Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God
on Luke 9:1-6 and Luke 10:1-12,
two commissioning events
Fourth Sunday of Lent
www.FirstChurchBville.com   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk
• Current Bible reading plan, Luke 9-12 I wanted to do it all!
• So the story goes that when Jesus returned to heaven following his death and resurrection, the angels gathered around in amazement, examining the wounds in his hands and feet and shuddering to recall his suffering. Finally Gabriel spoke: “Master, you suffered terribly down there. Do they know and appreciate the extent of your sacrifice?”
“No,” Jesus replied. “Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.”
“Then what have you done to let everyone else know?” asked Gabriel.
“I’ve asked Peter, James, and John, and a few others to spread the news. They will tell others who will tell others who will tell others until the message spreads to the ends of the earth.”
But Gabriel, knowing the nature of human beings, asked, “What’s Plan B?”
“There is no Plan B,” replied the Christ. “There is no alternative strategy. I’m counting on them.”
Twenty centuries later, there’s still no Plan B. Christ is counting on you and me.
• Both of today’s “commission verses” include followers being sent to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of God (KoG).
• How shall we understand supernatural healing stories? Consider two possibilities, though; that they really happened as the disciples were that in touch with the power of God in Jesus Christ; or consider that various illnesses isolated individuals socially, and the disciples became willing to administer healing care to them.
• Kingdom of God. What does it mean, to proclaim the KoG, to tell people KoG is near? How would you respond if a stranger told you?
Look back earlier in Luke for clues about KoG: John the Baptist preaching justice (don’t take more than you’re supposed to; don’t extort…) Also when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah 61 in Luke 4: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In a word: the Kingdom of God is Hope.
Or Hope with power, hope with community.
That’s what we’re sent to do.
Proclaim hope where there is none.
Are there areas of no hope in Bville?
How do we address?
The Gospel is not something we go to church to hear,
it is something we go from church to tell.
• to share the love of God with people in a hurting world…
to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world…
• There is no Plan B. We are apostles.
• Hymn 571 Go, Make of All Disciples

Luke 9:1-6 (Common English Bible)
9 Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. 2 He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 5 Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 6 They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. ò

Luke 10:1-12 (CEB)

10 After these things, the Lord commissioned seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every city and place he was about to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. 3 Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. 5 Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ 6 If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. 7 Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ 10 Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, 11 ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’ 12 I assure you that Sodom will be better off on Judgment Day than that city. ò

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Presence of God

• Third Sunday of Lent
with Exodus 33:12-23
Moses and God talk, Moses asks to see God’s glory
www.FirstChurchBville.com   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• Current Bible reading plan, Exodus 29-36 important section
• Yesterday there was a wedding in the sanctuary (a renewal of vows, really). How can you tell? Look at all the decorations!
After high school I traveled to Germany. It was 1990, just half a year after fall of the Berlin Wall. Crossing into East Berlin felt heavy, almost black and white. About that time there was a commercial on TV, dingy rowhouses, one bright and shiny: Ajax was here. Ajax. Stronger than dirt. Just like that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7rSmhEhlLY
• God be with you. God is with me.
What does that mean? How do you know?
• Exodus Chapter 32 tells about the golden calf. In chapter 33 God tells Moses you’re on your own. We read today that Moses requests God to accompany, and God agrees to. Moses asks to see God’s glory. God agrees: I will pass by you, and I will declare my name. That actually comes to be in Chap 34, followed by God initiating covenant.
The result of Moses being in the presence of God:
Moses’ face shines.
There should be something about us
because we've been in the presence of God.
• Yesterday at the renewal of vows, Annica’s daughter Tracee gave an emotional speech about the man her mother met and married twenty years ago, and what that man (David) meant to the family (Annica was 12)... Imagine depth of emotion/power at presence of God.
We hide from one another. We hide from God.
• As Moses, invite and practice presence of God.There should be something about us
because we've been in the presence of God.

• Hymn 361 Rock of Ages

Exodus 33:12-23 (NRSV)
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”  ò

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Where Was God When...?

• Second Sunday of Lent
with 2 Samuel 12:15b-23, the child of David and Bathsheba dies
www.FirstChurchBville.com   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk
• Current Bible reading plan, 2 Samuel 10-19 Several chapters in life of King David.  I was reminded of Kind David's humanity. Sinless he was not. He made some bad choices, choices that caused rifts between him and God, choices that brought suffering to himself and to others. He was human. And he made good and godly choices at times. He was human. He was in need of God's grace, and he was sometimes the vessel of God's grace as well. May we be vessels of God's grace.
• On October 2, 2006 the nation reeled at the horrific news of a school shooting in Lancaster County PA. Ten girls were shot. Five survived, five were killed, and the shooter took his own life. Unspeakable tragedy.
Not only did the nation reel at the shooting, they reeled at the response of the Amish community. The Amish community not only offered forgiveness almost immediately, but they comforted the shooter’s family that day and eventually set up a fund to provide long-term care for the shooter’s wife and three children.
People around the nation and the world wondered
Where was God,
How could God let this happen,
Why didn’t God stop this?
And the Amish themselves respond:
God was present during the whole thing.
See how God was active…
See what God did in the midst...
• Imagine the inner struggle going on in the shooter's mind. Soul. Torn between pain and the right thing. I can imagine the spirit of God pleading with him at each step of the way, Don't do it. Don't take out your hurt on these others.
• More than a dozen were saved before the shooting began. Of 30 or so people initially in the school building, 20 or so were released. The Amish credit God.
- Of the ten girls who were shot, five survived.
By the grace of God, only five died.
- The shooter had supplies consistent with sexual assault,
but the Amish will say that God prevented any of the girls from being sexually assaulted.
- The shooting occurred in a community that turned the spotlight onto forgiveness and gave the world an example of living in God.
- The shooting occurred in a community that extended grace and compassion to shooter’s family. They were vessels of God's grace.
People frame tragedy through theology, and the Amish taught the world an incredible lesson in their response to a man’s sickness.
Also, in their forgiveness, they teach us something about grief.
Bitterness not allowed to fester. Healing is effected.
• Two things about the shooter: he said in suicide note he was afraid of molesting again. He was also angry at God that his firstborn, a daughter Elsie, died shortly after her premature birth, 9 years prior.
• Our scripture reading today shows another sick broken man (David lusted after Bathsheba, raped her, and then killed her husband Uriah). David also grieved the death of a child, but without cursing God. While the infant lived, he was sick, and David fasted and prayed, fasted and prayed. And when the child died, David cleaned up, worshiped God, and ate.
That part of the story perhaps you have been familiar with.
What I had not done before was question Wait a minute, God took the life of an innocent infant because of the sin of the infant’s father, and that is not right!
• Several responses to that.
- People frame tragedy through theology. Perhaps the story of David was told in such a way that emphasized sovereignty of God no matter what, and obviously if the child died it was because of the father’s sin. Like the friends say to Job. While that explanation may be so, I still find it abhorrent.
• God is beyond understanding. God is not like people. My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).
God is patient, not wanting any to perish,
but to come to repentance
. (2 Peter 3:9)
In all things God works for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Finally, where this event fails to effect redemption, there’s another biblical event which demonstrates the ultimate power of God and willingness and desire to forgive: God’s son Jesus Christ is an innocent son (Son of David!) whose death actually brought about forgiveness, and did so once and for all (John 3:16, Hebrews 10).
I lift my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

• Hymn 142 If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee
words and music by Georg Neumark, Germany, 1657
Georg son of a tailor. G was traveling away to attend university, father had sewn prayer book and money into lining of his clothing. G was robbed of everything he had, but the hidden money remained. G didn’t have enough to get where he was going, but he comes across a family in a town that hired him as a tutor. He gets on his feet. Gives God the credit for guiding him through peril.

2 Samuel 12:15b-23 (NRSV)
The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. 16 David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17 The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, “While the child was still alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we tell him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.”

20 Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.’ 23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” ò

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pac-Man Love

• On Psalm 50
 www.FirstChurchBville.com   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

• Current Bible reading plan, Psalm 50

• We teach kids to lie.
One time a woman who was raised in a church tradition that included confession told me she would make stuff up for confession when she was a little girl.

Or how about this: Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard (or maybe said) “I want you to apologize to so-and-so, like you mean it!” Imagine Greg takes a ball from his older brother Charlie, and Charlie hits Greg and makes him cry. 
“Say you’re sorry like you mean it.”

Well chances are Charlie isn’t sorry for hitting Greg, he’s sorry he got caught. It’s almost like we teach children to lie, to say something is not true. I know I heard it, but y’know I know I didn’t understand. We can’t impose maturity on a child, but rather we hope they come to maturity, and we seek to train them up right. 
The rule is no hitting your brother, because he’s still learning, 
just like you’re still learning. 
I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

• Remember Pac-Man? I was ten when it came out and we had it on our Atari 2600 and we got real good at it. I made a Pac-Man for my mom. It was horrible. 8-inch round Styrofoam painted yellow. Nailed it to a board with 6d nails (those were huge. Two inches long, and I did not nail accurately). Painted a cork black and fashioned an eye. What’d Mom do with it? On display in the kitchen forever. To this day except they moved. It was a GIFT of LOVE.

• Psalm 50. The mighty one, God the LORD.
Three divine names in a row, El Elohim HaShem (the unspoken name of the LORD). Emphasis.

Like how the President is announced… the sergeant at arms of the House of Representatives escorts the POTUS in, announcing The POTUS, and then the Speaker of the House announces. Very bigly, very formal.

A paraphrase of Psalm 50, by PK:
Mighty God, God the Lord, El Elohim Jehovah, 

who is above all and before all
announcing to all creation as witness, 

let it be heard, hear ye hear ye…
I am sick and tired of your mindless rituals. 
I don’t want your stuff. 
I don’t need your stuff! 
I don’t want you to say ‘I’m sorry’ if you don’t mean it. 
I want your Pac-Man gift of love!
You shame me how you disgrace me. 
Lying, thieving, cheating, ungrateful…
I’m not pleased by your offerings, 
I just want a heartfelt “Thank you.”

• How might you say Yes and Thank You to God?

It comes from the heart. It’s the only and greatest gift we can give.

Like El Elohim Jehovah gave his greatest gift to us in Jesus Christ,
whose sacrifice we remember and celebrate in Holy Communion,
Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”…)
(into celebration of Holy Communion)


NEXT SUNDAY 3/12/17 is DST. “Spring ahead!”
Next Sunday preaching text: from 2 Samuel 10-19

Benediction
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always. Amen.


Psalm 50 (NRSV)



The mighty one, God the Lord,
    speaks and summons the earth
    from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
    God shines forth.
Our God comes and does not keep silence,
    before him is a devouring fire,
    and a mighty tempest all around him.
He calls to the heavens above
    and to the earth,
       that he may judge his people:

“Gather to me my faithful ones,
    who made a covenant with me
      by sacrifice!”

The heavens declare his righteousness,
    for God himself is judge.     Selah
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
    O Israel, I will testify against you.
    I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
    your burnt offerings
       are continually before me.

I will not accept any bull from your house,
    or goats from your folds.
10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
    the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the air,
    and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
    or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and pay your vows to the Most High.
15 Call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
16 But to the wicked God says:
    “What right have you to recite my statutes,
    or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline,
    and you cast my words behind you.
18 You make friends with a thief
      when you see one,

    and you keep company with adulterers.
19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil,
    and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your kin;
    you slander your own mother’s child.
21 These things you have done
       and I have been silent;

    you thought that I was one
       just like yourself.

But now I rebuke you,
   and lay the charge before you.

22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God,
    or I will tear you apart,
      and there will be no one to deliver.

23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
    to those who go the right way
    I will show the salvation of God.”

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Part Two: On The United Methodist Church and the Bishops' Commission on a Way Forward: progress update 3/2017

This post is part two of a long topic. The first part can be found at tinyurl.com/CommissionPartOne

This post contains a few brief notes about a progress report on the Commission, and some Q&A, as well as a resource or two.

The background:
On Saturday March 4, 2017, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball of the West Virginia Area Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church addressed a group of laity and clergy at Forrest Burdette UMC in Hurricane, WV. After a service of word and sacrament led by Midland South District Superintendent Frank Shomo, Bishop Steiner Ball shared with the gathering a progress update regarding the Council of Bishops’ COMMISSION ON A WAY FORWARD. This document is a work of the Reverend Kerry Bart, Barboursville First United Methodist Church.

Now, my personal review of Bishop Steiner Ball’s presentation.
I found the presentation to be very thorough and even-keeled. There is a lot of background to cover (as evidenced by the preceding post's 1,000 words!) and I scribbled down a few questions while the bishop was talking. Most of the questions she answered even without me asking them.

Bishop Steiner Ball spoke about the Commission’s desire to keep the main thing the main thing, reiterating The UMC’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This is central and vital.

By my reckoning, there are three areas of focus that the Commission will have to address: 
issues of human sexuality and The UMC, 
issues surrounding biblical interpretation, 
and the clergy covenant / ecclesial disobedience.

The Commission is not about making others change their minds. 
Going back to the stated vision of the Commission (parsed by me, quoted in part 1):
the Commission will design a way for being church…
in as many places in the world as possible,
that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible,
and that balances an approach to different theological 
   understandings of human sexuality
with a desire for as much unity as possible…
grounded in… our affirmation of the Triune God
who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people 
   in the Wesleyan tradition.
  

For ease of access, I’m going to proceed in a Q/A fashion now. (Sorry, I’m not interested in taking the time to make it a nice online format, but) there’s a list of the questions I address, followed by the Q/A. Some of my answers are still works in progress. Please email me if you have questions about my presentation. kerrfunk1@gmail.com.

Q: Who is in the Commission?
Q: How are these discussions happening?
Q: What are the discussions covering?
Q: Will there be a special General Conference before GC2020?
Q: What about the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto?
Q: Is The UMC going to split?
Q: What can I do?
Q: How can I contact the Commission?


Q: Who is in the Commission? Only bishops? All of the bishops?
A: A membership roster was handed out (click here) and I provided some demographics about the roster in Part One. Out of over three hundred recommendations, 32 members were invited 
by the Council of Bishops, accounting for a range of perspectives and including clergy and laity, men and women, and global representation.


Q: How are these discussions happening?
A: The Commission, formed in October 2016 plans to have something like nine face-to-face meetings, gathering approximately every six weeks, in different locations, including at least one outside the US, and sharing many resources with each other online as well. As of March 2017, the Commission has had two meetings.


Q: What are the discussions covering?
A: The Commission will examine every passage in the Discipline relevant to human sexuality and may suggest revisions, replacements, or deletions. 

Relevant paragraphs (numbered from the Book of Discipline 2012 but identical in content in BOD2016) include 
¶341.6 and ¶2702.1 (on homosexual unions), 
¶613.19 and ¶806.9 (on funding), 
¶304.3 (on ordination), 
¶161.B (marriage), 
¶161.F (human sexuality), 
and ¶335.C.4 (ministry to all). 

In addition to the BOD and the Book of Resolutions, the Commission is considering and studying commentaries on many scripture passages, and the works of John and Charles Wesley, as well.

The Commission has spent two meetings behind closed doors in honest and heartfelt conversation, and there are many resources being read and shared. Bishop Steiner Ball indicated that members are reporting personal transformation as a result of their work and presence in the Commission, and the work and presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Commission is grounded in prayer and scripture and sacrament. They recommend group studies of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, as well the book The Anatomy of Peace (click here). The Commission is also receiving counsel and guidance from author and consultant, Rev. Gil Rendel.


Q: Will there be a special General Conference before GC2020?
A: Maybe. Perhaps in 2019. By our Discipline, a special General Conference must be announced 230 days 
before it takes place, and the agenda must have a published and limited agenda. With nine Commission gatherings and the clock ticking, there’s not a lot of time to set a special General Conference.

Related: A special GC would operate practically as a sort of extension of GC2016, that is, it would operate under the rules passed at GC2016, rules which were debated for three days at the beginning of GC2016. If rules were debated at a special GC2019 for that long, there’d be no time to attend to the matter at hand!


Q: What about the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, an openly gay woman, in the Western Jurisdiction?
A: Ultimately, that is not in the bailiwick of the Commission, but belongs instead to the Judicial Council of The UMC.


Q: Is The UMC going to split?
A: Nobody knows. The only way to answer this question with a “yes” would be after a General Conference has agreed on a split. That did not happen in 2016, and it cannot happen without a General Conference agreeing on it. This Commission will make its recommendations either to a special GC or to GC2020.


Q: What can I do?
A: Lots.
Pray for the members of the Commission (and check out UMCPrays.org. There’s a schedule where every Annual Conference has a focus week of prayer for the Commission, and there are other resources as well).
Study: engage in personal and group studies of Galatians 
   and The Anatomy of Peace.
Help spread good information, 
   and help stamp out bad information.
Fast.
Exercise patience.

Q: How can I contact the Commission?
A: Contact the Commission by emailing wayforward@umcom.org.
Contact me by emailing kerrfunk1@gmail.com. 

And that's what I gots for now, folks. 
Feedback is appreciated and comments are welcome, 
though I may moderate comments as I see fit.

An Offering For A Way Forward

With the exception of this introductory paragraph, this post in its entirety IS the "Offering for a Way Forward" that the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church extended to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in May 2016. General Conference approved this offering, and a Commission on a Way Forward was created. The background of that Commission can be found at tinyurl.com/CommissionPartOne, and a 3/4/17 progress update can be found at tinyurl.com/CommissionPartTwo.


AN OFFERING FOR A WAY FORWARD

Galatians 3:25-29 (NRSV)
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Your bishops were honored to receive the request of General Conference to help lead our United Methodist Church forward during this time of both great crisis and great opportunity. As far as we can discover, this is the first time that a General Conference has ever made such a request of the Council of Bishops, and we accept this request with humility.

We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord. Yesterday, our president [Bishop Bruce R. Ough] shared the deep pain we feel. We have all prayed for months and continue to do so. We seek, in this kairos moment, a way forward for profound unity on human sexuality and other matters. This deep unity allows for a variety of expression to co-exist in one church. Within the Church, we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23.

UNITY We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God. We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviors, a new way of being and new forms and structures which allow a unity of our mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" while allowing for differing expressions as a global church. Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we your bishops commit ourselves to lead this effort. We ask you, as a General Conference, to affirm your own commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church. We will coordinate this work with the various efforts already underway to develop global structures and a new General Book of Discipline for our church. Strengthening the unity of the church is a responsibility for all of us.

PRAYER We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead the UMC in a "pause for prayer" - to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God's will for the future. As a Council of Bishops, we will lead the church in every part of the world in times of worship, study, discernment, confession and prayer for God's guidance. We ask you, as a General Conference, to join us in this effort, beginning this week [May 10-20, 2016]. We were moved by the sight of delegates praying around the table, and we hope these efforts will continue. As your bishops we are ready to join you and to lead you in these times of prayer.

PROCESSES We have discussed in depth the processes which might help our church heal and move forward - up to and including the possibility of a called General Conference in 2018 or 2019. We have not finalized our plans for such processes, but we will keep working on options we have heard from many of you, and we will keep reporting to this General Conference and to the whole church.

NEXT STEPS We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts. We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two- to three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)

CONTINUING DISCUSSIONS We will continue 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. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.

Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1-2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession and exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.


Part One: On The United Methodist Church and the Bishops' Commission on a Way Forward: the Background

On Saturday March 4, 2017, Bishop Sandra Steiner-Ball of the West Virginia Area Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church addressed a group of laity and clergy at Forrest Burdette UMC in Hurricane, WV. After a service of word and sacrament led by Midland South District Superintendent Frank Shomo, Bishop Steiner-Ball shared with the gathering a progress update regarding the Council of Bishops’ COMMISSION ON A WAY FORWARD. 
This posting is a work of the Reverend Kerry Bart, pastor, First United Methodist Church, Barboursville, WV.

A few things to note: I decided to make this a two-part post. You're reading Part One, the background. There's a supplement to the background, which is the text of the original proposal, found here. And there's Part Two, the summary. Go to www.tinyurl.com/CommissionPartTwo for that.

And without further ado:

There is one body only that speaks for The United Methodist Church, and it is the General Conference. Not the laity, not the clergy, not even the bishops, but only the General Conference. We were reminded several times by Bishop Steiner-Ball that church groups, special interest groups, and the media may each make claims like “this is what is happening in The UMC” but the most accurate (and only official) information about The UMC is published in the 2016 Book of Discipline and the 2016 Book of Resolutions. As such, it is important when hearing or writing or discussing current events and The United Methodist Church to consider the source and what has been emphasized in this paragraph.

The General Conference is the worldwide gathering of United Methodist bishops and elected clergy and laity delegates that convenes every four years to shape church polity and mission.

At General Conference in May 2016, in response to a number of proposals related to The UMC and issues of human sexuality as well as biblical interpretation and clergy integrity, the General Conference requested that the Council of Bishops form a commission to help lead our United Methodist Church forward during this time of both great crisis and great opportunity.

The bishops responded with “An Offering For A Way Forward,” (click here for the actual text) which is the subject of this document. The Offering For A Way Forward concluded with the statement, “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace and with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.”

The bishops’ Offering For A Way Forward was approved by General Conference, and the Council of Bishops formed a Commission on a Way Forward (hereafter the Commission). The Commission has 32 members and three moderators. Commission membership includes eight bishops, eleven elders, two deacons, and eleven laity; 21 persons from the USA, seven from Africa, two from Europe, and two from the Philippines. There are eighteen men and fourteen women on the commission. Bishops Sandra Steiner-Ball, Kenneth Carter (both USA), and David Yemba (Africa) are the moderators. (Click here to read more about the Commission's membership). The Commission will meet something like nine times face-to-face in 2017 (don't quote me on that yet) in order to pray and study and discuss positions and ultimately present its labors to the General Conference.

One possible outcome of this Way Forward would be that a special General Conference be convened perhaps in 2019 for the sole purpose of presenting the Commission’s recommendation to General Conference.

I feel it is worth noting that the Council of Bishops’ Offering For A Way Forward is not associated with proposals offered by the Reverends Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter that also bore the name “A Way Forward.”



The following three paragraphs describe the Commission’s mission and vision and scope. These three paragraphs are the Commission’s, not mine.

Mission
The Commission will bring together persons deeply committed to the future(s) of The United Methodist Church, with an openness to developing new relationships with each other and exploring the potential future(s) of our denomination in light of General Conference and subsequent annual, jurisdictional and central conference actions. We have a profound hope and confidence in the Triune God, and yet we acknowledge that we do this work in a climate of skepticism and distrust, from a human point of view. We are a connection, and we admit that our communion is strained; yet much transformative mission across our world is the fruit of our collaboration. The matters of human sexuality and unity are the presenting issues for a deeper conversation that surfaces different ways of interpreting Scripture and theological tradition. The work is meant to inform deliberation across the whole church and to help the Council of Bishops in their service to the next General Conference in finding a way forward.

Vision
The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. This unity will not be grounded in our conceptions of human sexuality, but in our affirmation of the Triune God who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people in the Wesleyan tradition.

Scope
We should be open to new ways of embodying unity that move us beyond where we are in the present impasse and cycle of action and reaction around ministry and human sexuality. Therefore, we should consider new ways of being in relationship across cultures and jurisdictions, in understandings of episcopacy, in contextual definitions of autonomy for annual conferences, and in the design and purpose of the apportionment. In reflection on the tow matters of unity and human sexuality, we will fulfill our directive by considering “new forms and structures” of relationship and through the “complete examination and possible revision” or relevant paragraphs in the Book of Discipline. We will give consideration to greater freedom and flexibility to a future United Methodist Church that will redefine our present connectionality, which is showing signs of brokenness. If we ignore this work, fracturing will occur in more haphazard and even self-interested ways across the church. If we do this work only to address our preferences and self-interest, we will fail to place our complete trust in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. If we do this work with complete surrender to God’s unlimited imagination and kingdom purposes, we will be blessed beyond our limited human imagination. God remains God; God is with us; God will never let us go. To God be the glory!


(end Commission quotation)

...to be continued in part two (click here: www.tinyurl.com/CommissionPartTwo)