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Moving forward together

Tools for looking forward

In this month’s Joyful Journey, Bishop David Bard moves our focus forward on matters engaging the “heart and soul problems” in the nation and the church.

Michigan Area

I write this as I prepare for our annual conference gathering in Traverse City. I look forward to our being together for worship, learning, fellowship and business. I trust we will come with gracious spirits as well as our protective masks. With this blog, I simply want to update you on a few matters about which I have written much in the past days, weeks, and months: denominational news, our ongoing anti-bias/anti-racism work, and responding to the horrific violence we have experienced in this country in recent days.

As I noted last month, the Global Methodist Church launched on May 1, 2022. I am aware of one Michigan congregation that has become part of the GMC, a congregation that was not United Methodist, but with Wesleyan roots. At our annual conference we will be voting to approve disaffiliation agreements with a few congregations, some of which may eventually seek to join the GMC.

As I explained before, The Michigan Conference currently has one clear path for churches to depart and that is the process rooted in paragraph 2553. That paragraph was approved at the 2019 General Conference and its intent was to provide a way for individual congregations to disaffiliate. There has been much recent discussion of developing another pathway for departure based on paragraph 2548.2 of The Book of Discipline.

I have expressed openness to see what additional pathways there may be, exploring additional parts of The Book of Discipline including paragraph 2548.2.  I offer two updates.  One of the significant concerns raised about disaffiliation under paragraph 2553 is the full payment of a church’s share of the Michigan Conference aggregate unfunded pension obligation (aupo). I want to remind us that paragraph 1504.23, added to The Book of Discipline in 2019 applies the payment of the aupo to churches that may leave under paragraph 2548.2 as well as 2549 and 2553. The more critical update is to inform you that the Council of Bishops has made a request of the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the meaning of 2548.2. The Council is asking a number of questions that need to be answered before any further work on a pathway for separation could be developed using this paragraph. In short, working with this paragraph is currently on hold.

The Michigan Conference disaffiliation task force will be meeting in June to review its current process using paragraph 2553. Allow me to reiterate, I will hold together kindness/fairness with my fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities to the Michigan Conference and The United Methodist Church. I will continue to be in conversation with conference leaders and with those who may seek to leave. Michigan Conference leaders will continue to develop resources for congregational discernment.

A year ago I invited every Michigan United Methodist and every Michigan United Methodist congregation to actively engage in some kind of work on race. You might read a book with a group. You might watch a film and discuss this. You might engage in an inventory that could help you think in new ways about race and bias. You might visit a museum to learn more about the history of race relations in your community or in our nation. I hope you have done something. The need for this work was made painfully evident by the recent racially-motivated shooting in Buffalo, NY. This is an extreme example of how racialized thinking continues to negatively influence our life together as a country. And we are all a part of a country where racialized thinking has played an important role in our history. 

If we are to be people who, in the name of Jesus Christ, seek to break down dividing walls, who seek to live in light of our affirmation that all persons are created in the image of God, and who seek to build beloved community, we must engage our history more honestly. As the late congressman John Lewis wrote: “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.” If you’ve not yet engaged this work, please do, and if you’ve begun, please continue. Our Michigan Conference Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism team has developed curriculum for conference clergy and staff to engage in and will be rolling that out in the fall. We will continue to work on providing lists of helpful resources for individuals and congregations.

The recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX have again highlighted the significant violence in this country. Beyond mass shootings, which rightfully capture our attention, there are the daily acts of violence in our communities that leave people dead or injured. There are heart and soul problems here. How do eighteen-year-old young men become so alienated from their community and their own life that they commit such heinous acts of violence? There is work here for mental health professionals and communities of faith.  And we need to press the conversation which seems never to get very far about how it is that semi-automatic weapons are so readily available to troubled souls. No law will prevent all gun violence, but might some laws help? Expanded background checks and safe storage laws have significant support among Americans, including many gun owners, many of whom already work to keep their guns stored safely. Can we begin our conversation by talking about these policies as public health policies?

Finally, I hope you continue to keep in prayer the people of Gaylord, who are recovering from a devastating tornado. As the relief and recovery efforts move forward, our conference staff will keep you apprised on how you might best be of help.

Amid all this, find time to slow down, to rest, to enjoy other people and favorite activities. One way we keep our own souls refreshed for the difficult work that is ours is to find moments to appreciate beauty, savor joy, celebrate life, and connect with others. Wade in a great lake. Watch a sunrise or sunset. Go to a baseball game. Listen to music. Read just for fun. Hold the hand of a loved one. Hold a child or grandchild. Pray prayers of gratitude. “It is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

The Michigan Conference