As Wisconsin delegates to the Special Session of General Conference prepare for the upcoming meeting in St. Louis, February 23-26, we want to highlight their thoughts and insights. This week, Steve Zekoff, clergy, and Tom Popp, laity, (both from the Lake Mills UMC) weigh in.

Steve Zekoff, Clergy Delegate

The last six General Conferences have showcased The United Methodist Church at both its best and worst. The upcoming Special GC will certainly provide similar moments.

Essentially what brought our church to this point is a hearts and minds issue. Words published in The Book of Discipline will not resolve our ongoing differences. Dissimilarities between believers’ worldviews make it hard to engage in candid conversations about faith and life matters. Recent history suggests power struggles occurring during and following GC 2019 will provide more compelling encounters. Yet the teachings of the Gospel and the Epistles challenge us to look beyond our divergences.

The broad spectrum of Biblical interpretation, theological beliefs and practices existing within our denomination dates back to the 1968 Uniting Conference. Still Wesley’s call for us to honor unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and charity in all things continues to resonate. Dividing the UMC over the role of LGBTQ members would be contrary to practicing charity with each other. It would elevate prohibitions against select sexuality practices to essential church doctrine while continuing to downplay other behaviors condemned in scripture. I believe our call to continue together is based on a much broader understanding of Biblical teachings.

United Methodists have a long history of shared mission and ministry by clergy and laity who are of different minds. It has been focus on our commonality that has enabled UMs to reach many through our local faith communities and outreach activities. It is the stated intent of some of the legislative proposals to remove many who are currently included within the UM part of the Body of Christ. My hope for GC 2019 is we move forward with a plan that allows the church to remain together and does not mandate exclusion of any from Christ’s Body.

Tom Popp, Alternate Laity Delegate

The church is you.

The institution you call the church, the global United Methodist Church, is about to change. It may change very dramatically and in ways you do not like. It is likely to be very different in ways you cannot now foresee. Some of you may leave that institution, some may stay. But it is an institution.

The church is you.

Those of us going to the Special General Conference will work hard and diligently to bring hearts of peace and unity, to stay open and listen carefully, to pray without ceasing, to love all of our brothers and sisters, to bridge gaps that divide. We will do that. But still the institution will change in ways that are beyond our control. The church is not that institution.

The church is you.

Though you may be angry and even bitter about the changes to the institution, you are still called to love God with all your heart, to love your neighbors and show compassion to those in pain, to forgive, to stay open and vulnerable, to demonstrate the love of God to all of God's children and to God's creation, to invite the Holy Spirit into all that you do, to model the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Be the church. Be worthy. Resist condemnation and blame. No matter how the institution changes, you are still called to be who God calls you to be. Be comforted to know that you are loved and that you can still be the church.

The church is you.