Message from Bishop Wallace-Padgett: What’s Next?
The announcement that General Conference 2022 had been postponed for the third time – to 2024 – was met with emotions ranging from disappointment, anger, distrust and relief. On one hand I was surprised at the postponement because leading up to the announcement, COVID-19 numbers were improving and there were some reports that many international delegates had access to vaccinations. On the other hand, I anticipated that there was a greater likelihood of postponement than not, due to international visa challenges in a COVID-19 world.
The postponement has created a stir within our denomination because of our denominational conflict about differences in understandings related to human sexuality, especially as applied to ordination and weddings. In response to the turmoil following the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, the late Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu invited a group of 16 persons with differing theological perspectives, including bishops, clergy and laity to find a solution. The result was an agreement called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. If the resulting legislation passes, it will provide a method for the United Methodist Church to separate. There was significant support for this as we approached General Conference 2020. Of course, COVID-19 caused the 2020 General Conference to be postponed, first to 2021, then to 2022 and now to 2024. This has created frustration for those who see the Protocol as our best way forward.
So, we United Methodists again are in a period of waiting for the next General Conference. What do we do while in this waiting posture? Many of our churches and clergy have been stellar in leading through the pandemic. Now that it appears we are on the other side of the worst part of COVID-19 in the U.S., our focus is returning to the North Alabama Conference’s primary mission of spiritual leaders empowering life-giving congregations to transform the world.
Last week we had a hope-filled cabinet meeting as we envisioned how we will move forward as a united North Alabama Conference. We know there will be some churches who discern that they no longer can make the journey with us. But we are hopeful much of North Alabama will stay united. We have identified a team of persons who are working on logistics that will provide space for traditionalists, centrists and progressives to continue living as United Methodists in relationship together. You will hear more about that in the near future.
During this difficult time with many unknowns, I encourage leaders and members to take deep breaths, pray daily, be respectful to each other, fact-check information, ask their District Superintendent questions, be patient, discern carefully and focus on growing healthy churches and making disciples of Jesus Christ. The most important action any of us can take is to grow in our relationship with God and others, including sharing our faith and being involved in outreach. As we do so we will continue moving into the future making a difference in the lives of North Alabama members, churches and communities.
We are drawing to the conclusion of the Lenten season, a time often characterized by wilderness questions and prayerful discernment. On this side of the cross, we also know that Easter is around the corner. Even as we deal with challenging life and denominational questions, may we be filled with the hope and joy that comes from serving our Resurrected Savior.
As always it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference