One Church, Connectional Conferences or Traditionalist? What those proposals could mean for the future of the global United Methodist Church and what Wisconsin United Methodists think of them were the focus of nine listening sessions held across the state this fall. Teams of three to four members of the Wisconsin Delegation conducted these gatherings as part of the delegation’s preparation for the February 23 – 26 2019 Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

Each district session was attended by 45 to 138 clergy and laity, with a total of nearly 800 participants. In addition, teams of delegation members met with leadership of multiple Wisconsin Conference-related boards, committees and caucuses to receive their feedback about the proposals which have emerged. Each plan seeks to help the UMC best find its way forward past the current divisions over our denomination’s differences around issues of scriptural interpretation and human sexuality.

The messages the delegation were hearing from participants in these gatherings included a deep love of our church from members across the theological spectrum. Many expressed fear that we would not find a way to remain together resulting in a loss of their local congregation. The oral feedback received was predominantly in support of the One Church Plan, which allows for flexibility and contextual differences in approach among clergy, local congregations and annual conferences concerning human sexuality teachings.

There was less, but noticeable, support expressed for the Traditionalist Plan. It retains and adds to existing language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline about homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching. It also strengthens penalties for those found in violation of prohibitive disciplinary language about LGBTQ ordinations and the performance of same-sex unions.

A small number of attendees voiced support for the Connectional Conferences Plan, which would create three branches within the UMC (progressive, unity and traditionalist). That plan would require passage of eight changes in the Constitution of The United Methodist Church prior to implementation.

There was some support indicated for other possibilities, including “gracious exit” proposals allowing local congregations and clergy to depart from the UMC, as well as “simple plan” petitions to eliminate the incompatibility language from the Book of Discipline. Neither of the latter proposals emerged from the Commission on a Way Forward/Council of Bishops process.

Since the Wisconsin Delegation was charged with receiving feedback about the proposals which were developed through that process, the focus of the district gatherings was on those three. The complete report of the Commission on a Way Forward is available online (read report in English).

The Delegation will be meeting in December to continue its preparations for the 2019 General Conference. A major focus of their discussions will be the feedback heard in these listening sessions, the impact of the recent Judicial Council rulings regarding the constitutionality of the three plans and other legislative proposals which were submitted for consideration. All proposals will be available when the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (the workbook for General Conference delegates) is released.

Wisconsin’s delegation to the 2019 General Conference are the clergy and laity first elected to represent our Annual Conference at the 2016 GC session. Its clergy members are Dan Dick, Sam Royappa, Steve Zekoff and first reserve Amanda Stein. Lay delegates are Lisa King, Barbara Dick, Gail Burgess and first reserve Katie Crise. There are additional reserves who would serve should any of these eight be unable to attend. In order elected, they are clergy Jorge Mayorga, Dan Schwerin, Jeremy Deaner, George Kafer and Jenny Arneson; laity Tom Popp, Judy Vasby, John Lawson and Julie Schubring.

Joining the Delegation in these General Conference preparation discussions are the consultation committee from the LGBTQ community established by action of the 2018 Wisconsin Annual Conference session. The three persons serving in that role are Rev. Jonah Holm, Milwaukee ZAO UMC; Jodi Parins, lay member of Algoma UMC; and Victor Ponce, lay member of Madison Trinity UMC.

Your continued prayers for the work of the Delegation and the 2019 General Conference are requested as we continue this journey towards the future of the Body of Christ as manifested through The United Methodist Church.