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Time running short as bishops gather in Dallas

More than 100 active and retired bishops met in Dallas in February for a special, four-day meeting. It's focused on refining options presented by the Commission on a Way Forward, a group advising the bishops on how to avoid denominational schism.

Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough challenged colleagues to be open to changing their minds as they grapple with how to avoid a breakup of The United Methodist Church.

He noted that the council's meeting in February coincided with Lent, a season for reflection and change.

"Let us practice the Lenten discipline of self-emptying, letting go of the positions we came here to defend and the battles we are plotting to wage in this council or the Judicial Council or on the floor of the special General Conference," Ough said in a Feb. 25 sermon that doubled as a presidential address.

"Let us practice the Lenten discipline of listening to God and one another to the point of dying to ourselves."

"We're running out of time," Ough said in an interview after his address. "I don't expect we're going to be making any final decision or vote at this meeting. But we added this meeting because we know that by the time we get to the April-May meeting, we've got to be pretty clear where we're going."

Council of Bishops Secretary Cynthia Fierro Harvey and Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough share the elements during Holy Communion. Photo by Sam Hodges, UMNS.

The Council of Bishops are meeting again this week, the last before the July 8 deadline for petitions to the special 2019 General Conference, in St. Louis.

The 32-member commission, which last met in January, has suggested three different frameworks for the church's future.

A traditionalist model would emphasize accountability and enforcement of relevant church law.

A centrist model would remove the Book of Discipline's restrictive language, allowing conferences to decide how inclusive to be.

A third option foresees multiple branches of the denomination sharing a General Conference and certain agency functions.

He said he favors ultimately recommending only one option to the special General Conference.

"If we're dealing with multiple plans, all of which could be available for amendment or whatever, I think it would simply overwhelm the process," Ough said.

Ough's sermon, titled "On Changing Our Minds," stressed that the apostles and other early church leaders, as well as John Wesley and fellow leaders of the Methodist movement, drew on the Holy Spirit to move beyond "anxious passion for security" and take on the mind of Christ.

United Methodist bishops must now do the same, Ough preached.

At the end of the sermon, Ough again implored fellow bishops to be attentive to the Holy Spirit and to lead accordingly.

"Let's help our people empty themselves of their fear of the future and their fear of a changed church. … Let's be open to Christ changing our minds. Let's show the world what unity in the Body of Christ looks like."

Sam Hodges, UMNS writer in Dallas, TX.

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