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One Church Plan

An introduction

In the One Church Plan, no annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions. The plan maintains the leadership structure of The United Methodist Church, including the Council of Bishops, the General Conference, and the annual conferences as one body and one church. It offers greater freedom to many who desire change but do not want to violate The Book of Discipline. 

Many hands holding up a United Methodist Cross & Flame

There is no mandate that requires local churches, conferences, or pastors to participate in a vote that divides, segments, or separates. The plan grants space for traditionalists to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past; space for progressives to exercise freely a more complete ministry with LGBTQ persons; and space for all United Methodists to continue to coexist without disrupting their ministries.

Central Conferences outside the U.S. are not compelled to change their beliefs or practices and can adapt portions of The Book of Discipline for their own context. This plan provides United Methodists the ability to address their missional contexts in different ways.

The One Church Plan removes (in the United States) the language from The Book of Discipline that restricts pastors and churches from conducting same-sex weddings and annual conferences from ordaining self-avowed practicing homosexual persons. It adds language that intentionally protects the religious freedom of pastors and churches who choose not to perform or host same-sex weddings and Boards of Ordained Ministry and bishops who choose not to credential or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexual persons.

The plan ends the threat of church trials over same-sex weddings. Boards of Ordained Ministry already have the authority to discern whom to credential. Local churches already have the authority to establish wedding policies. Pastors already discern whom they will or will not marry. While some annual conferences and related Boards of Ordained Ministry can adopt new practices, no annual conferences must make further choices or amend current practices unless they desire to do so. United Methodist institutions, foundations, universities, agencies, and General Boards will continue to offer their ministries without significant disruption or costly legal counsel related to their charters or articles of incorporation. Wespath will continue to offer its services without disruption.

The One Church plan also asks the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to find a means consistent with The Book of Discipline to assure that each episcopal area in the United States supports the costs of its own episcopal leader and offices. Central conference bishops and episcopal services will continue to be covered out of the current General Church Episcopal Fund.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why the One Church Plan?

The One Church Plan provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context without disbanding the connectional nature of the church.

What if I (pastor) am uncomfortable presiding at a same-sex wedding? What if our church doesn’t agree to host same-sex weddings?

No annual conferences, bishops, congregations or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions. The plan grants space for traditionalists to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past with explicit disciplinary assurances that no pastor or church shall be compelled to perform ministries that represent a conflict of conscience. The One Church Plan provides space for all United Methodists to continue without disrupting their ministries. There is no mandate that requires a local church, conference, or pastor to participate in a vote that divides, segments, or separates. Voting is kept to a minimum except where it is helpful. The United Methodist Church remains in connection, upholding unity of mission without uniformity of practice.

What if I (pastor) agree to preside at same-sex weddings but my local church approves a wedding policy that prohibits same-sex weddings on church property?

The plan gives space to provide more complete ministry with LGBTQ persons by allowing pastors to preside at same-sex weddings. If a local church where the pastor is located does not allow same-sex weddings, pastors may seek to preside outside their church property or seek permission from a pastor at another church that does allow for same-sex weddings to be hosted on church property.

What are my options if I (pastor) am uncomfortable with the current stance related to LGBTQ individuals in my annual conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry and/or episcopal leadership?

Those who are uncomfortable with any new policies or restrictions within their current annual conference or in their episcopal leader’s approach to ordination may request transfer to conferences that more closely reflect their personal convictions.

Does this mean our local church has to vote on a local church wedding policy?

Local churches are not required to vote. Most would likely make no changes in practices at the local level. There may be some local congregations that choose to rewrite their wedding policies to either explicitly allow or prohibit same-sex weddings in their facilities. Local churches cannot restrict the activity of their pastor(s) related to presiding at weddings. Pastors who want to perform a wedding outside of church property could do so based on their own conscience and should do so in consultation with church leaders.

Will the Cabinet send an openly gay pastor to our church?

The vast majority of U.S.-based annual conferences practice missional appointment making. The Bishop, in consultation with the Cabinet, takes into account the missional needs of the local church and surrounding community and works very hard to match those needs with a ministerial leader that possesses gifts for those needs. It is always a conversation with everyone involved – local church leadership through the SPRC or equivalent and the pastor. Cabinets work very hard to honor the call of pastors and the missional needs of local churches. Cabinets take great care to ensure the wellbeing and effectiveness of pastors sent to local churches. The consultation process with SPRCs or equivalent and the District Superintendent may include conversation around the local church’s theological convictions and acceptance of openly gay and lesbian pastors.

Does this plan have any consequences to clergy and lay pensions with Wespath?

The Plan maintains the leadership and connectional structures of the United Methodist Church, including annual conferences, the Council of Bishops, the General Conference, General Boards and Agencies and the Judicial Council. Wespath (The Board of Pensions) will continue to offer its services without disruption. In fact, this is the only plan that can make that claim. Wespath has provided further details on the implications of each plan here.

Why is the Council of Bishops recommending the One Church Plan over the other options?  

The One Church Plan is the only plan with a recommendation from the Council of Bishops. This plan gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. This plan appears to most fully meet the mission, vision, scope and key foundational ideas presented by the Commission to the Council. The One Church Plan offers the Church a way to live in spiritual community despite theological differences on LGBTQ inclusion.

How many Constitutional Amendments does this Plan require?

The One Church Plan requires no constitutional amendments. All legislative changes to The Book of Discipline can be authorized through petitions sent to the General Conference.

Who decides which plan the UMC pursues?

The General Conference is the body that makes legislative decisions for the denomination. The decision about which plan the UMC adopts rests with lay and clergy delegates as they meet in Special Session in February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis. The 864 delegates are split 50/50 between laity and clergy. Bishops do not vote at General Conference.

Does the One Church Plan provide for lay assent/dissent to ordination of gay and lesbian people in an Annual Conference?

Ordination in the United Methodist Church still comes down to the gifts and call of the individual candidate and the affirmation of those gifts and call by the community. Laity are involved every step of the way during the discernment process for credentialing pastors (local church via a SPRC and charge conference vote, the district Committee on Ordained Ministry and the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry). By the process outlined in the Book of Discipline, the last step of a lengthy process of discernment is the vote of the clergy session. The bishop may choose to seek the non-binding advice of an annual conference session on standards relating to human sexuality for ordination to inform the Board of Ordained Ministry in its work.

How quickly would this plan go into effect?

That decision will be up to the General Conference lay and clergy delegates as they meet in Special Session in February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis. Given the simplicity of the plan, it could go into effect as early as January 1, 2020. However, it is the recommendation of the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward that the One Church Plan be implemented December 31, 2020.

Will the 2020 General Conference have the ability to reverse the 2019 decision?

That will be up to the General Conference lay and clergy delegates. Part of the legislative action in 2019 could include a moratorium on legislative action in order to allow for a “settling in” period to all involved and the opportunity to engage in conversation and discernment regarding issues related to marriage and ordination.