Faced with the fallout of a divisive General Conference, United Methodist bishops said they would join other church members in exploring new possibilities for the denomination's future.
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But at this point, they see their role more as listening rather than directing the church's conversation.
"There is a sense among the council that we are in untenable times," said the Council of Bishops in a May 9 statement to the church. "To this end, the council is exploring models and plans of new forms of unity."
"The whole council is called to a season of deep listening," the bishops' letter said. "We grieve the brokenness in our relationships and confess that we are complicit in this."
The bishops took another action related to the special General Conference in St. Louis:
- The bishops also agreed to support a move to having a new U.S. structure that deals with solely U.S. issues, similar to the current Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters that deals with matters that affect the church in Africa, the Philippines and Europe.
Denominational giving also is down — especially in the United States, which provides the bulk of funding for general church ministries.
Moses Kumar, top executive of the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration, sounded the alarm. He told the bishops that if current giving trends continue through the year, the U.S. collection rate for the fund that supports bishops will drop to 76.3 percent. For the fund that supports the work of most agencies and other global ministries, the U.S. collection rate will be 74.4 percent.
But amid this turmoil, a number of bishops expressed hope for a brighter, Holy Spirit-led tomorrow.
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, president of the Council of Bishops, told UMNS that what he's hearing from people around the connection is that "God is doing a new thing."
"Something is dying, and something new is being born," said Carter, who also leads the Florida Conference. "I don't meet many people who want to maintain the status quo."
He said United Methodists struggle being a global denomination that spans the vast economic inequalities and cultural differences among the United States, Europe, the Philippines and Africa.
"I'm hearing a desire to remain a global church but maybe a global church in a different way," Carter said.
Bishop Bill McAlilly, who leads the Tennessee and Memphis conferences, said that bishops will need insight, courage to speak across theological divides and capacity to endure in the days ahead.
Bishop Mande Muyombo, who leads the North Katanga Conference in Congo, said since February, it's been difficult for church members in Africa as well.
Still, the strains on unity were apparent even as bishops spoke of their hopes for the church.
One thing many bishops agreed on was that the church cannot legislate itself to unity.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS
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