The 32 members of the Commission on a Way Forward are getting down to the business of doing what their name says — helping a denomination deeply divided move toward some sort of future together.
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That future could end up looking very different than how The United Methodist Church operates at present.
"After meetings of building relationships and team building, the commission is now delving deeper into its intended task — finding a way forward for the church," said Mazvita Machinga, commission member and a dean at United Methodist Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
"There is high optimism that a way forward will unwind itself as the team works together," she added.
The multinational commission held its third meeting in April at the United Methodist Building in Washington. Just as was true with its first two meetings, the commission's third gathering was closed to reporters.
The commission, authorized by General Conference 2016, is looking at new ways to be a global church.
"We're acknowledging that there are deep-seated differences in the church, and there are parts of the church that are not able to live together in a closed connection," The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht said. "So we are looking at ways to loosen the connection. What form that might take, we don't know yet."
"I think there is no question we still see a connected United Methodist church," Scott Johnson of Upper New York said. "We're working toward unity."
The group brings together clergy and laity from nine countries and of diverse perspectives.
"We are trying to think about and model the new behaviors that will help leaders who deeply care about the church to see new forms and structures that will allow for differing expressions of the global church," Florida Area Bishop Ken Carter, told UMNS. He is one of three bishops who is moderating the commission's work.
The group is not only looking at a way through the impasse around a sensitive subject but also how to increase vitality of local churches and strengthen the church's mission.
According to a press release about the meeting, the commission members indicated they are leaning toward a simpler structure "with clearer processes for decision-making and accountability."
The commission met less than a month before the Judicial Council, the denomination's top court.
Commission members stressed that whatever the Judicial Council rules, their work continues.
David Field, a commission member from Switzerland, noted that the Judicial Council's decision would use the denomination's present Book of Discipline. In contrast, the commission is looking at the Discipline with an eye toward possible revisions.
"I remain hopeful that we will find a positive way forward that will release the church to focus the time and energy we have spent fighting each other on mission," he said.
For any of its proposals to become reality, the commission needs the assent of General Conference delegates. Bishops are considering calling a special General Conference in 2019.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter and Vicki Brown, managing editor, United Methodist News Service
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