Over the past two years, bishops have debated, reflected and fervently prayed about the future of The United Methodist Church.
Now, they know that the task of finding a way through the denomination's division is in the hands of General Conference delegates.
Bishops have no vote at General Conference. However, they still have a role to play as presiders during the plenary sessions of the denomination's top lawmaking assembly.
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They also committed themselves to "trust this General Conference, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern God's best way for our future."
Bishops Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Conference and Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference presented the statement that the bishops unanimously affirmed.
In the statement, the bishops declared they can best serve the delegates by:
- Presiding fairly and creating a holy atmosphere in which they can do their best work
- Trusting that the General Conference will invoke the Holy Spirit
- Being a prayerful, hopeful, and pastoral presence
- Giving them confidence that we are acting transparently and not orchestrating or manipulating the process toward a desired end, and
- Acting as midwives as they birth something new.
The delegates will consider a report by the bishop-appointed Commission on a Way Forward, which includes three different plans for the denomination's future.
Building trust will be a challenge before the multinational and multilingual legislative body. Delegates to recent General Conference sessions have dealt with distrust in technology, in bishops and in each other. In 2016, the delegates took three days to decide their rules of organization.
"A major responsibility of the Council of Bishops is to make sure we create the kind of space for trust in order to enable the delegates to their work," said Bishop John K. Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Conference.
In August, 23 bishops volunteered to undergo training to be presiding officers at the special session. At their November meeting, the bishops began training and will continue the training sessions at least once each month before the special session.
The entire gathering will require only five or six different presiding officers, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton told his fellow bishops. Bickerton represents the bishops on the Commission on General Conference, the group that plans the big meeting.
Deciding which bishops actually end up presiding is the job of the General Conference Committee on Presiding Officers. The committee has 12 members, one each from the five U.S. jurisdictions and seven multinational central conferences. Half are clergy, and half are laity.
General Conference delegates from around the globe will only have three days to complete their legislative work.
"As a body, we bishops want the delegates to have the opportunity to do their best work," said Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of the South Carolina Conference.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS.
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