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Bishops see progress in unity effort, focus on 2 plans

The Council of Bishops wrapped up a four-day meeting as leaders reported progress in their deliberations about how to prevent denominational schism, with a focus on two possible church futures.

"We're dealing with a very difficult issue that's clearly divisive, and yet there's a real commitment to stay at the table," said Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough. "There really is a desire to find a way forward, and I think that was reflected in our work this time."

Ough insisted the council's relationship with its advisory group, the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward, precludes sharing many details for now.

"We're not interested in the commission hearing or reading about things until the (bishop) moderators can go back and report to them," Ough said of the closed-door meeting.

Ough and Bishop Kenneth Carter, his designated successor as council president and a moderator of the commission, did offer in a joint interview that the council discussed sketches for change in the church.

Carter noted that "contextualization" has been a key word for the bishops as they consider options.

"There's a strong overwhelming desire in the council to see the church remain unified and yet, just by our very nature, we come here from very different parts of the United States and very different parts of the world, and often with different concerns," Carter said.

In a report to the council, the commission shared two revised sketches based on three models presented to the bishops last November. A Feb. 28 press release issued by the Council of Bishops immediately after the meeting said the two sketches "carry forward many of the values and principles" of the three sketches presented to the bishops last November.

"The sketches of these two models represent the values, concerns and feedback we have received since we reported to the council in November. The two sketches provide avenues for unity, contextualization and mission," Carter said in a news release issued after the meeting.

The bishops offered feedback but did not vote on the two revised sketches, instead asking the commission to continue working to prepare a final report to be presented at the April-May Council of Bishops meeting.

The commission will be asked to refine the sketches, based on the direction of Dallas' meeting. It's too early to say the bishops favor one, and a blend might be possible, according to the council president.

The commission's last scheduled meeting is May 14-17. The bishops meet again April 29-May 4, their final gathering before a July 8 deadline for legislative petitions to the special General Conference.

Ough said his "aspiration" is for bishops to settle on a single legislative option to recommend.

Sam Hodges, UMNS writer, lives in Dallas.

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