Episcopal Address: Part III | Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Sept. 16, 2020
The United or Untied Methodist Church – shaping the future of the Church?
Remember February of 2019?
General Conference met in St. Louis, Missouri, with high hopes that The United Methodist Church would adopt “The One Church Plan,” eliminating the prohibitions and punishments which have marginalized and excluded full participation of LGBTQ+ people in the Church and its ministries for nearly 40 years. When the plan failed, hopes crashed and the General Conference ended in open anger and hostility, while conversations began across the church about what needed to happen next.
How can United Methodists who cannot tolerate the exclusive policies and practices resist? Hang banners outside the church, run newspaper ads, withhold apportionments, plan to leave the denomination? Should we try again at another General Conference? Should the denomination plan for an orderly separation with fair division of assets to be presented to the next General Conference? Should we abandon the idea of a global church, and give more autonomy to national or regional churches? One thing we quickly realized is that we needed to intentionally invite into leadership as we shape the future that they will carry forward.
A year ago, I called together a Guiding Coalition of diverse leaders from the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences. It organized into ten working groups that began to look at options for the future.
And then COVID-19 grabbed our attention, threatening the very health of the nation and world. It became the critical focus as we adjusted every aspect of our lives to keep safe and prevent the spread of the disease. Concern for the future of The United Methodist Church receded into the background. Almost everything we understand as Church moved online. Conferences were cancelled or postponed and conducted remotely like this one.
And then the world saw George Floyd, with a policeman’s knee on his neck, struggle, plead, call for his Mama and die on a street in Minneapolis. Again, the headlines shifted, attention focused on real and present systemic racism in America. People cried out, rose up and poured out into the streets to demand racial justice and equity.
We live in a different world today than we did even a year ago. These movements are overwhelming. They demand all our attention and resources. We are weary. But no rest for the weary.
As wildfires rage across the West, we find ourselves in another crisis in , and to a lesser degree, to this point, in Idaho. And the church digs deeper, finds reserves it did not know it had, invents new ways to mobilize to offer relief to people who are evacuated, homeless, and stricken by sooty, ashen air.
Disaster response volunteers are working with district superintendents, local church pastors and laity, our Hispanic ministry coordinator and communicators to provide emergency shelter – a necessary service. They are also responding to the need to store the personal belongings of people who have evacuated in church buildings that have been closed for months. All the while they adopt practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The faithfulness, courage, and generosity of the churches is urgently needed and ready in this time of uncertainty. And the “connections” The United Methodist Church brings to these crises are the blessings of generations of faithful folks who have given, organized, volunteered, prayed, and reached out.
United or Untied: what is the future of United Methodism?
Part I (Fighting COVID-19) and Part II (Dismantling Racism) of Bishop Stanovsky's Episcopal Address are available to read on the Greater NW website.