Many questions are being asked across the UMC about the protocol that became public on January 3, 2020. Some of the questions are unanswerable until the actual protocol legislation becomes public in the near future. However, enough information was stated in the protocol to give people a sense of what could be ahead if a legislative version of it passes at the May 2020 General Conference.
Some people are embracing the protocol concept with enthusiasm. Others are disappointed with it, even feeling disenfranchised by it. Still others are waiting to read the actual legislation before evaluating it.
The protocol has created much conversation across the connection. People are asking questions like:
- Will the protocol legislation be approved by the General Conference?
- If yes, what amendments will be required for its passage?
- If yes, will our Annual Conference stay with the post-separation United Methodist Church or go with the new traditional Methodist denomination? What will happen to my local church?
- If the protocol legislation is not approved, what is ahead for United Methodism?
- In either case, what happens to clergy pensions?
First things first. Breathe deeply. Pray often. Read the legislation. Engage others. Discern prayerfully. Make disciples of Jesus Christ.
If approved, some of the legislation that will be considered by the General Conference could result in Annual Conferences being faced with major decisions. With that in mind, I encourage you to join me in six actions named above.
- Breathe deeply. The uncertainty of our future brings anxiety with it. When anxious, I follow the recommended pattern of slowing down, breathing deeply and collecting my thoughts before making decisions and taking action. This season in our church is a time for us to breathe in the calm that God’s Holy Spirit offers and breathe out our anxiety. As we do so, we are better prepared to navigate whatever is ahead for us.
- Pray often. Many of us began the practice of daily prayer for our denomination’s future during the 2018 and 2019 Praying Our Way Forward initiative. I continue to pray daily that we will move through our denominational impasse in a way that honors Christ, shows love for all persons and respects the full range of diverse convictions, perspectives and biblical interpretations of United Methodists.
- Read the legislation. Read the 2020 General Conference legislation that is currently posted as well as the protocol legislation once it is made available. Read blogs of persons who have different perspectives about the pluses and minuses of various pieces of legislation. Ask yourself, “What will be gained if this legislation passes? What will be lost? Who is disenfranchised by this legislation? Are there ways to amend the legislation to minimize the losses and maximize the gains?”
- Engage with others. Various opportunities will be provided by the Conference leadership team and our General Conference delegation in March and April for North Alabama United Methodists to learn details about General Conference proposed legislation, including the protocol. All interested persons are invited to attend one of the informational gatherings in Huntsville or Birmingham on March 21 and April 4. In addition, every North Alabama clergyperson and designated lay member to Annual Conference is asked to participate in either the Huntsville or Birmingham informational event and/or one of several fireside chats led by teams of District Superintendents at various geographic locations. Details will be forthcoming soon about the locations and times of the informational gatherings and the fireside chats.
- Discern. As we breathe, pray, read and engage together, individual and collective discernment will take place. Note that plans for a special called Annual Conference are being made for August 15, 2020, at Asbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham in the event that it is needed to address legislation that passes at General Conference 2020. This would give clergy and designated lay Annual Conference members the opportunity to have several weeks to pray, inform themselves and discern before voting on weighty General Conference legislation. The special called Annual Conference will only convene if needed.
- Make disciples. Yes, there are many questions being asked across the UMC in these days leading up to General and Annual Conference. They are important questions that deserve our collective and individual attention. Even as we do so, let us continue to pour ourselves into our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. For 150 years North Alabama Conference Methodists have shared our faith, reached new people for Christ and made a positive difference in our communities and world. May it be so in increasing measures during 2020.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference