Searching for a Way Forward
by Keith Boyette
The journey which began at the 2016 General Conference with the rejection of The Third Way Plan (an earlier version of the One Church Plan) by delegates in legislative committees to the 2019 special General Conference is approaching its conclusion. Petitions now await action by the 864 delegates from around the world as they gather in the St. Louis America’s Center Convention Complex from Saturday, February 23, to Tuesday, February 26.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association has been unwavering in its opposition to the One Church Plan. Those whom we represent (125,000 United Methodists and 1,500 UM churches) have made clear adoption of the One Church Plan will leave them with no choice but to depart from The United Methodist Church. The primary argument advanced for the One Church Plan is that it will keep the UM Church united. Such an argument is undercut by their acknowledgment that the WCA and others will exit if the plan is adopted.
The WCA fully supports adoption of the Modified Traditional Plan and its faithful implementation. This plan is the only way forward that aligns with the historic position of our church as repeatedly affirmed by our General Conferences and by the overwhelming majority of Christians in the church universal at all times and in all places.
The WCA also supports the adoption of an exit path available to all who are currently part of the UM Church. Provision of such a path will ensure that going forward the UM Church is composed of the willing, not the constrained, enhancing its unity. Failure to provide an exit path will ensure further conflict and needless litigation with the associated expenses and collateral damage.
Contrary to the assertion of Rev. Mark Holland, executive director of Mainstream UMC, it was the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) that first urged an exit path be associated with all plans on which the COWF was working. The COWF November 2017 report to the Council of Bishops presented three sketches and stated “Each sketch includes a gracious way of exit for those who feel called to exit from the denomination.” An exit path was removed from what became the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan at the insistence of the Council of Bishops who also directed the COWF to stop working on what became the Traditional Plan.
In this article, we provide you with key information to enable you to stay informed about what will occur in the coming days.
The delegates to the special General Conference will act on a total of 78 petitions. The petitions are available in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA). Fifty-eight petitions relate to the major plans.
Other petitions provide for exit ramps (see pp. 201 and 205 of the ADCA). Thirty other petitions, though printed in the ADCA, will not be acted upon unless two-thirds of the delegates vote to consider them because the Committee on Reference of the Commission on General Conference determined that they were not in harmony with the Council of Bishops’ amended call for the special General Conference.
New editions of the Daily Christian Advocate will be published each morning during the General Conference and can be accessed from a link on the United Methodist Church website.
The WCA commends your use of a prayer guide prepared by the Revs. Samuel Padgett and Beth Ann Cook of the Indiana Wesleyan Covenant Association.
Saturday, February 23, will be devoted to a day of prayer planned by the Praying Our Way Forward team of the Council of Bishops from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. CST. No formal business will be conducted.
On Sunday, February 24, after an opening worship service, the first business session for the special General Conference will convene. After acting on what should be fairly routine reports from the Commission on General Conference, delegates will have their first opportunity to speak in favor or against the various plans. Near the end of this first business session, delegates will prioritize the petitions they want to work on by casting votes on whether they would categorize the groups of petitions associated with each of the plans or the individual petitions (such as those providing for exit ramps) as high probability or low probability. Delegates will also elect the chairperson, vice chairperson and secretary for the one legislative committee where petitions will first be refined and voted upon. The votes on the priority assigned to petitions and on the officers of the legislative committee may be the first indications of the direction the special General Conference may go.
On Monday, February 25, all of the delegates will meet as a single legislative committee to address all of the petitions determined to be in harmony with the amended call. One of the delegates, elected on Sunday, will chair the legislative committee session instead of a bishop. The Rules of General Conference require that petitions first be considered by a legislative committee and that all petitions in harmony with the call must be acted upon. Individual petitions or groups of petitions are to be considered in the order of priority determined by the preference vote taken on Sunday. If enough delegates designate the exit petitions as having high probability, then the exit petitions will be taken up first. The petitions associated with the plan which receives the greatest number of high probability votes will be considered before the petitions associated with other plans. Because the delegates who will participate in the legislative committee deliberations on Monday will be the same delegates who vote on Tuesday, the actions of the legislative committee on Monday will largely determine the outcome of the special General Conference absent delay, obstruction and disruption of the proceedings.
On Tuesday, February 26, all of the delegates will meet in plenary session with bishops presiding. The actions of the legislative committee on Monday will be presented and since the same delegates will be voting, those petitions endorsed by the legislative committee on Monday should be adopted on Tuesday.
Viewing the Proceedings
The meetings of the special General Conference are open to the public. If you are present in St. Louis, you can register and attend as a guest of the special General Conference. All of the sessions of the special General Conference will be streamed live. On Saturday, February 23, the live stream will begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude at 3:30 p.m. CT. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the live stream will begin at 8:00 a.m. CT and conclude at 6:30 p.m. CT. You can review the schedule on page 8 of the ADCA.
The WCA at the Special General Conference
WCA leadership will be present throughout the special General Conference along with representatives of other groups who support the adoption of the Modified Traditional Plan. The WCA will provide regular updates on our Facebook page. In addition, watch for Facebook video updates which will be posted for viewing at 8:00 a.m. CT each day.
WCA Council Meets on February 27-28
The thirty-two member WCA Council will meet in St. Louis on February 27-28 to respond to the actions of the special General Conference. As previously announced, a 16-member Next Steps Working Group has been meeting to envision a revitalized Methodist movement within or, if necessary, outside the UM Church. The Next Steps Working Group has finished its work and has forwarded its recommendations to the WCA Council for consideration at its February 27-28 meeting. We will issue a statement at the conclusion of the WCA Council meeting on February 28 announcing the WCA’s next steps.
Don’t Act Precipitously
We continue to encourage those associated with the WCA to act prudently and not precipitously in response to the actions of the special General Conference. We have contingency plans to respond to the various possible outcomes of the special General Conference. We will move forward in a deliberate and coordinated manner as circumstances indicate and you will be kept well-informed. There is strength in acting together in a coordinated fashion. Our staff is ready to respond to your questions and provide counsel as we move through the coming days.
Over the coming days, we urge you to be fervent in prayer, confident in the Lord, and sensitive to the prompting of the Spirit. The Sovereign Lord orders our steps. Make a difference for Jesus where you are.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.