Filipino bishops called for connectional unity and warned that schism would be harmful to many of those who call The United Methodist Church their spiritual home.
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"We seek a way forward that allows respectful space for contextualized ministry, preserves and strengthens our connectional unity, and promotes vibrant United Methodist presence in as many places as possible," the bishops said in a statement presented after the Council of Bishops' November meeting in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
"We affirm our first general rule as promulgated by John Wesley, to do no harm. Any form of schism jeopardizes our witness to the world and is harmful to many who regard The United Methodist Church as their spiritual home."
The Filipino bishops urged United Methodists in the Philippines to continue in holy conversation and prayer leading up to the 2019 General Conference.
While the letter did not endorse one of the Commission on the Way Forward plans headed to the special session in two weeks, Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan of the Davao Episcopal Area said that the pastoral statement is a manifestation of their desire for unity for the Philippines United Methodist Church.
"As servant leaders, we call on all Filipino United Methodists to work together for a united stand and support the Council of Bishops. May we continue to journey together in prayer and in holy conversations as one church in Christ Jesus," he said.
Earlier this year, the Council of Bishops, by a majority vote, recommended the One Church Plan "as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.
In the letter, the Filipino bishops recognized the sense of uncertainty expressed by many over the future of The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. of the Baguio Episcopal Area said that while he supports the Traditional Plan, he is committed to upholding unity.
"The Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops statement is not explicitly endorsing any plan," he said. "As a bishop who supports the Traditional Plan — my conservative theological views are well known in the Baguio Episcopal Area and even in the Commission on a Way Forward since I attended our first meeting — the pastoral statement is acceptable.
Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the Manila Episcopal Area echoed a commitment to unity.
"As bishops, we want to be faithful to our consecration to keep and maintain the unity of the church. Hence, we declare that we are one in supporting the unity of the worldwide church so that we will have a powerful witness to the world," he said.
"We call upon the whole church to pray and ask God's leading in the special General Conference to help continue as The United Methodist Church as we move forward."
Gladys Mangiduyos, UMNS correspondent based in the Philippines.
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