Skip Navigation

Photo by United Methodist News Service

Bishop Ough is president of the Council of Bishops.

Commission on a Way Forward: 5 things you need to know


A Feature by Joe Iovino*

As a United Methodist, you may have heard about some of the things happening in our church today around the issues of human sexuality, and the work being done by a group called the Commission on a Way Forward. Their important work will help shape the future of The United Methodist Church.

These five things offer an overview of the Commission on a Way Forward. Many links are included that take you to pages where you can learn much more.

1. Formation

At General Conference 2016 in Portland, there were an overwhelming number of proposals dealing with issues surrounding same-sex marriage, the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, and related topics. During a discussion about how to proceed, a clergy delegate addressed the bishops. “We are asking for your leadership.” Another added, “We are in a stuck place… I’m pleading with you. Please help us.”

Commission on a Way Forward Timeline

May 2016 – General Conference

October 24. 2016 – Members named

January 1, 2017 – Praying Our Way
    Forward Phase 2

November 2017 – Report to Bishops

February 2018 – Report to Bishops

April/May, 2018 – Report to Bishops

  • May 14-17, 2018 – TBA

The bishops returned later in the General Conference with a plan. They would create a group to research and advise them of ways to help us get unstuck, to move us forward. The group they later brought together is the Commission on a Way Forward. More about the formation of the commission here and here.

2. Task

The bishops carefully formed the Commission on a Way Forward, inviting 32 people who identified on all sides of the issues to be part of this special group. Eight bishops, 13 other clergy members, and 11 lay members constitute the commission. More about the members here.

The work of the Commission on a Way Forward is “to inform deliberation across the whole church and to help the Council of Bishops in their service to the next General Conference in finding a way forward.” More on their “About Us” page.

The commission reports to the bishops, who will then present a report at a special General Conference, February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

3. Issues

As the Commission on a Way Forward was beginning their work, the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) invited scholars to a gathering called “Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness.” Twenty-eight academics from three countries gathered for three days in March 2017, at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, to present papers and discuss the issues. Eight members of the Commission on a Way Forward attended the event. More about this gathering here.

Following the gathering, GBHEM produced Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality, a study guide based on the scholars’ conversation. The study guide is available free online here. Bound copies can be purchased at The papers presented by the academics are also available for purchase at

4. Recommendations

On February 28, 2018, the Council of Bishops reported that they have received two “sketches” from the Commission on a Way Forward. Not many details were shared, but brief overviews were offered. The bishops received these recommendations, offered feedback, and asked the Commission on a Way Forward to continue working toward a final report to be presented to the bishops at their April/May meeting. Read the press release here, and an article about it here.

STay Informed

5. Who decides?

After receiving the final report of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will present a report to a special session of General Conference to be held in St. Louis, Missouri, February 23-26, 2019. This worldwide gathering of United Methodists will only act on the bishops’ report around our deep divide over homosexuality. More here.

Most of the delegates for the 2019 General Conference will be those who attended the 2016 General Conference, though The Book of Discipline allows annual conferences to elect new delegates if they so choose. As with every General Conference the number of clergy and lay (non-clergy) delegates will be equal. Bishops preside, but do not vote. More about General Conferences here.

Our next regular General Conference will be held May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

To keep up with the progress, be sure to visit our
Please also be sure to talk to your United Methodist pastor.

*Joe Iovino works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

This story first posted on March 6, 2018.