A message from Bishop Devadhar: Council of Bishops' motion on way forward

May 05, 2018

May 5, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As you may know, the Council of Bishops (COB) met this past week, and after much prayerful discernment, we strongly approved the motion below. 

But first, let me share with you a statement from myself and my colleagues in the Northeastern Jurisdiction:

As bishops of The United Methodist Church, we affirm that WE ARE OF ONE HEART in our desire to discern the mind and will of Jesus Christ for our leadership and the church. In the Northeastern Jurisdiction and around the world, we experience great diversity of thought and practice within The United Methodist Church. In partnership with bishops from around the world, we will continue to lead collectively and individually to value and provide room for our diversity as United Methodists.

Here is the motion:
Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:

  • All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the Commission and the Council.
  • The Council’s recommendation of the One Church Plan.
  • An historical narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.

You can read the full statement and the rationale for the Council’s decision here.
In recommending the “One Church Plan,” we seek to honor our diverse contextual and theological approaches and offer both space and grace for ministry to unfold. The “One Church Plan” removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline, and allows each Conference and church to operate from their context. No one would be forced to go against their conscience around these issues. There would be no changes to the constitution.
While the COB is strongly recommending the “One Church Plan,” in order to respect the work of the Commission, the options not recommended will also be included in the final report to the Special Session of General Conference: the “Traditionalist Plan,” which leaves the Book of Discipline language as is, and the “Connectional Plan,” which would essentially provide multi-branch options.

The Council affirmed that these plans hold values that are important to the life and work of the church. The statement on our recommendations rightly emphasizes that the Council was “guided by the over-arching desire to strategically help the General Conference do its work.”

Along with the statement to the delegates, there will be a comprehensive explanation of the process used to reach our decision that will include transparent narratives of the other options that were prayerfully considered.

This document will be translated in all our languages and released after July 8, 2018. To be fair to our brothers and sisters globally, until that time, the bishops agree not to discuss details or legislative proposals of the plans.

Please be assured that considerable prayer, theological reflection and deep conversation took place in this process. Again, I want to confirm that although United Methodist clergy, laity, and bishops are not of the same mind, we are united in our devotion to our Creator God, our desire to emulate our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and our willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit.

Many of us are eager for the way forward to be made clear, but we also know there is much work yet to be done, and it begins with each of us. 

The COB has developed some suggestions for how we as individuals can support this process. May I prayerfully request that each of us commits to the following?

  • Continue to pray for the unity of our church by pausing to pray each day from 2:23 – 2:26 a.m. and p.m. as often as possible. Those times represent the dates of our Special Session of General Conference (Feb. 23-26, 2019). 
  • Consider entering into a Wesley Fast (sundown on Thursday until noon on Friday) each week leading up to the General Conference. 
  • Participate in other prayer initiatives and gatherings across the connection as they are organized.
  • Enter into an attitude of “convicted humility.” As defined by the Council, “This is an attitude which combines honesty about the differing convictions which divide us with humility about the way in which each of our views may stand in need of corrections. It also involves humble repentance for all the ways in which we have spoken and acted as those seeking to win a fight rather than those called to discern the shape of faithfulness together. In that spirit, we wish to lift up the sacred core commitments which define the Wesleyan movement and ground our search for wisdom and holiness.”

Above all else, brothers and sisters, let us keep fulfilling the mission of the church: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I know that we are living that mission every day in every corner of the New England Conference as we gather for Sunday worship, engage in ministry with the poor and marginalized in our communities, and find new ways to be the church for such a time as this. 

In our conversations around the Conference on the work of the Commission, I and my colleagues Bishops Susan Hassinger, Cliff Ives, and Jane Middleton saw firsthand United Methodists in New England speaking and listening to each other with hearts of peace, and it is my prayer that we continue to approach each other in this way. We will continue to work together and be in prayer for the unity of the church with justice, peace, hope, love, and joy.

In closing, let us remember that United Methodists have faced times of uncertainty before, and have remained people of grace, peace and hope. And may all we encounter see the living Christ in us and in our actions.
In Christ’s love,
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar