Hands and hearts will be shaping the future of The UMC. Benton Heisler explains an important action to be taken at the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference meeting May 30-June 1.
Director of Connectional Ministries, Michigan Conference
There is a parable of the pilgrim who asked the wiser one, whose wisdom seem to be unmatched, “Is the small bird in my hand alive or dead?”
The wiser one answered, “The answer is in your hand.” The wiser one knew it was a trick. The pilgrim could release the bird or crush out its life. Indeed, the “answer was held in the hand.”
There are any number of decisions that face us as an Annual Conference where we will be able to offer life or crush the spirit of those among us. What makes it even harder is that what may feel like “life” to one person, is experienced as a “crushing squeeze” by another.
We will need a movement of The Holy Spirit among us all as we spend these few days together.
There is a lot of work to be done, ample time to do it, and we have an excellent worship, learning and fellowship context in which to share in this work together.
I encourage you to be sure to download and study the Annual Conference materials. There are petitions and resolutions to be reviewed, biographies of lay and clergy candidates for General and Jurisdictional Conference to read, and pages of explanations and details that will assist your experience in the Grand Traverse Region.
There is one particular motion I would encourage you to review and discuss with those who may or may not agree with your perception. Such a discussion may assist our dialogue when we come together and help us better understand what it feels like is at stake for each of us.
The motion has been proposed by the Conference Leadership Council and reads as follows:
The 2019 Michigan Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church will conduct a non-binding straw poll on the following question: If the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church were offered the opportunity to choose a direction for its future, should that direction be: (1) a United Methodist Conference whose policies allow for but do not require clergy to officiate at same-gender weddings, allow for consideration for ordained ministry of persons regardless of sexual orientation, and in which appointments are made with consideration given to the full range of contextual realities; or (2) a United Methodist Conference whose policies include the current Book of Discipline language on “homosexuality,” same gender marriage and LGBTQIA+ ordination along with enhanced enforcement of these policies determined constitutional by the Judicial Council. If agreed to, this non-binding straw poll will be taken without further debate.
Information gained in such a straw poll will help the leaders of The Michigan Conference lead in this uncertain time in The United Methodist Church, and better prepare all Michigan United Methodists for the possibility of a church separation.
The answer is in our hands …
I have received reports of individuals and congregations that have “already made up their mind…” whatever that means. Because of that “mind being made up” they are withholding their giving to their local congregation or to the payment of Ministry Shares to the Conference.
You see what is puzzling to me is that these various “minds” that are “made up” are from across the spectrum of our conference from liberal to conservative, progressive to traditionalist, social justice prophet to evangelist.
Wow! People across these polar opposites have it “correct.” Yet, no agreement on how to move forward. So how about a “truce” and let’s negotiate a settlement? I believe many leaders are in the process of working on such possibilities. I pray such a revelation is what will take place at General Conference in 2020.
In the meantime, Bishop Bard has encouraged us to be kind to one another and not run away from the Church with our gifts and service. We will be in a much better place if in our departure from one another, we leave behind strong ministries that will continue to serve the world from whatever “correct” answer our gathering of like minds and hearts looks like.
Trust me, the message and the answer you believe you are sending by withholding giving will not be understood by the following:
- The missionary returned from their assignment.
- The student in Africa University who would return to their country with a degree incomplete.
- The student in one of our historic Black Colleges who has no scholarship for next year.
- The persons in our congregations of color across our Conference which are supported by generous grants.
- The persons in our newly launched congregations whose primary source of start-up funding is from the conference.
- The persons not reached in a response to a disaster because the administrative infrastructure that channels 100% of your gift to the disaster is not in place.
- The students on our campuses who find meaning, direction and hope in a Wesley Campus Ministry.
- The student interns who test a call to service in the variety of settings across our state.
- The staff member released from the position in which their passion and gifts are expressed in forms of equipping, connection and witness.
- The bishops who tirelessly lead and serve and pray for the unity of the Church.
- The children in camps, hospitals, orphanages and schools.
The answer is “in our hands…” and in our hearts.