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Way Forward Commission tops 2017 news stories

Composite of UMNS photos from 2017. *Full captions at bottom of story.

Story by Joey Butler
Jan. 8, 2018 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
 

For the second consecutive year, the work of the Commission on a Way Forward in addressing the church’s debate over homosexuality was considered the top news story by church communicators.

Coverage of the commission’s progress came in first place out of 37 ballots cast by communicators in the United States, Africa and Asia, along with News Service staff. Second was the denomination’s response to a number of natural disasters worldwide in 2017. The Judicial Council’s ruling on the election of a gay bishop, United Methodist response to gatherings of white supremacists and Global Migration Sunday rounded out the top five.

First: Commission on a Way Forward

The Commission on a Way Forward met in Berlin Sept. 18-20. Photo by Maidstone Mulenga.

The Commission on a Way Forward met in Berlin Sept. 18-20. Photo by Maidstone Mulenga.

 

The 32-member commission has been meeting throughout the year to seek a way through the denomination’s impasse over how LGBTQ individuals are included in the church. The bishop-appointed commission serves in an advisory capacity to the bishops, and in November, the bishops reviewed the three possibilities the commission is currently considering. The bishops also have called a special General Conference in February 2019 to take up the bishops’ legislation based on the commission’s work.

Second: United Methodists respond to natural disasters

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell greets volunteer Mary Jackson at the doorway of the food and clothing distribution center at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell greets volunteer Mary Jackson at the doorway of the food and clothing distribution center at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

 

The United Methodist Church, through churches, annual conferences, The United Methodist Committee on Relief and individuals, stepped up again and again to help after natural disasters around the globe. United Methodists were there in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes in TexasFlorida and Puerto Ricoearthquakes in Mexicowildfires in the western United States and a deadly mudslide in Sierra Leone. They prayed, assembled cleaning buckets, offered shelter, donated financial resources and brought their muscle and know-how to disaster response. A group of United Methodists even developed an app to facilitate hurricane response in Texas and now Puerto Rico. United Methodists also continued rebuilding in West Virginia and Louisiana after 2016’s floods and the Carolinas after 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. Response even continues to Superstorm Sandy, which happened five years ago.

Third: Judicial Council rules on gay bishop

Bishop Karen Oliveto (center) visits with her mother, Nelle Oliveto (left) and her wife, Robin Ridenour outside the April 25 meeting of the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Newark, N.J. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Bishop Karen Oliveto (center) visits with her mother, Nelle Oliveto (left) and her wife, Robin Ridenour outside the April 25 meeting of the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Newark, N.J. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

 

The Judicial Council, The United Methodist Church’s top court, ruled on April 28 that the consecration of a “self-avowed practicing homosexual bishop” violates church law. A key part of Decision 1341 is that a “same-sex marriage license issued by competent civil authorities together with the clergy person’s status in a same-sex relationship is a public declaration that the person is a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” While the majority decision did not name Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s sole openly gay episcopal leader, it was her election and consecration in 2016 that prompted a petition to the church court. The ruling marked the first time the denomination’s court weighed in on same-gender marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 established same-sex civil marriage as a constitutional right.

Fourth: United Methodists witness against racism

The Rev. John D. Copenhaver, a retired pastor, drove 140 miles from Winchester, Va., to attend an interfaith worship service and anti-racism protests in Charlottesville. Photo by Richard Lord, UMNS.

The Rev. John D. Copenhaver, a retired pastor, drove 140 miles from Winchester, Va., to attend an interfaith worship service and anti-racism protests in Charlottesville. Photo by Richard Lord, UMNS.

 

White supremacists were on the march in 2017, and United Methodists provided a witness against racism and for the way of Christ. United Methodist clergy and their interfaith partners in Charlottesville, Virginia, took a stand against the Ku Klux Klan in July and offered shelter when white supremacists rioted and a woman was killed when a white nationalist intentionally drove into a crowd of counter-demonstrators. United Methodist clergy also bore witness against white supremacy when the same white-nationalist groups headed to Tennessee.

Fifth: Global Migration

Volunteer Hannah Guzinski helps serve a meal to immigrant children in an educational enrichment program at the United Methodist Peace Church in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Mike DuBuse, UMNS.

Volunteer Hannah Guzinski helps serve a meal to immigrant children in an educational enrichment program at the United Methodist Peace Church in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Mike DuBuse, UMNS.

 

More people are on the move than at any time in recorded history and United Methodists around the world are helping those migrants and refugees. In response to the global migration crisis, The United Methodist Church planned a day of prayer and a special offering to raise awareness and funds to aid migrants and refugees. Global Migration Sunday was held Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent. The offering went to the denomination’s Global Migration Advancea fund set up in 2014 for donors to designate gifts specifically to support work that alleviates the suffering of migrants.

Other stories garnering votes

Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan (left) prays for a leader (red vest) at a camp for displcced people in Malaybalay, Philippines. United Methodists pooled their resources to provide relief to wounded soldiers and people displaced due to violence between the military and the Islamic State group or ISIS. Photo courtesy of Dan Ela.

Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan (left) prays for a leader (red vest) at a camp for displcced people in Malaybalay, Philippines. United Methodists pooled their resources to provide relief to wounded soldiers and people displaced due to violence between the military and the Islamic State group or ISIS. Photo courtesy of Dan Ela.

 

• As the Way Forward commission did its work, two new advocacy groups got off the ground and two more groups continued their development. The Wesleyan Covenant Association, which considers church teachings on homosexuality to be part of Christian orthodoxy, held two public gatherings and named its first staff members. The United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus formed as a caucus in March 2017 and elected officers. The Uniting Methodists Movement organized to give voice to those who don’t see different views of homosexuality as church dividing. The United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy also organized to promote full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians.

The year in pictures

Check out more images in our year-end slideshow. Photos from around the globe tell the story of United Methodists making a difference — and making headlines — in 2017.

• United Methodists rushed to provide pastoral care and other care after massacres at a concert in Las Vegas and, a month later, during worship at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

• Africa University celebrated its 25th anniversary and the election of a graduate as bishop in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

• The United Methodist Mission in Honduras and The National Evangelical Primitive Methodist Church of Guatemala provided much-needed support amidst violence and poverty, working in communities that are threatened by gangsplanting churches and providing pastoral care to workers.

• Discipleship Ministries launched its #SeeAllthePeople initiative. The message of the campaign: “Let’s stop fixing churches and start seeing the people Christ called us to reach.”

• As sexual harassment and abuse dominated headlines, the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women asked United Methodists to respond to a survey aimed at finding out what has changed since its 2005 survey of sexual harassment in the church. And the Rev. Stephanie York Arnold produced a video — “#HerTruth: Women in Ministry Break Their Silence” — for the North Alabama Conference’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Selecting the top 5

Conference communicators and editors, as well as United Methodist News Service staff, vote each year on what stories were the biggest news in the denomination.

A first-place vote counts five points, second place four, and so on. If two stories get the same number of points, the number of first-place votes is used as the tiebreaker.

• The Philippines Board of Church and Society and other United Methodists in the country denounced extrajudicial killings stemming from President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs. There have been about 13,000 deaths, both from legitimate police operations and by unidentified assailants in vigilante-style or unexplained killings.

• United Methodists from around the globe participated in the United Nations climate summit — also known as COP23 — in Bonn, Germany. United Methodist bishops asked President Trump to reconsider his removal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. United Methodists also tried to find ways to be green in their ministries including supporting the expansion of solar power across Africa in their investments.

• This year saw the election of three new bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a new bishop in Germany.

Mercy Chikhosi helps Beth Jesara try on her new school uniform at Liuto Primary School near Madisi, Malawi. The uniforms were bought with donations from several United Methodist churches in Middle Tennessee. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Mercy Chikhosi helps Beth Jesara try on her new school uniform at Liuto Primary School near Madisi, Malawi. The uniforms were bought with donations from several United Methodist churches in Middle Tennessee. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

 

Full captions for top image, clockwise from top left image:

  • The Rev. Jackson Henry, member of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, joined several hundred others in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to protest a white-supremacist rally that was planned but later canceled Oct. 28. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS.
  • ​A home in Everglades City, Fla., tilts precariously following damage by Hurricane Irma. Photo by Kathleen Barry.
  • ​Bishop Karen Oliveto (left) meets Dixie Brewster (right) for the first time prior to the opening of oral arguments before the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Newark, N.J. Brewster is petitioner questioning whether a gay pastor can serve as a bishop in The United Methodist Church. At rear is the Rev. Keith Boyette, representing Brewster before the council. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
  • The logo of the Commission on a Way Forward is displayed on a projection screen during a February, 2017, meeting to discuss possible models for the denomination's future. Photo by Diane Degnan, United Methodist Communications.
  • People who fled violence in Karim Lazai, Garin Mashi, Lushi and other communities in Nigeria took refuge at the United Methodist Church in ATC/Nukkai in Jalingo. Photo by the Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel, UMNS.

Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist Communications.  Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.