2 bishops offer plan for denomination's future

Two bishops propose turning The United Methodist Church into an umbrella organization to be divided into two groups.

Michigan Conference Bishop David Bard and Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones began collaborating on a plan after the rancorous 2019 General Conference and shared it with United Methodist News.

 "We both envision a future where the church will focus on its mission of making disciples and spend less time and energy debating issues of human sexuality, which means we need to bless different parts of The United Methodist Church to be about the mission in their own ways," Jones said.

Though bishops don't vote at General Conference, Bard and Jones said they feel an urgency to stimulate debate and action.

Under the Bard-Jones plan – titled "A New Form of Unity: A Way Forward Strategy 2019-2022" – an annual conference would choose to join one of three groups the bishops are tentatively calling the Traditional Methodist Church, the Open Methodist Church and the Progressive Methodist Church.

The Traditional Methodist Church would begin with a Book of Discipline that includes the Traditional Plan.

The Open Methodist Church and Progressive Methodist Church would begin with a Book of Discipline modified to include the Simple Plan as presented in St. Louis. That plan called for eliminating restrictions on same-sex unions.

The two or three churches would each decide on a name ("Methodist" isn't required to be part of it), and each would hold its own General Conferences, with complete freedom to revise its Book of Discipline. Each would fund its bishops and decide on approved seminaries.

The two or three churches would share in governing the General Council of Finance and Administration, Wespath, the United Methodist Publishing House and the General Commission on Archives and History. They would contribute proportionally to the Black College Fund and Africa University.

Other general church agencies would have their own boards and be accountable to the Open Methodist Church but would provide services as requested to the other churches.

The United Methodist Church would no longer have individual members but would continue to exist "as an umbrella to facilitate this new form of unity," the plan says.

The churches would be in full communion, and each could use the cross-and-flame logo of The United Methodist Church.

Though specific in many ways, the plan leaves unanswered big questions, such as the global nature of The United Methodist Church.

"Churches in Europe and Asia could form their own Methodist Churches or belong to one of the two or three churches, with the precise nature of the relationship to be determined," the plan says. "There would be a United Methodist Church in Africa, the precise affiliations to the two or three churches to be determined."

excerpt from a story by Sam Hodges, Dallas-based writer, UMNS

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