Conversation was the order of the day at the fall gathering of the Orders of Elders
Click here to see more images from the Orders of Elders and Deacons and Association of Licensed Local Pastors event.
Click here to see the video of Bishop Laurie's sermon
and Deacons and Association of Licensed Local Pastors. Meeting at First United Methodist Church in Ames, the clergy of the Iowa Conference focused on the denomination's effort to discover "a way forward" as it addresses the unity of the church in regards to LGBTQ inclusion.
In her sermon during the opening worship, Bishop Laurie Haller spoke about "The Terror of Ministry." “What is it about ministry that terrifies you,” she asked. “I’m sure it’s not just preaching. You’re afraid you’re going to lose your temper at a church board meeting. It’s up to you to meet with two people who have been feuding about who controls the church kitchen. You’re gathering with a family who has experienced the death of a teenage child, and you have no clue what to say. A staff member is deliberately undermining your ministry. The pledge campaign hasn’t raised nearly enough money to meet budget needs, let alone pay 100% of your apportionments. You’re starting a new worship service and have no idea if anyone will show up!”
“Whenever I have been terrified by the stress and responsibility of pastoring and have started to feel sorry for myself, I have tried to imagine how terrified my parishioners are at times. They, too, are anxious about so many things,” Bishop Laurie noted. “Every one of us here this morning has been called. We are all bound together by our covenant connection. And we are all bound together by our common experience of the terror of ministry. My sense is that our terrors often revolve around insecurity about who we are. Our terrors result because we forget who is in control. We forget that the Holy One created each one of us as unique, one-of-a-kind individuals. We think we have to do it on our own and are so hard on ourselves when we make a mess of things. We think that it’s our skill and our sensitivity and our vision and our knowledge that enables us to be good pastors to our flocks. Not so. It’s only by grace that we survive…God says to each one of us today, 'Do not fear, for I have called you by name. Do not fear, for I will give you strength. Do not fear, for my grace is sufficient for you.'”
Following worship Phil Carver and Rev. Lilian Gallo Seagren summarized the spirit and action of the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, reviewing, in particular, the remarks of Council of Bishops President Bruce Ough. A video clip from the Conference showed him discussing how the effort to gain a wider understanding of perspectives across the denomination had an unintended impact that gave rise to rumors of separation.
The General Conference delegates asked the Council to lead the church and issue a statement, which it did on the following day of the worldwide gathering. Beginning with words from Galatians 3—"all of you are one in Christ Jesus"—the document expressed "a deep commitment to the unity of the church." It went on to state the belief that unity is "something we receive as a gift from God." In a "pause for prayer," there was the hope that the assembly, and by extension, the church, could "step back from attempts at legislative solutions and...intentionally seek God's will for the future." Processes and next steps, including naming a commission to help devise "a way forward," with the potential of a special called session of the General Conference, were proposed. Finally, there was a commitment to continuing discussions with the intention to "explore options to help the church live in grace with one another—including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline
Rev. Katie Dawson and Phil Carver, who were on the July 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference's writing team that crafted "A Resolution in Support of the Bishops' Commission.” That document would "allow the diversity of theological perspectives to exist in our denomination and make space for a variety of contextually relevant ministries around conversations of human sexuality in congregation and conferences as the Holy Spirit leads." It also called on the Council of Bishops to "cultivate within their cabinets and clergy sessions a way that treats all clergy respectfully and fairly whether their views are traditional, progressive, or indifferent on matters of human sexuality.”
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the morning came when Rev. Anna Blaedel and Rev. Gary Hoyt spoke about respecting their strongly-held viewpoints about LGBTQ inclusion in the church. While holding differing opinions, they agreed that taking the time to get to know others is crucial. Both clergy had been involved in a complaint process that resulted in a dismissal by former Iowa Conference Bishop Julius Trimble.
The afternoon was devoted to small group conversation about the Council of Bishop’s proposal and the Jurisdictional resolution of support. In fives and sixes, people turned to talk with each other across the pews of the First Church sanctuary, perhaps a symbolic image of conversation bridging divides.
Bishop Laurie Haller shared her observations of where the United Methodist Church is and what she noted from the days gathering. “We desire to be unified, but that doesn’t mean that we all have to think alike. It does say that we all have to love each other despite our differences and be able to honor those differences…together we express the wholeness of the kingdom of God.” She added, “I have so much hope because as I look out at each one of you and the wonderful, sacred conversation we had today, listening to one another, realizing that we can still be part of the body of Christ that is known as The United Methodist Church and not be of one mind.”
The day closed with the celebration of Holy Communion.
Great thanks to Rev. Fred Lewis and the community of First United Methodist Church, Ames, for hosting the fall gathering of the Orders and Fellowship.