The Special Session of General Conference has completed its work. 864 United Methodist delegates from across the United States, Africa, Europe and Philippines met in St. Louis from February 24-26 to consider paragraphs of The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality.
The General Conference passed the Traditional Plan, which maintains the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and prohibition on the ordination of self avowed practicing homosexuals with additional accountability for enforcing those policies. The constitutionality of key points within the Traditional Plan has been called into question and will be reviewed by the Judicial Council in April. The General Conference also adopted legislation allowing a “gracious exit” for congregations wishing to leave the denomination. The legislation passed by the special session of General Conference and ruled constitutional by the Judicial Council will not go into effect until January 1, 2020.
Some of you are pleased or relieved by the decisions made by the conference while others are in deep pain and anguish. No matter the decision last week some were going to be sad. While as a UM pastor I will abide by the rulings of General Conference, I also am deeply saddened by the pain this has caused our LGBTQI brothers and sisters along with their families and loved ones. When a member of my family hurts I hurt too. Please know that you are a beloved child of God and member of our church community. You are both invited and welcomed to participate in our ministries.
United Methodists are members of a global and diverse denomination and are clearly not of one mind on questions around human sexuality. In spite of our differences, we are all children of God. At a time in which our society is becoming increasingly polarized, my hope is still that the church can be a place where people of different backgrounds, cultures and opinions will come together and seek to live in love with one another.
I encourage each of you to give yourselves time to process and heal and continue to offer grace to each other. While it is true we do not have to agree I implore you to treat one another with respect and grace that Christ commands and expects of each of us.
I also want to remind you we do have a clearly defined path as people of God. As one wrote: ‘The goal of the Christian faith is not simply to become a loving community but to be a community of people who participate in God’s mission to heal the world by reestablishing his loving reign on earth as it is in heaven.”
Please know that your clergy staff are united in seeking to serve Christ with you and all who come to worship, study and seek to serve God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let me say that your clergy staff will continue to…
• be inclusive of ALL persons regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identities, physical appearances, or physical or mental abilities
• Listen and support those who approve the traditional plan and those who do not
• Seek to clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, care for the sick and the dying, feed the hungry and seek to make disciples
• Gather, worship, study and serve
• Offer “safe space” for conversation to take place
• Offer Christ in a world filled with darkness
• Live by the commandment Jesus offered us in John 15:12. “This is my commandment that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
• Remind ourselves and each of you that God is a God whose love is wider and deeper than what we could ever imagine.
I ask you as members and friends of First-Centenary to covenant with us to offer hope and encouragement to one another in these troublesome times.
Prayerfully offered – Mark
Published on Thursday, March 7, 2019 @ 4:08 PM EDT
I am writing this article before the outcome of Conference 2019. As a pastor with 38 years of experience I have come to realize that my sermons and newsletter articles are not going to change the world. They might have an effect on one or two hearts; but it is more the relationships that God allows me to build that bring change to me and the world around me, but newsletter articles are part of the job, so here goes.
Human sexuality. One author I have read says, “It’s time to start to understand and lean into the roots of why God cares so deeply about sex and be reminded that sex begins with the condition of our own heart.” Sex is God’s invention. It has a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effect on our lives. Emotionally it is an expression of love, surrender, trust and sacrificial service to another. Spiritually, it is a bond between two people that leaves a permanent imprint on our souls. The world culture has cheapened, and commercialized sex and I am not sure very many people really understand this gift that God has given us. Sex was meant to be pure in its intent and edify our worth. Sex has gone from virtue to vice and is a source of dissension, obsession, abuse and hurt. Sex teaching (if a pastor or teacher even talks about the subject) has mostly been rule following and a guilt and shame teaching mechanism, instead of how to have a pure heart that is seeking to honor God who loves me.
What concerns me about sex? Psychology Today magazine reported that in 2016 that 4.6 billion hours of pornography were viewed on just one porn website. That is 524,000 years of porn. One out of every five mobile phone searches is for porn. 51 percent of pastors admit to watching internet porn, 64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women. 49 percent of women who view porn regularly believe that it is a heathy way to express their sexuality. In this study they were showing how porn hurts our ability to have healthy intimacy. What the culture tells us about sex is messing up God’s invention.
So, what about Conference 2019? To me it does not matter how we vote. What matters to me is, if we will get to the bottom of why we are a declining witness in the world. When will we become a church once again more concerned on how to build relationships with the broken and bleeding so that change can happen in me and the world around me?
I guess that is all.
Geaux Tigers, Barry
Published on Thursday, February 28, 2019 @ 2:55 PM EDT
Recently I spoke with a friend who reluctantly shared that she was fasting about an important matter and it truly touched my heart. As we talked, my mind began to wander and a few colorful memories surfaced.
Admittedly, I thought of times living in Alaska and serving in Zimbabwe, when fasting “came in handy” as a means of politely avoiding local delicacies that were being offered. With a bit of shame I silently confessed over these reminders of improper motivation for fasting and remembered true times of fasting and prayer that were more of what God intended.
Fasting is truly meant to be a time for communing with God, restoring our faith and helping us to discern direction. The examples in the Bible provide us with guidance for praying and at times fasting has been mentioned as an additional way to deepen our experience of God’s presence. While many people used to think only of abstaining from food as a means of fasting, the definition includes various forms of denial of things or acts of day-to-day importance.
As we consider the challenges our denomination is currently facing, the need for fasting and praying cannot be overstated. In our efforts to walk in unity, despite differing opinions and views, God’s Word stands ready to assist in guiding us to make any decisions that have to be made. When Israel fasted before a crucial battle, the Bible says they “inquired of the Lord.” (Judges 20:23; I Samuel 23). May Fasting and Prayer occupy a greater part of our spiritual journey. Resources and fasting guidelines are available.
Published on Thursday, February 21, 2019 @ 3:58 PM EDT
As a lifelong Tennessee fan, basketball season is not something that I typically looked forward to, and recently neither has football season! But as a basketball player and fan growing up, I always wanted a team to cheer for.
In seminary I got to adopt the Duke Blue Devils as my team and even got to witness a National Championship while I was there! This year I have two teams to cheer for during basketball season and it’s been so much fun. My dad, brothers and I have a family group text that we use during games so it’s like we are all watching together.
I saw a video interview with Rick Barnes, the Head Coach of the Vols, about the success they were having this season. He was dismissive of the numerical victories that they have had and said that, “Watering and planting something so someone can come to know Jesus Christ is the greatest victory of all.” The interview also shared that the team has been playing this season for an “Audience of One,” meaning that every time they step on the court they are seeking to give their all for God.
I wonder what our individual lives would look like if we began to live and love for an “Audience of One,” gave our all to honor God in the work place, our marriages and relationships, parenting, and in everything we do. I know my life would look different and I bet yours would too.
Let’s seek to live for an “Audience of One” this week and watch how God transforms the world around us!
In Christ, Will
Published on Friday, February 15, 2019 @ 8:32 AM EDT
A special called General Conference session will be held in St. Louis, Missouri from February 23-26, 2019. At this special session, 864 delegates of the United Methodist Church from across the world will gather to clarify the issue of human sexuality as it relates to the functions and practices of the United Methodist Church.
Listening sessions have been held with Holston Conference delegates, special classes were taught at Prime Time Wednesday gatherings in the Fall, and many articles have been written to try to explain what is going to take place at this General Conference (by the way, some of the articles are still available at UMNEWS.org or Holston.org). You can also get up-to-date information and notifications about General Conference by going to https://holston.org/umc/general-conference and clicking on Subscribe to GC News.
I am asking you to join with me and other United Methodists around the world to commit to an intentional time of prayer. Here are some ways you might pray:
• Pray each day from 2:23 to 2:26 a.m. or p.m. (or both!) – These times correspond to the dates the conference will be held.
• Enter into a time of fasting and prayer once a week for 20 hours with the focus on this special session.
• Join us at First-Centenary on February 20 and February 24 for special prayer services. (See front page article.)
• Intentionally set aside your own method of prayer each day.
• Gather your Sunday School or small group together for a period of intentional prayer and reflection.
• Participate in A Day of Prayer, which will take place from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. CST in the St. Louis America’s Center Convention Complex on Saturday, February 23, the first day of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. The event will be live-streamed at www.umc.org/live.
Christ Jesus was continually in prayer. As Bernard of Clairvaux wrote; “You have His own commandment in the matter, “thou when thou wilt pray, enter into thy chamber and when thou hast shut the door, pray”. He Himself practiced what He preached. He would spend all night in prayer, not only hiding from the crowds but not allowing any, even of His closest friends, to come with Him. Even at the last, when He was hastening to His willing death, though He had taken three with Him, He withdrew even from them when He desired to pray. You must do likewise, when you want to pray.”
My friends, may we come together in prayer, seeking to align our hearts and minds with the One who loves us and calls us to be His people!
Psalm 5:3 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
Published on Thursday, February 7, 2019 @ 2:58 PM EDT