently. Therefore, the CT has been working at living differently, as we seek to discern and articulate the mission, the vision and how we best steward the resources of our beloved connection.

This "forum" of representational members in our UM connection has been living differently by seeing every single person, including agency General Secretaries and Presidents as equal participants in the conversation. We have been seeking to listen to the voices of concern that have come both within our expectations and beyond our expectations. We have also been challenged to LIVE differently by being leaders who PRACTICE our means of grace regularly, both together and individually. The expectation is that every CT member must live as a "principled Christian leader" if we are to envision a UM Connection with more "principled Christian leaders." It has not always been easy, and we have sometimes failed at being gracious and loving towards one another, but we are striving. Our theory is that we can only "understand and implement the vision and mission" if we are ourselves living the vision and mission of our UMC.

The scripture that has grounded me in this role is: Luke 22:26-27
26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. 27 So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

The Connectional Table of The UMC is seeking to be the servant leaders of our UM Connection. It is not easy and through many paths of discernment, UM across the connection have sent certain people to this table to work together to offer the people called United Methodists and beyond HOPE for God's work in the world today. With humility, we seek to live into this role for the sake of God's mission through The United Methodist Church.


Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker serves as the Executive Secretary of The Connectional Table of The UMC. She will be offering a series of blogs on the "Essential Functions" of The CT as mandated by the 2012 General Conference and how the CT has been living into these essential functions since 2012. Questions or comments to this blogpost can be made at ConnectionalTable@UMC.org.