Leading Now and Into the Future – Our Vision

Leading Now and Into the Future – Our Vision

November 23, 2021

PREAMBLE

Even before Iowa became a state on December 28, 1846, the Methodist movement was established in what would soon become the Iowa Territory. In Between the Rivers: A History of the United Methodist Church in Iowa, author Rev. John Nye tells the story of the rise of Methodism that began for early pioneers in “1833 when Baron Randle of the Illinois Conference crossed the Mississippi River to the cluster of cabins that was to become Dubuque, and preached to whoever would listen.”i From the Mighty Mississippi to the Meandering Missouri, Methodist people have been leading the way in Iowa for nearly two centuries by establishing churches, hospitals, and schools; engaging in ministries of formation, witness, justice and advocacy; and, by sharing our stories and experiences as we live out our faith in Jesus. We continue in this tradition of leadership today. 

While there is no way to fully weigh the impact of the Methodist movement on Iowa historically, we know that our beloved church, grounded in personal piety and social holiness, has impacted our communities, state, and world for the better. This is evidenced in the ways in which we do life with one another and take part in our connectional relationships. For the past 188 years, Iowa United Methodists (including our predecessor denominations) have been engaged in ministry that is: relevant to the spiritual and temporal needs of the people and grounded in the Great Commandment and Great Commission. 

Part of what it means to live and serve in Iowa includes engaging in the diversity of our communities, be it cultural, political, racial-ethnic, geographic, etc. Iowans have a set of core values that incorporate loving our neighbors in ways that respect differing views. We believe in providing compassionate care in times of need and celebrating diversity. We advocate for justice and peace and allow space for each other to live out our personal convictions faithfully and contextually. We seek to do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God (in the contemporary church, we say: stay in love with God). 

This land between two rivers, named after the indigenous Ioway tribe, is where present-day United Methodists continue to live out our mission and ministry despite a pandemic that we are only midway through; a delayed General Conference that may not yet happen in 2022; and as economic, political, and racial divides, as well as day-to-day struggles continue to impact our communities. It is this contextual reality that prompted the Appointive Cabinet to say we need to find a better way. 

This decision by the Appointive Cabinet grants contextual permissions not for the sake of taking a side, but as a way for us to move through the impasse and invite us all into a way forward together. Our statement is grounded in the primary desire to live now in a manner that allows every church and every pastor in the Iowa United Methodist Conference to serve God and their communities and honor their deeply held convictions as we continue to share the Good News in this age when bad news can feel so overwhelming. This statement from the Cabinet makes way for United Methodist clergy and laity to live into our heritage of personal piety and social holiness, being faithful to who God calls us to be in Christ Jesus, and witnessing to Iowa that there is room for everyone who wants a home in the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church. 


[i] John A Nye,  Between the Rivers: A History of the United Methodist Church in Iowa,  Published by the Commission on Archives and History, Iowa Annual Conference of the Untied Methodist Church. 1986. 


Leading Now and Into the Future – Our Vision
The Iowa Annual Conference Appointive Cabinet and Bishop Laurie Haller, in consultation, conversation, and collaboration with a representative body of Iowa United Methodist traditional, centrist, and progressive compatibilists, the Ezekiel Team, and our Conference Boards of Trustees, Pensions, and Finance and Administration (CFA), offer a new way forward as we live into the future of the Iowa Annual Conference. This way forward is informed by Bishop Laurie’s “Vision 2032,” where (1) relationships are more important than theological convictions, (2) innovation, creativity, and imagination are more important than stagnation, rigidity, sacred cows, and the status quo, and (3) our primary focus is on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. 
 
Many forces press against United Methodist Congregations including a global pandemic, new iterations of Methodism desiring to move forward, and the repeated delay of General Conference 2020. We boldly offer this vision and plan for how we will live, lead, and do ministry now as United Methodists in the Iowa Annual Conference.
 
This vision provides a home for everyone – whether they consider themselves liberal, evangelical, progressive, traditionalist, middle of the road, conservative, centrist or something else[1] - who wants a home in the remaining Iowa Annual conference of The United Methodist Church. We believe people need Jesus, we need each other, and we need to lead the church we believe God is asking us to be as United Methodists for this time.
 
As we lead now into the future, we desire to equip local congregations to do the ministry God is calling them to do. No one will be compelled or required to act contrary to their convictions, understanding of scripture, or conscience. Likewise, no one will be prevented from doing the ministry God is calling them to offer. To put it clearly, pastors will be able to choose which weddings they officiate, as long as it is two consenting adults who have been counseled. Likewise, church leadership, in consultation with their pastors, will be able to determine their own policy regarding weddings. Our ministry and witness to the world is stronger due to our connection. We will live into the trust we have in one another knowing our congregations and clergy are deeply engaged and informed by scripture, are convicted by the Holy Spirit, and are being responsible to the mission God has called us to – even when we don’t all agree, or our ministries are different. 
 
This vision is also informed by covenant work emerging from the recent special called North Central Jurisdictional Conference envisioning a church committed to evangelism, caring about each disciple's faith journey, and about both personal piety and social holiness. We heard the voices of many who were clear about the need to be a church committed to inclusion, connectionalism, antiracism, diversity, climate care, contextually driven ministry, and being hope made real. All of this is a reflection of who we are in Christ and how we live out the call we each have in our baptism. 

We realize this vision may go too far for some in the current Iowa Annual Conference and not far enough for others. For many congregations this means that nothing will change regarding the way you operate or do ministry. No vote needs to be taken. Nor do changes need to be made in your local context. Keep doing what God is calling you to do. For some congregations, this means that you will now be free to begin new ministries that God is calling you to do. 

As United Methodists, we hold on to our Wesleyan heritage believing “the living core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason”[2] and we continue to be guided by our doctrinal standards, our Baptismal Covenants (I, II, III, BOW), and the Apostles Creed. We are informed by the work set out in “Our Theological Task” and embrace our expressions of theology through everything contained in our United Methodist HymnalBook of Worship, and song books.  

If, however, a church feels that they cannot continue to be in ministry in the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church with the vision as presented, we have developed a plan with the Board of Trustees, CFA and the Board of Pensions to allow for a gracious exit from the IAUMC. This disaffiliation plan has been updated to meet the requirements laid out in BOD ¶ 2553 at the Special Called General Conference. 

This vision will be effective January 1, 2022. Local congregations who desire to leave the Iowa Annual Conference, will need to 1) present a written statement outlining their desire to leave as their faithful response to this vision of ministry and human sexuality to the Bishop and the Appointive Cabinet, 2) schedule a charge conference with their local District Superintendent, with a two-thirds majority vote in favor of disaffiliation, and 3) must satisfy any remaining apportionment payments and pension liability calculations.        

In this delicate time in the Iowa Annual Conference and the United Methodist Church, we are committed to ensuring that both clergy and congregations can flourish in their ministries by continuing their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 


[1] Council of Bishops – “A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church” letter 11/3/2021

[2] Council of Bishops – “A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church” letter 11/3/2021