Last week the United Methodist Church was in the national media headlines regarding a potential split in the denomination. A press release about a proposed agreement for separation sparked this media attention. Many of the secular headlines caused confusion, as they often do.
I am sure by now many of you have read these articles, commentaries, blogs and opinions about this new proposal. It is often my preference to prayerfully reflect before I comment in haste. I am grateful for the space you allowed me to do this. This past Sunday we celebrated Epiphany and I have found myself reflecting on Matthew chapter 2 where the wise men follow the light of the star. I would respectfully ask each of us to consider where we need to seek God’s light as we move through 2020. It will be imperative that we look for those Epiphany moments only God can provide.
First, the most important thing to understand about this proposal is that it is another piece of legislation that will come before the 2020 General Conference delegates. As a reminder, General Conference is the only voting body that can consider structural and policy change to our denomination. The next meeting is in May in Minneapolis, MN. The Alabama-West Florida elected four clergy and four lay delegates to represent us at this upcoming gathering. At this point, the proposal is something that will have to be voted upon by our delegates and the other 854 delegates in May. No changes to our denomination have been made thus far.
Next, there were many voices at the table to craft this proposal including Bishops, denominational leaders and representatives of interest groups. This shows me that progress has been made in allowing each of us to minister in the best way we feel God has called us to lead. However, as with any group, even within interest groups, people are not of one mind. Therefore, it remains to be seen if this proposal will be adopted by the aforementioned delegates. As with any legislation, it can be amended, passed or rejected.
If I can speak honestly, this proposal has caused a lot of emotional pain for me. Whether you were born a United Methodist or have recently found your place in our connection, you grieve the possibility of a denominational split. I have the same questions and uncertainty as many of you. You might be asking, “What does this mean for my church, my pastor, my ministry, my job, my calling to help others?” These are just a few uncertainties that I have heard from many of you. As your Bishop, I prefer to lead you in the best way I can but I simply cannot answer these questions, yet. What I do know is that the hope I have is in God.
This week we have had the honor of hosting the 2020 annual Southeastern Jurisdiction Bishops and conference leaders in Montgomery. As you might expect, we have discussed this proposal in depth and will continue to do so. There are so many questions and ideas to consider. Most importantly, how do we work best for the Kingdom?
I have asked time and time again that you remain focused on the mission of our church. The work of the local church is the heart of this denomination. I respectfully and humbly ask you to continue this work. Believe it or not, there are many United Methodist members sitting in your pews who know nothing about this plan, or any other plan. They come to church each week to hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ. Continue to lead these people in a way that is a reflection of Jesus’ love.
In my 41 years of ministry, this is one of the most uncertain times I’ve witnessed. The next few months will be emotional, challenging and exhausting. As your Bishop, I offer myself in any way to help you continue fruitful ministry in your corner of the world. I will be transparent with you and will communicate with you when appropriate.
I ask for your prayers and in turn, I will pray for you daily. Together, let us glorify Christ and show the world the best United Methodists have to offer.
David W. Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference