On March 24, Don Schulz gave a readout to the congregation regarding the Special Session of Annual Conference of the Greater New Jersey (GNJ) Conference that took place on March 16. The following is Don’s report:
Reverend Jennifer asked me to give a brief summary of the GNJ Special Session of Annual Conference that occurred last week at Brookdale Community College. The primary purpose of our meeting was to update our conference about the results of the United Methodist Church (UMC) Special General Conference actions last month in Saint Louis.
But before I summarize the results these meetings, let me remind you of the context for the St. Louis meeting. The UMC Book of Discipline details the history, principles and governance of the UMC. It is the rule book, guide book and operating procedures for the UMC. It can be modified every four years. It is not the Word of God; it is not the Bible! In the 1972, the Book of Discipline was modified to say that the “Practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and does not allow for same gender weddings or the ordination of gays and lesbians. But clergy and laity have been debating these issues (especially the question of incompatibility with Christian teachings) ever since. Moreover, those policies have not been enforced or not enforced uniformly.
So the purpose of the St. Louis meeting was to clarify the UMC’s language, policies and procedures, about these issues. Votes were taken on several policy proposals. One proposal was the so-called Traditional Plan, which basically affirmed the Book of Discipline language and policies and put strong enforcement procedures in place. For example, ministers performing same sex weddings could be suspended for one year after one violation or have their orders revoked after two violations.
A vote was also taken on the so called One Church Plan. This plan basically would have left same sex weddings and gay/lesbian ordination up to individual conferences, churches and clergy. Persons would not have been disciplined for such actions. AND no one would be forced to perform such actions.
In the end, however, the Traditional Plan was adopted by a narrow margin. Yet, some aspects of the Traditional Plan, even as amended, are possibly unconstitutional according to church law. So the Traditional plan awaits a judicial review beginning in April.
Now, the purpose our meeting last week was to understand the scope and limitations of the recent actions of the St. Louis meeting, as well as the implications for our Greater New Jersey Annual Conference (GNJAC), its churches, clergy and laity. Part of the meeting was a “listening” session, where individuals got to voice how these rulings will affect them personally. There were several stories told about the deep pain people are feeling as a result of the ruling.
So one action taken by our meeting last week was to create a “Way Forward” team to identify and propose a plan to help our GNJAC and churches implement these new rulings, while (at the same time) affirming our support for LGBTQ persons and churches. The team will be composed of backers of both the Traditional Plan and the One Church plan. Obviously, this will be no easy task! BUT the future of the GNJAC is at stake. This team was given a budget of $10,000 and asked to report back at the May GNJAC.
What should we (church members) do in the mean-time?
- Pray for the UMC, our AC, our church and church members. We have LGBTQ church members, families and friends, who are painfully torn between allegiance to the UMC and their own lives.
- Be supportive of persons and families struggling to find their home in the UMC
- There will be two opportunities in our church to further discuss these decisions and express your hopes and dreams for BUMC. The first is next Tuesday, March 26 at 10 am, and the second is a “Lunch and Learn” session on Sunday March 31, 2019 at 11:30 AM in Fellowship Hall. Both are listed in the bulletin. Please attend one or the other to be better informed and engaged on this important topic that affects us all.
- Finally, watch the news in April and beyond to see how the Judicial Council rules on the Traditional Plan. Although the new rulings are scheduled to be implemented in 2020, nothing will be “set in stone” until all the judicial rulings are in.