by Bishop Cynthia Harvey, President Designate of the Council of Bishops
Greetings Louisiana Conference,
The Special Session of General Conference has come to an end in St. Louis and I would like to update you on what happened and what we can expect. After much prayer and much debate, the delegates passed the Traditional Plan as it received 53% of the votes. There are still constitutional challenges and the plan has been referred to the Church’s Judicial Council, a process similar to Congress appealing a decision to the United States Supreme Court. They will rule on this matter at their April meeting.
The decision to affirm the Traditional Plan represents, to some, a significant rejection of believers in LGBTQ rights and progress. For others, it represents a significant reaffirmation of the traditional understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.
I had voiced my support of the One Church Plan. I felt, and still feel today, that the One Church Plan was the best plan for the future of the church regarding the issue of human sexuality. While it’s certainly a disappointment to me to see it defeated by this current body of delegates, I am choosing not to rest in that disappointment.
I have a God to serve, a Conference to lead and people to love. I cannot do any of that from a place of disappointment.
Friends, the vital and important matters before us in St. Louis will remain with us when we return home. However, the most essential matter is the story of Jesus Christ. My hope and prayer is that Jesus remains the matter that matters most in your life, your ministry, the ministry of your church and the ministry of our incredible Louisiana Conference.
I am reminded of Peter stepping out of that small boat caught in the middle of a storm that came upon the Sea of Galilee. As Peter stepped out onto the water, his entire being was focused on Jesus.
When he was hyper-focused on Jesus, you remember what he was able to do, right?
When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on the wind, we remember what happened, right?
When we focus on Jesus, we can and will continue to do miracles for the unshakeable kingdom of God.
I have said from the very beginning that despite what happens in St. Louis, our mission field would not suddenly disappear after an amendment from the floor or a vote of the delegates.
No indeed friends! There are still hungry people to feed, imprisoned people to visit and strangers that most certainly need to hear the story of Jesus Christ.
On the morning of the last day, as I walked from my hotel to the Dome, homeless people were braving the bitter 42-degree temps. One of them even asked, “Can you help me buy lunch?”
The day before that, during some of the most critical moments from the floor of the Dome where football games are typically played, I got word of two faithful United Methodists returning from a visit on Angola State Penitentiary’s Death Row. Prisoners there were praying for our beloved church.
The mission continues in spite of the obstacles we sometimes place in front of it.
In each and every one of my seven listening sessions across the Conference, as well as countless other meetings with clergy and lay people in Louisiana, I have said someone will be hurt from the matters decided in St. Louis.
This has happened.
The pain is real.
People and communities have been harmed by our words and our actions.
This breaks my heart.
The numerous issues before us during our time in St. Louis were not new and will continue to be examined in the months and years to come.
The disagreement over LGBTQ matters is over 40 years in the making, and while it was hopeful to think we would arrive in St. Louis to end the disagreement in three days, it was improbable.
However, we are a people grounded in hope and we cling to the hope of God’s steadfast love for all people.
May we also cling to the hope that God is still perfecting the United Methodist Church, and for that matter, God is still perfecting all of us.
My commitment to each of you is the same as it was when I arrived in St. Louis – I shall hold nothing sacred but the mission. My hope and prayer is that the same is true for you.
“All I want to say to you is ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.'”Henri Nouwen
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Cynthia Harvey