I wondered about it after coming across this video of a failed SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral in February 2016. The video is about a minute long.
3, 2, 1…Lift Of…Well, no, scratch that….
That failed SpaceX mission seems to be an apt metaphor for United Methodists. We were awaiting the historic separation of our denomination into the Global Methodist Church and the post-separation United Methodist Church. Instead, we’re stuck with our chronic conflict, dysfunction, and fragmentation. The old joke about UMC meaning “Untied Methodist Church” isn’t funny anymore.
The result? For congregations, pastors, and individual United Methodists it feels like a failure to launch.
Remember the timeline?
2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon:
Due to the intense rancor and discord surrounding the issues of sexuality, marriage, and ordination, the Council of Bishops proposed that no related legislation be considered and that instead a Commission on a Way Forward seek a path through the denominational conflict to be considered at a possible specially called General Conference to deal solely with the issues related to sexuality.
2019: Specially Called General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri:
The sole purpose for the specially called session was to resolve the long-standing conflicts within the UMC regarding sexuality, marriage, and ordination. The Commission on a Way Forward report contained three proposed plans from which the delegates were to choose the future of the United Methodist Church:
- The One Church Plan, endorsed by, advocated for, and supported by most of the Council of Bishops, would allow United Methodist clergy to perform same-gender weddings and allow annual conferences to ordain partnered LGBTQIA+ pastors.
- The Connectional Conference Plan would create “three values-based connectional conferences” in the U.S. and provide for central conferences to align with one of those connectional conferences or become one of their own.
- The Traditionalist Plan is mentioned in the report, but details written by “a few members of the Council of Bishops” appear in appendix 3. “The Traditional Model maintains our global United Methodist teaching on human sexuality,” the plan states. The Commission did not include a fully developed traditionalist plan because it received “modest support” from both the Commission members and the Council of Bishops. Several bishops later asked the Commission to include a Traditionalist Plan in its report to General Conference, but “the time available did not allow for the full conciliar process utilized for the other two plans.” Hence the “Traditionalist Plan” was relegated to Appendix 3.
The specially called General Conference, after heated debate, approved the Traditional Plan. Progressive delegates, pastors, and Annual Conferences immediately denounced the decision and pledged continuing dissent, disruption, and noncompliance.
2019 Northern Illinois Annual Conference: Schaumburg, Illinois
The Northern Illinois Annual Conference voted to refuse compliance with the decision of the General Conference and instead voted to approve formation of a task force on “alternate expressions of Methodism.”
January 2020: The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation is Proposed to Divide the United Methodist denomination
An unofficial and diverse group of United Methodist leaders and influencers announced a plan for separation of United Methodism into two or more denominations. Detailed legislation was written and submitted to the May 2020 General Conference for consideration. Several Annual Conferences affirmed the Protocol and its implementing legislation. The Protocol headed for consideration, and expected approval, at the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
January – March 2020: Northern Illinois Conference General Conference Briefings
The Northern Illinois Conference Task Force on Alternate Expressions of Methodism provided an update on its legislative commitments at the upcoming General Conference. Their summary? We will await the decision on the Protocol in May 2020.
And then, COVID-19…
General Conference was delayed from 2020 until 2021.
Then it was delayed from 2021 until 2022.
And now the Commission on General Conference, citing concerns about vaccinations and visas for international delegates, has decided to postpone the 2020 General Conference until sometime in 2024. Multi-national corporations have been having international meetings in person and online. Other denominations, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, have also held international decision-making meetings. In fact, the United Methodist Women are holding their international assembly this year. But somehow the General Conference of the United Methodist Church is uniquely unable to meet. Before we were stuck on the launching pad. Now, it seems, many of us are questioning the integrity of our leaders’ decisions altogether.
If the denomination in general seems to be fragmenting and failing, maybe you should go local.
A number of NIC churches have decided they have waited long enough for a decision to be made for them or about them. They are choosing to make their own decisions about the future of their congregation.
They are establishing a local church Transition Task Force to gather information, share resources, and come to a unified recommendation for a vote by the congregation in determining its future. Will they remain within the United Methodist Church? Will they transition to the Global Methodist Church? Will they choose a future independent of either of those denominational homes? Where is God calling your church now? What is the mission that fires your hearts today?
With the further postponement of the General Conference, it has become clear that we can no longer count on the decision-making processes of our denomination. But we can begin the prayerful grassroots work of deciding our future by establishing a Transition Task Force right now.
Perhaps that is the best response that will prepare your local church for a vibrant, fruitful, and mission-focused future.
(And, by the way, Elon Musk and his SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets have now had 138 fully successful missions…with just one failure to launch. The present setback doesn’t determine the future. We are commissioned, together, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, for the healing of the world in Jesus’ name. Don’t settle for anything less.)
Want to be informed, inspired, and encouraged for the future?
Come to the Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association
Saturday, May 7
Click here for information, registration, local accommodations, and livestream locations closer to home.