Amid growing questions about The United Methodist Church’s future, Bishop Kenneth H. Carter challenged his episcopal colleagues to ask: How can we do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus?
The answer, he preached, is for church leaders to welcome unconditionally, walk together and worship constantly.
“Friends, we embark on the adventure of a Council of Bishops meeting in the midst of a turbulent and chaotic moment,” Carter said in his opening sermon to the group he leads as president.
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“We need to leave this place different than when we arrived. Something needs to happen.”
More than 120 active and retired bishops met this Spring for their first public gathering since the 2019 special General Conference saw a majority of delegates reject the plan recommended by a majority of bishops.
Following a request from the 2016 General Conference, the bishops had called the special meeting of the denomination’s top policymaking body to address a decades-long dispute in the church.
Last year at the same hotel, a majority of bishops recommended the One Church Plan that would have left questions of ordination up to conferences and questions of marriage up to churches and individual clergy.
Instead, by a vote of 438-384, delegates adopted the Traditional Plan by a vote of 420-390 and also approved disaffiliation legislation that would allow churches under certain conditions to leave with property.
The result is that the denomination has new tools of enforcement and an escape hatch. But it does not have consensus.
Since the February votes, United Methodists across the multinational denomination — including some bishops — have been in closed-door conversations about possibly splitting the church.
During the meeting, he said, the bishops will have their own discussions about what plans for the church’s future are currently emerging. He added that the bishops will also talk about “how The United Methodist Church will need to rebrand itself in some places given the negative publicity and how we can also support bishops in very traditional settings.”
Carter preached to the bishops from John 21:1-19, when the risen Christ himself offers hospitality — cooking disciples a fish-fry breakfast and welcoming Peter back into the fold after Peter’s three previous denials that he knew Jesus.
In his sermon, he stressed that connection, not the tears of schism, “is the heart of Methodism.”
Carter concluded his sermon by urging bishops to still speak to the church whose connection is strained.
“We need to say something to the church, and it doesn’t need to be a word from us,” he said. “It needs to be a word from the Lord.”
excerpt of a story by Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS
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