A Short Message to UMC Pastors after General Conference

4 03 2019


United Methodist pastors and church leaders across the theological spectrum, I have a simple plea for you. No, I’m not trying to sway you to my “side.” No, I’m not even pausing to suggest that you treat each other with decency and respect (although that would be in order). No, my plea is even more basic than that.

Please take care of yourselves.

The above picture is a screenshot of my daily resting heart rate over the past month. In the month before General Conference, I was becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer number and intensity of the emails and letters I was receiving. So, in the week leading up to our specially called session, I took time off for a couple days of family vacation, and focused time of prayer and reflection. Want to guess which day was the last day of that short sabbath? You guessed it – my resting heart rate of 49 BPM – that was Friday, February 22nd. You can see how the next several days went. After experiencing what I’ve been referring to as “the toxic environment of Facebook” post General Conference, I essentially got off social media in an attempt to care for my own soul. As you can see above, my body has responded with a loud, “thank you!”

The stress is real, friends. And yes, I want to call you friends still. Though maybe you won’t want to be my friend after what I have to say here. At the end of the day, your statements of conviction on Facebook, or to the news outlets or even in your churches won’t have nearly as much influence on leading people to Jesus as the joyous, refreshed, Spirit-filled life you lead in your everyday life. Oh ya, many of us are no longer leading that kind of life. Instead, we’ve become consumed by the busy, the frantic and the reactionary.

I propose this. How about we take a few days – maybe a week or even all of Lent – and pause, reflect, be silent, love those closest to us, do something fun, walk with Jesus and receive his grace afresh in our lives – heck, maybe even laugh? Then, regardless of our theological bent, we will actually have something of God’s Kingdom to offer all those folks out there we say we want to embrace.

*Special shout out to our Illinois Great River Conference’s Pastoral Care and Counseling team – You have made yourself available for us during this time of immense stress. Thank you!*

#GC2019 Update 4.1 – Pastoral Postlude

26 02 2019


Tomorrow I officiate the funeral of a friend who died of cancer at the age of 48.

Puts General Conference happenings in perspective, doesn’t it? What is it for you? Returning home to family challenges? Preparing a sermon when your own heart is weary and troubled? Ministering to people you love who are dealing with brokenness, illness, miscarriage, or some other tragedy? Chances are you have something that breaks the General Conference bubble and returns you back to reality.

Up to this point in my General Conference updates, I’ve largely stuck to passing on the information. Let me be pastoral for a moment and do my best to encourage you.

No matter what plan you favored, there are some affirmations I believe we can all cling to and find hope:

  • God is still on the throneLord, you remain the same forever! Your throne continues from generation to generation. (Lamentations 5:19)
  • Jesus still loves everybody and didn’t come to condemn but to saveFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16)
  • The Holy Spirit is still at work giving life and transforming peopleThe Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)
  • The Triune God is still calling us to be ambassadors of Jesus in this world – So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • The Bible is still authoritative, and we need to wrestle rigorously with it allAll scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

No matter how you feel after the results of General Conference, I pray that you not only take comfort in these truths but also let them challenge and convict you to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world that is still lost, lonely, hurting and in need of a savior.





#GC2019 Update 4 – Take a Deep Breath and Press DELETE

26 02 2019

AbbeyThis was originally a long post, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me and I deleted all except the following:

Today has been extremely frustrating. I’ve again witnessed the reason why very little if anything happens at this level of the church. The majority will of the body can easily be ambushed by parliamentary procedure. In my opinion this has been an example of how easy it is to throw out our “hearts of peace” when “we don’t get our way.”

Lord, help me be more gracious when I don’t get my way. Maybe deleting what I first wrote is a simple first step.



#GC2019 Update 3.1 – An Emotional Day

25 02 2019

This afternoon was wrought with emotion. First the information:

After several amendments and attempts at other amendments, the One Church Plan was defeated – 386 in favor and 436 against – a 50 vote differential. You could hear a pin drop. Being in the front row, I could see the disappointed reaction of many bishops who had touted the plan as their preferred way forward for the last year. Nobody moved – no celebrations, no outcry. Just silence. The truth is, nobody celebrated because nobody won. There has been a collective sense throughout this General Conference that regardless of the outcome, there are no clear winners. Everybody loses. Such was my perception after this vote.

But work continued. A third exit plan was defeated and then a motion was made to bundle the final 18 petitions together and reject them all with one vote. On the surface this seemed logical because none of them received more than 27% “high priority.” However, included in these 18 petitions were the Simple Plan (18% high priority) and the Connectional Conference Plan (12% high priority) – both of which had been faithfully constructed as a potential way forward. After amendments to remove both plans, only the Simple Plan was removed to be discussed – a gracious way to at least hear the pleas of the LGBTQ+ community. And that is what we turned our attention to after soundly rejecting the other 17 petitions.

Emotions obviously ran high. It was clear that this global body was not going to approve the Simple Plan, but there were very few speeches against the plan. In the end, the Simple Plan was voted down by a 60%-40% margin – an indicator to many that the vast majority who favored the One Church Plan saw it as a stepping stone to the more progressive Simple Plan. Still, no celebration. The hurt of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies was obvious. Even in the speeches against the Simple Plan, the speakers indicated that no harm was intended to anyone, but nonetheless it was felt. Again, there were no winners in any of these votes.

The closing worship service was sensitive to the Spirit’s movement among us. There was very little (if any) joy – just a sadness. I observed the body reflecting our shared covenant to love each other and treat each other with respect, keeping our hearts at peace, but clearly understanding “that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This [covenant] is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.” But it is difficult to live in that tension. Lord help us.

Tomorrow brings the final day of work. The legislative committee of a whole is complete. All petitions were dealt with (and on time!). Now the plenary body will deal with the following petitions handed to them from the legislative committee:

  • The two Pension petitions
  • The Traditional Plan – amended, but still not constitutional – needs more amending
  • Two Exit Plans

Other petitions CAN be resurrected either as a substitution to the main motion, or as a minority report that replaces the main motion brought by the legislative committee. Each of them would require a majority vote.

So the work isn’t done, but many of our tanks are empty. Pray for the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit for a final day of work.

#GC2019 Update 3 – Legislative Committee work

25 02 2019

On Sunday afternoon the General Conference began its work as a legislative committee. For those of you confused between the work of the plenary session and the legislative committee, let me explain:

  • In a normal General Conference, we divide all the legislative material into groups depending on the section of the discipline it seeks to alter. I explain that in this blog entry from GC2016:
  • Because of the importance of the legislation for this specially called session, the sessions committee (an elected group who meets ahead of time to work on the schedule and agenda) agreed that all General Conference delegates would serve as one legislative committee.
  • The work of the legislative committee is to perfect and filter the legislation before sending it on to the plenary session.
  • Anything that receives a 50.01% approval vote in legislative committee is sent on to the plenary session to debate, amend, and vote on.
  • If a piece of legislation receives less than 50.01% of the vote in legislative committee it is not completely dead, but I’m not going to get into this much because it would require at least 50.01% of the plenary to resurrect the legislation, and if it didn’t receive over 50% in a legislative committee made up of the entire body, it likely won’t receive over 50% from that same body (make sense?).
  • A couple other notes – the legislative committee is not presided over by a bishop but by a member of the body who is elected by the body. Same with vice chair and secretary.

So, what is happening in our GC2019 legislative body of the whole? First, the objective. We need to vote on every piece of legislation on our docket. EVERY ONE. And it must be done by tonight so the report can be printed in our materials for our plenary session for tomorrow. As you can guess, we won’t be able to spend time on every piece of legislation. If it did not receive a large percentage of “high priority” votes the day before, it is likely that it will be quickly rejected without much conversation. We will see how that plays out.

Here’s the update on the progress thus far through lunch on Monday:

Sunday afternoon we approved the two petitions that dealt with clergy pension calculations for any clergy person who leaves the denomination and still has a “defined benefit” as part of their pension. That benefit will be converted as fairly as possible (according to Wespath, the UMC’s benefits provider) to a lump sum benefit. This was a “no brainer” as it potentially applies to any and all ways forward.

Monday morning we began with the Traditional Plan. If you recall, the Bishops originally told the Commission on a Way Forward to not work on such a plan, so they spent the vast majority of their time working on the One Church Plan and Connectional Conference Plan. After some pressure to have three plans, the Commission was allowed to create such legislation in the final days of the Commission’s work. When the Judicial Council was asked to make preliminary rulings on the One Church Plan and Traditional Plan (late in 2018) several parts of the Traditional Plan were ruled in conflict with our Book of Discipline’s constitution. Thus, there are several necessary amendments to be made in order to attempt to bring it into compliance. That’s what much of Monday morning was spent doing. In short synopsis, several amendments were made, several speeches were made against the plan as a whole, and the plan was ultimately approved. However, for it to be constitutional, it will need to be amended further by the plenary session on Tuesday.

After the Traditional Plan was passed, we moved on to the Gracious Exit Plans. After a few amendments, the Taylor plan was approved followed by the Boyette plan in its entirety. In case it isn’t obvious, no more than one of these would be able to be approved by the plenary session on Tuesday.

When we come back after lunch, we will have the One Church Plan before us followed by another Exit Plan and 18 other pieces of legislation that received less than 30% “high priority.” I expect many if not all of those to be dealt with swiftly, but again, we will have to wait and see.

#GC2019 Update 2.1 – The Straw Poll

24 02 2019

img_0126Although there is a lot of work still to do, our Sunday afternoon prioritization of legislation may indicate the general will of the body. Please note that it is possible for people to vote for MULTIPLE plans and legislation as “high priority” – So, conceivably, some delegates could have voted “high priority” for ALL of the legislation below. The numbers below indicate the people who voted “high priority” for each piece of legislation or plan.

Remember, the rest of today and Monday we will work as a legislative committee to “perfect” each piece of legislation through amendments and substitutions, etc. We will then vote on each piece of legislation/plan and if that is passed by 50.01%, then it will be passed on to the plenary body (all of us) on Tuesday.

Also note, I haven’t reported the breakdown of several other pieces of legislation we voted on because each one would take significant time to explain. Let’s just say none of them were any better than the options below!

Pension Work (applies to ALL plans)
Pension legislation – 518/815 – 63.56%

Way Forward Plans
Traditional Plan – 459/826 – 55.57%
One Church Plan – 403/828 – 48.67%
Simple Plan – 153/819 – 18.68%
Connectional Conference Plan – 102/820 – 12.44%

Exit Plans
Exit Plan (Taylor) – 412/823 – 50.06%
Exit Plan (Boyette) – 406/820 – 49.51%
Exit Plan (Ottjes) – 395/816 – 48.41%

Here’s my brief interpretation. It seems that by a slight margin (50 or so votes) the body seems to prefer the Traditional Plan over the Once Church Plan. Neither the Simple Plan nor the Connectional Conference Plan gained much traction. As a delegate at the 2016 General Conference, this is not surprising. Most of the delegates are the same from 2016 to 2019 and these vote differentials are about the same as we dealt with similar “Local Option” legislation then.

Furthermore, it seems like about 50% of the body favors considering an exit plan for churches who cannot, in good conscience, abide by whatever Way Forward plan we end Tuesday with.

I was encouraged that despite the magnitude of these revelations that nobody cheered and there weren’t any overly disruptive protests. It seems that at least for now, we are continuing to proceed with the work before us with grace and respect.



#GC2019 Update #2 – Hearts at Peace

24 02 2019


This morning, while most of you were in worship at one of your great churches, at General Conference we worshiped together then began our business, highlighted by the report from the 32 member Commission on the Way Forward. This commission was charged with the task of outlining options for ways forward for the United Methodist Church despite deep differences in approach to and belief about human sexuality. They were not a monolithic group by any means. They were, in fact, a diverse group of people – men and women, bishops and pastors and laity, theological conservatives and moderates and progressives, heterosexuals and members of the LGBTQIA community.

Before getting down to business, the group spent significant amount of time building relationships with one another despite their differences. The commission’s report included powerful testimony from Alice Williams, a layperson who identifies as LGBTQ+. She was deeply intimidated and initially wondered if she was “invited but not welcome.” She shared her heart that not only were LGBTQ+ voices heard, but she was loved and respected by the entire commission. What a great witness to the broader church.

Multiple prayers yesterday and today have emphasized a desire to love those who think differently than us. We’ve sung songs about needing one another. In fact, our General Conference delegation from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference agreed to such values at the beginning of our meetings and deliberations. We borrowed it from a document called “Hearts at Peace” that was affirmed by the delegates of our broader North Central Jurisdiction. I believe it captures the heart of love and a graceful way to handle difficult conversations. Let me share some excerpts from that “Heart of Peace” document (italics are mine for emphasis):

In affirmation of the values expressed in [Ephesians 4:2-6]

  • We will have a heart of peace toward one another and will avoid objectifying or demonizing those with whom we disagree.
  • We will come to General Conference in a spirit of discernment, trusting that if we allow the Holy Spirit to move, God will show us the way.
  • We will be good stewards of our time and resist delaying our discernment process by excessive focus on the rules. We will honor the work of the Commission on the General Conference and the design of the called special session by working within the existing rules.
  • We will work for the betterment of The United Methodist Church and the realization of its mission, especially as that mission is expressed in the ministries of local churches and of other connectional structures.
  • We will honor the work of the COWF because we believe that the years of relationship building and discernment given to the Commission was a gift that we cannot replicate in the four days of the called session.
  • And, we will honor the leadership and discernment of our Council of Bishops in the recognition that the delegates of General Conference 2016 specifically asked our bishops to lead.

We understand that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This statement is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.

I find the tenor of this highly charged General Conference extremely grace giving and kind thus far. But then again, we haven’t voted on anything of significance yet. That comes this afternoon when we vote on the priority of the legislation before us. How that vote goes will be the first indicator of the will of this worldwide body. Which of the main plans that the commission outlined will the body favor? Will the body favor discussing potential exit plans for churches that cannot, in good conscience, abide by the globally discerned direction of The United Methodist Church?

This afternoon will be telling, and I anticipate that once the results of legislative priorities are revealed, we will all hear a collective gasp and roughly 45% of our General Conference delegates will be tempted to cry, clench their fists and exchange their “heart at peace” for a “heart at war.” Will you join me in praying that whoever is disappointed after this afternoon, delegate or not, will participate in the values of peace, love and gentleness that the Commission on the Way Forward and our Illinois Great Rivers Conference has chosen to adopt?