By Rick Wolcott*
Members of each of the delegations to the Special Session of General Conference from across the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) gathered at Wespath Benefits and Investments in Glenview, Illinois September 21-22. The time of shared learning, small group discussion, worship, and fellowship was sponsored by the NCJ College of Bishops and the NCJ Mission Council.
“The goal really was conversations and the building of relationships,” said Bishop David Bard, president of the NCJ College of Bishops and resident bishop of the Michigan Conference.
“We had some time for conversation together both with the members of our own delegation as well as with other delegates from other conferences,” said Phil Carver, the lead lay delegate from the Iowa Conference. “We were responding to the preparations for the 2019 Special Session of General Conference and we were looking at the proposals that have come from the Commission on a Way Forward and looking at them in a little more detail so that we understood them.”
Delegates heard presentations about each of the plans proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward: The One Church Plan that is recommended by the Council of Bishops; the Connectional Conference Plan; and the Traditionalist Plan. There was time dedicated for delegates to talk and think about how the plans may play out in their context, and for conversation around the question “What is good for the whole Church?”
Rev. Carol Zaagsma, a first reserve delegate from the Minnesota Conference, noted that the diverse viewpoints of those in the jurisdiction heightened the need for delegates to come together and see each other as people.
“Talking with people illuminated the heart behind where they stand,” she said. “It’s important work to engage in the conversation and see people as beloved children of God.”
“My expectations were pretty low for this but I’ve come away with a great sense of hope,” said lay delegate Allen Laferty, chairperson of the East Ohio Conference delegation. “Meeting with other delegates from other conferences, there’s a good spirit that the church is going to move forward some way or somehow and these plans, or whatever it is that is decided at the Special Session, will make us a stronger church.”
“We accomplished the goal of bringing people together in a heart of peace,” said Bishop Julius C. Trimble, resident bishop of the Indiana Conference.
As he prepares for the Special Session of General Conference, Carver knows there is a lot to consider.
“We hope that as we are making the decisions that are before us in February that we’ll be mindful of all of our churches and all of their mission and ministry,” he said. “I think there is certainly a common spirit here this week that we want to do all we can to maximize the churches presence throughout the world.”
Bard reminds all laity and clergy of The United Methodist Church that they have vital roles to play in the lead up to the Special Session of General Conference to be held in St. Louis, Missouri February 23-26, 2019.
“I hope they will be praying for their delegations,” he said. “I hope they will pay attention to what is happening and learn about the plans and be in conversations with their delegations but I hope they don’t get so caught up in it that they forget being about the ministry of the Church – that work of making disciples to transform the world, feeding the hungry, caring for people. We don’t ever want what’s happening at a denominational level to be an impediment to our being in ministry.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. Special thanks to Minnesota Conference Director of Communications Christa Meland and Iowa Conference Director of Communications the Rev. Dr. Art McClanahan for their contributions to this article.