To: The United Methodist People Around the World
From: The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, Meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, USA
November 5, 1999
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who alone is our salvation, our hope, and our peace. On this eve of a new millennium and the eve of the General Conference 2000, we write you this message of hope and encouragement along with a reminder about the primary mission of the church, namely "to make disciples of Jesus Christ." (Par. 200 of The Book of Discipline and Matthew 28:19)
As we have gathered for a time of prayer, worship, theological reflection, Christian conversation, and sharing about our work as your bishops, we celebrate with you that The United Methodist Church is alive in God's Spirit, involved in vital ministry, and expanding its mission around the world for the sake of the Gospel. We are privileged to join in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ along with millions of United Methodist people around the globe. We have heard from each other many joyful stories of this mission.
We write to remind all United Methodist persons not to be distracted from our primary mission as a church by arguments over sensitive issues. We live in a world that is filled with injustice, racism, hate crimes, hungry children, warfare, poverty, confusion over issues of sexuality, disease, and violence. We are called to bear witness to a God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16 NRSV). We are committed to keeping our primary energy focused upon the mission of Christ to this world which God loves.
As a Council of Bishops, we have experienced a new growth in our own sense of unity in Jesus Christ. We confess that we are still learning how to celebrate our diversity while also affirming that unity. We are learning that our unity is a gift of God who holds us together in the midst of diverse opinions, varieties of languages, and a multitude of unique experiences. Let no one mistake the Spirit's variety of gifts in our midst for any lack of common commitment to Jesus Christ. Even though individual bishops may express their personal convictions, we are united in our desire to serve Christ, to lead the church faithfully, and to be a witness to the unity of the Spirit. We continue to pray for the whole United Methodist Church to discover this same sense of unity in Christ. Because the church is one body in Christ, your episcopal leaders are committed to leading the church to maintain unity amid all troublesome and difficult issues.
Yet we know that our beloved church is in a time of passage from one age to another, a process of growth in global witness, and a time for discerning God's leading into this new millennium. Some may sense this is a time of crisis, and some may even fear that diversity will lead to division. However, we continue to pray for the unity of the Spirit. We urge all United Methodists to take courage in remembering that Christ has already broken down the walls that divide and that Christ is the Head of the church. This season of passage is a time to be quiet, to be united, to listen for God's guiding voice, and to learn from one another.
To help lead this process, our Council is issuing a "Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Christian Conversation" as we move into the new millennium and as we move specifically toward General Conference in May of 2000. This call is an invitation for the whole United Methodist Church to join us, your bishops, in the spiritual disciplines as we seek God's guidance for our church.
We also call The United Methodist Church to focus itself in a fresh way upon our mission and purpose. Too often our church has become distracted by various issues over which we seem to lack clarity of discernment. Certainly the many issues surrounding homosexuality have vexed our church for seven General Conferences. We encourage all delegates to the 2000 General Conference to consider ways to move this issue beyond legislative solutions.
We have confidence in the General Conference process, knowing that God will work through the delegates elected to meet next spring. As a Council of Bishops we are committed to administering the disciplinary decision of General Conference in our ministry as bishops. In addition, we offer to guide the church in all possible settings in conferencing around such issues as homosexuality.
In the midst of these discussions of the issues surrounding homosexuality, we need to remember that there are real people whose lives are being victimized when the debate becomes hateful, mean-spirited, and shows a lack of concern. In our role as shepherds of the church, we hear the anguish of many gay and lesbian persons, their parents and families, their friends, and their pastors. We ask the whole church to respond in Christian love to those who are pained by the church's struggle with the issue of homosexuality.
We call upon every congregation to fulfill the biblical and disciplinary mandate of hospitality for all persons, including gays and lesbians. We urge every pastor to reach out and actively seek to minister to and with all persons, within the bounds of our Book of Discipline, as we move toward being a more inclusive church.
It would be tragic for The United Methodist Church to allow any discussion of any issue to distract us from our mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples for Christ, and spreading scriptural holiness throughout the earth.
We ask that you join us in praying the prayer on page 564 of our United Methodist Hymnal:
Help each of us, gracious God,
to live in such magnanimity and restraint
that the Head of the church may never have cause
to say to any one of us,
"This is my body, broken by you." Amen
Christ, who willingly gave his body and blood for us, calls us to be the unified Body of Christ in the world today. May it be so, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ show us the way. Amen.