As a United Methodist, you may have heard about some of the things happening in our church today around the issues of human sexuality. There will be a Special Session of General Conference in February 2019, to receive and act upon a report by a group called the Commission on a Way Forward. This important work will help shape the future of The United Methodist Church.
These five things offer an overview of the Commission on a Way Forward, and what will be discussed and decided at the 2019 General Conference Special Session. Many links are included that take you to pages where you can learn much more.
At General Conference 2016 in Portland, there were an overwhelming number of proposals dealing with issues surrounding same-sex marriage, the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, and related topics. During a discussion about how to proceed, a clergy delegate addressed the bishops, “We are asking for your leadership.” Another added, “We are in a stuck place… I’m pleading with you. Please help us.”
The bishops returned later in the GeneralConference with a plan. They would create a group to research and advise them of ways to help us get unstuck, to move us forward. The group they later brought together is the Commission on a Way Forward. More about the formation of the commission here and here.
The bishops carefully formed the Commission on a Way Forward, inviting 32 people who identified on all sides of the issues to be part of this special group. Eight bishops, 13 other clergy members, and 11 lay members constitute the commission. More about the members here.
The work of the Commission on a Way Forward is “to inform deliberation across the whole church and to help the Council of Bishops in their service to the next General Conference in finding a way forward.” More on their “About Us” page.
The commission regularly reported to the bishops during their work (see timeline to the right). Their final report will be presented to a special session of General Conference, February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.
As the Commission on a Way Forward was beginning their work, the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) invited scholars to a gathering called “Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness.” Twenty-eight academics from three countries gathered for three days in March 2017, at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, to present papers and discuss the issues. Eight members of the Commission on a Way Forward attended the event. More about this gathering here.
Following the gathering, GBHEM produced Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality, a study guide based on the scholars’ conversation. The study guide is available free onlinehere. Bound copies can be purchased at Cokesbury.com. The papers presented by the academics are also available for purchaseat Cokesbury.com.
On July 31, 2018, the final report of the Commission on a Way Forward was released in the four official languages of The United Methodist Church. The report may be downloaded in English, French, Portuguese, Swahili and Spanish.
5. Who decides?
The report of the Commission on a Way Forward will be received and acted upon by a special session of General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, February 23-26, 2019. This worldwide gathering of United Methodists will only act on items around our deep divide over homosexuality. More here.
Originally, the Commission on a Way Forward understood their role as advisory to the Council of Bishops, who would then report to the special General Conference session. A ruling of the Judicial Council on May 25, 2018, clarified that the Commission on a Way Forward is to report directly to the General Conference.
At the request of the Council of Bishops, the Judicial Council reviewed proposed legislation for the One Church, Connectional Conference, and Traditional plans to determine their constitutionality. Oral hearings were held during their gathering in Zurich, Switzerland, October 23-26, 2018. Their decision was released on October 26.
Most of the delegates for the 2019 General Conference will be those who attended the 2016 General Conference, though The Book of Discipline allows annual conferences to elect new delegates if they so choose. As with every General Conference the number of clergy and lay (non-clergy) delegates will be equal. Bishops preside, but do not vote.
Our next regular General Conference will be held May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This story was posted on March 6, 2018.
Edited August 9, 2018 and November 8, 2018, to include updates and to reflect changes.