The new Council of Bishops president shared his hopes for a renewed United Methodist Church while lamenting the imminent departure of some to a breakaway denomination.
Those breaking away include a fellow bishop.
But even as a new denomination gets off the ground, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton urged United Methodists to celebrate a launch of their own.
“In the midst of heartache of separation, let us launch and proclaim once again a unity of purpose in ministry together,” Bickerton, who also leads the New York Conference, preached April 29.
“In the midst of legal documents and term sheets, let us launch and affirm the reality that United Methodists are Bible-based, faith-driven, mission-focused and global in scope.”
The United Methodist Council of Bishops concluded its five-day spring meeting with Bickerton receiving the president’s gavel from his predecessor, Louisiana Conference Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey. The bishops also acknowledged what Bickerton called a “sad and sobering reality” — the May 1 start of the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination.
The coming General Conference — The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly — faces multiple proposals for some form of separation. However, after the third postponement of the international legislative assembly because of the pandemic, Global Methodist organizers decided no longer to wait for General Conference action.
The United Methodist Commission on the General Conference, which plans the big meeting, made the decision to postpone. Bishops do not have a vote on the commission, but they still have faced ire about the delay.
Meanwhile, May 1 passed with little fanfare. Both United Methodist and Global Methodist leaders expect any potential separations to take some time.
Basically, the Global Methodist Church wants to be in a position to accept disaffiliating United Methodist churches, clergy and potentially annual conferences — United Methodist regional bodies — during the season when U.S. annual conferences meet.
Annual conferences have final say on whether a church can disaffiliate. However, the question of whether U.S. annual conferences themselves can leave under current United Methodist church law is now before the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court.
For his part, Bickerton said that every day he prays that churchgoers can bless one another and mutually recognize each person’s sacred worth.
While matters of separation will take time to sort out, United Methodist ministry continues.
Amid wars, migration and internal struggles, Bickerton expressed his belief that The United Methodist Church still can bring a vital Christian witness to a hurting world.
“Let’s commit ourselves to spending most of our time positioning our church for the next chapter of our life together,” he said. That includes “talking about the movement of the Spirit in our midst, the exciting days that lie ahead and the joy we will have being able to live out our calling to preach the good news of God’s love.”
excerpt from a s tory by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNS
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