Monday, November 23, 2015

CT Executive Secretary Staff Report

The Connectional Table has seven essential functions that have been tasked by General Conference. What I have learned about these essential functions over the last three years is that they are broad and complex in how they can be interpreted and how they can be executed. We have narrowed these functions into three primary areas: building bridges that strengthen relationships, connecting/coordinating strategies for greater alignment and impact on the mission, and connecting the stories for inspiring transformation in Jesus Christ throughout the world. As you know our intended focus at the beginning of the quadrennium was to align our attention, energy and resources on increasing Vital Congregations throughout our connection, developing agreed upon goals in the Four Areas of Focus and staying focused on being a more authentic worldwide church. There has been no easy “technical solution” for these very broad and complex matters for our denomination. We have been constantly seeking “adaptive changes” in order to face this work for the sake of our mission as a UMC.

As we pressed the “reset button” at the beginning of the quadrennium for The Connectional Table, that meant we were going to have to learn from the past and set a new direction for our future. There were many matters pressing on all of us as we continue to address the hard reality of declining membership in the U.S., rising membership in the African Central Conferences and increasing anxiety about human sexuality in the U.S. and beyond. Walking a fine line between different contexts and cultures for a denomination is challenging, especially when these cultural contexts are so vastly diverse. Human sexuality had not been a priority matter for the Connectional Table, however, in our responsibility of “coordinating the program life of the church with the mandates of the gospel, the mission of the church, and the needs of the global community by listening to the expression of needs, addressing emerging issues, and determining the most effective, cooperative and efficient way to provide optimum stewardship of ministries, personnel, and resources,” we were asked to address this matter directly. It has taken a great deal of our time, it has changed our agenda and our focus and in many ways it has made many of us feel very uncomfortable as we sought to be faithful. However, I can tell you that I am thankful for what I have witnessed of the Christians called United Methodists who serve as Board members on the Connectional Table. My friends, you have shown the fruits of the Spirit through your kindness, gentleness, patience, love and peace in the midst of very difficult conversations and very difficult experiences. Have we been perfect through this process? No. Have we done our best to be faithful? I believe we have and will continue to listen and discern where God is calling us as the people called United Methodist.

That matter has not been our entire focus this quadrennium. In our experimentation with new ways of organizing our life together, we have learned many things. Across the connection I have heard that relationships have been improving amongst CT members and amongst other leaders in our church. This has been our emphasis in “building relationships.” More collaboration has been happening as agencies are working together to jointly address our call to disciples to become principled Christian leaders and create new places for new people. As you know our work on stamping out killer diseases has evolved to a greater understanding of global health and now a vision of abundant health for all. We continue to learn about what it means to be in ministry with the poor versus ministry for the poor. With every Connectional Table meeting there has been an evolution of our adaptive work and the vision we will cast at General Conference 2016 is for a hope-filled future. We see a Vital Connection working together on strategic directions that will help us tell our story of God’s work through The United Methodist Church and make a greater impact on our joint mission of making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

These past few years, we have been working hard at trying to better understand the current UM system that we live in before moving forward to establish new ways to organize our system. This has been true in our evaluation and accountability work, in our finance and budget work and even in our general conference work. (It’s like approaching a tangled net and trying to untangle it so that you can see what happened, where there may be holes and what might need to be fixed.) You, as CT Board members, have been hard at work in these areas, seeking ways for us to build and strengthen the relationships across our agencies and connectional structures.

 I’d like to highlight a few accomplishments that we believe have been the result of our relationship building, strategy connecting and coordinating work and our work on connecting the story for the whole UMC:

- An evaluation process for program-related agencies that utilized already existing evaluation systems.
- A budgeting process that invited each agency to live within the financial constraints of the whole system.
- Missional Collaboration Groups that sought to continuously bring together members of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table to cast vision for the work of the whole addressing adaptive challenges within our systems.
- Engage in difficult conversations on human sexuality through Christian Conferencing for the sake of the whole church.

- Initial development of a system to build capacity across the connection through tools like the logic model to assist in denomination wide strategic planning, management/stewardship of resources and evaluation.
- Initial development of evaluation process that begins to assess the whole system for missional impact on specific strategic outcomes.
- Joint meetings with groups responsible for over-arching elements of our mission in our worldwide context.

- Communication around Vital Congregations and Four Areas of Focus has been sustained throughout the connection. UMCOM has been a key partner in this work.
- 2015 State of the Church Report in the Interpreter focused on Vital Congregations and Four Areas of Focus.
- CT Report to General Conference will highlight the work of Vital Congregations bearing fruits in these four areas across our worldwide connection.
- CT Ambassadors and #CTTalks have enabled the flow of information and communication across the connection in preparation for General Conference.

This is only a glimpse of our work as we have sought to redefine our role as a connecting body for the denomination. Our hope is that these accomplishments will be foundational to the ongoing work of the Connectional Table for 2017-2020. The CT Strategic Plan document takes this work to the next level and seeks to build capacity within our system for better outcomes for our joint mission. We have learned so much this quadrennium and we hope that from our newfound knowledge, the next CT can be better prepared to listen to the Holy Spirit and lead our church forward into the 21st Century Mission field. By God’s grace, let it be so!

Click the hyperlink to view the 2015 Connectional Table Joint Report video with Rev. Amy Valdez Barker and Bishop Bruce Ough.

SUBMITTED BY: Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, PhD, Executive Secretary

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Let's Talk!: #CTTalks is Engaging Conversations in Preparation for General Conference 2016

Two months ago, I began a seminary internship as the Student Ministry Intern at The Connectional Table. A student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary just outside of Chicago, Illinois, I honestly didn't know much about what The Connectional Table was or the work that it did. But I was interested in getting a more panoramic view of the work of the United Methodist Church as I seek to find my unique place in the connection as a future church leader.

Two months in, I'm still trying to figure out all of the many things The Connectional Table is and does. But as its name suggests, some of our most important work lies simply in inviting people to the table, inviting people into a shared space of dialogue and relationship where we can grow together as disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world. That's why I'm so excited about The Connectional Table's #CTTalks project to engage information and conversation around the important issues of General Conference 2016.

#CTTalks is a resource meant for individuals and delegations as they study and discuss in preparation for their work at General Conference. By using YouTube and Twitter, we hope to create more space at the table for as many people as possible in as many places as possible to participate in the conversation. Each month there will be a Companion Sheet with resources for further information on the month's topic and questions to use for individual or group reflection. We are also in the process of making the #CTTalks videos available with English, French, and Portuguese subtitles as well to make them accessible to speakers of multiple languages and for those who are hearing impaired.

We launched #CTTalks last month with a series of videos on General Conference Culture for 2016. And yesterday we launched our series for November on Christian Conferencing. I invite you to watch this week's video below:

Future #CTTalks topics will include:
December 2015: Vital Congregations - Paragraph 120
January 2016: Worldwide Nature - Our Theology
February 2016: Worldwide Nature - Our Organization/Structure
March 2016: Human Sexuality
April 2016: Stronger Together: VC-Four Strategic Directions for 2017-2020
May 6: Welcome to Portland

So let's talk! I'm looking forward to the dialogue and relationships that we hope will be strengthened through these #CTTalks conversations over the course of the next six months as we prepare for General Conference 2016. Come to the table. And may we all be transformed by our work together as the United Methodist Church.

Katye Dunn

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

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bishop Mike Coyner: "Accountability Where It Counts"

Recently the Connectional Table of our denomination voted to recommend a series of changes to our Book of Discipline. Like all of the other proposals and petitions that will come to General Conference next year, the vote of the Connectional Table is only a recommendation and not a final decision.

The proposals from the Connectional Table deal with the issue of homosexuality and especially same-gender weddings. Currently our Book of Discipline prohibits our clergy from officiating at such a ceremony, and our Discipline also states that we consider the practice of homosexuality (not the orientation, but the behavior) to be "incompatible with Christian teaching." Given the increasing number of states in the U.S. which have made same-gender marriages legal, along with some countries elsewhere (mostly in Europe and most recently by popular referendum in Ireland), the Connectional Table recommended changing our prohibitions against our clergy performing same-gender weddings. Instead they propose leaving that decision up to the appointed pastor for each church, just as pastors already have the authority to decide whether or not to officiate the wedding for any couple. Likewise the Connectional Table proposal leaves the decision about which candidates to ordain to each Annual Conference, where that authority is already placed in our Book of Discipline.

Of course all of this is controversial because it would likely mean that some pastors would choose to officiate same-gender weddings in states of the U.S. or other countries where such a marriage is legal. In countries where such a marriage is not legal (like most countries in Africa), pastors would not be allowed to make that choice, and no pastor anywhere would be forced to officiate at such a wedding. The decision would be left in the hands of the pastor. The proposals from the Connectional Table are also controversial because it would likely mean that some Annual Conferences would choose to approve the ordination of a candidate who is homosexual, while many other Annual Conferences would not make that choice. The Connectional Table proposals have been roundly criticized by groups on the left (like Love Prevails) and groups on the right (like Good News), so one is left to wonder if their proposals have any chance of being approved at General Conference. Of course being criticized on the left and right could mean that the proposals from the Connectional Table are indeed a compromise or a "third way" as they described it in their deliberations.

If we take the whole issue of homosexuality out of the discussion, I am attracted to one aspect of the Connectional Table proposal: they place accountability at the local church and Annual Conference level where accountability really counts. Our current efforts to hold people accountable from the General Conference level have not worked. Even our efforts as the Council of Bishops to hold one another and the whole church accountable have not worked. In this 21st century era of "flat" organizations, I am not sure if "top down" accountability will ever work again. Rather, we often find that "horizontal" accountability between and among peers is more effective. Perhaps allowing local churches, pastors of those local churches, and local Annual Conferences to make these decisions is a more viable option. Will that make our UMC less "connectional"? Probably so, or maybe it would recognize that we already are less connectional that we were in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Already we are allowing for more and more "localism" in our decision-making. Our Book of Discipline allows for a great deal of flexibility in how local churches organize themselves. Likewise our Annual Conferences are allowed to organize themselves in order to meet their own special missional needs. The Judicial Council has ruled that the pastor of a local congregation has final say over which persons may join that congregation. On and on the list goes ... we are becoming more local in many ways. I know that all Bishops and Cabinets deal with this trend as we make appointments, too, with clergy adding more and more special circumstances as we consider how itinerant they really are (things like kids in school, spouse employment, needs of elderly parents and other geographic considerations). The days of every clergy simply saying "yes" when appointed are gone; nowadays the "consultation process" is written into our Discipline and it is even more complicated in practice. It isn't 1950 anymore in terms of our UMC connectional structure.

It is also true that many rules against practices which are contrary to the Book of Discipline are not enforced and perhaps are not enforceable. For example, rebaptism is clearly against our theology and our rules, but I can't think of the last time that anyone tried to enforce that rule. Rather, we trust the pastoral judgement of our clergy to work with individuals to determine what kind of "renewal" is needed to help their faith journey. Another example is the way we have stretched the role of Local Pastors who now can be appointed to Extension Ministries, can be given permission to serve the sacraments at things like an Emmaus Walk outside of their local parish, etc. We have stretched those definitions in order to allow ministry to happen. Another obvious example is our UM Hymnal – how many of our congregations actually use the official hymnal, compared to how many adapt and use a variety of other types of music and even liturgy? No one seems ready to demand that every pastor and every congregation must use our official hymnal, even though our rules say so. I could name other examples where our Methodist "rules" are flexed for the good of our mission and ministry as determined in the local situation. Probably the largest example which we tend to overlook is the freedom we allow our Central Conferences outside of the U.S. to adapt much of the Book of Discipline to meet their unique cultural and regional settings. We simply do not hold them accountable to same sets of rules that we try to use in the Annual Conferences in the U.S.

So how truly "connectional" are we today? If by "connectional" we mean "uniformity" then that era has passed (if it ever existed). If by "connectional" we mean united in our mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," then that kind of alliance and affinity has a real possibility of guiding our ministry and mission.

I have no idea whether or not the proposals from the Connectional Table will be received well by the 2016 General Conference. We seem to live in an era of polarization where no new ideas have much chance of being passed at General Conference. But it may be time to place accountability on many issues where is can count the most – even if that means continuing our trends toward localism.

Bishop Mike Coyner, President of the General Council on Finance and Administration
Bishop Coyner has begun his third term as the resident bishop of the Indiana Conference, having previously served the Dakotas from 1996-2004. He returns to the CT this quadrennium with GCFA, having served in 2005-2008 as president of GBOD. Bishop Mike and his spouse Marsha have two adult children and four grandchildren.

This post was reprinted with permission and can be found here: