By Dr Chet Harris
March 27, 2021
“Considering the Cancellation of May 8 Virtual General Conference.”
Why did the Council of Bishops cancel the announced May 8th abbreviated virtual General Conference? The United Methodist news service provides us with the singular source for answers to a question that most of us are asking. (You can reference the article published March 22 on the UMC News website. I encourage you to take the time to read the article.) In this ‘chat’ I want to lift a series of points from the article with a few words of commentary.
First, the meeting was closed to the public. I have a problem with duly elected representatives of the church closing out those who voted them into the office of Bishop. I accept the purpose of closed meetings when discussing the supervision and disciplining of a minister, but not when it is an issue that connects each member of the United Methodist Church. Their action appears to challenge our worldview of being a connectional church.
Second, the statement of a ‘possible’ new timeline being announced at their upcoming April meeting is fascinating to me. Why would they wait to develop a new plan, or choose to delay announcing it? No answer is given. The UMC membership is frustrated with these multiple postponements of General Conference due to the pandemic. We need clear and precise leadership from the Council. Does this “possible” new timeline mean we will have a new date for a virtual conference to vote on the twelve stated agenda items? What is going to happen from March 22 to their meeting in April that will decisively inform the Council to announce another date for a virtual, limited General Conference? Their use of the word “possible” creates doubt and confusion. The Council dangles a hint of something that will potentially make a difference in the life of the church, but then darts back into mystery. I guess we will have to wait until the next announcement from a closed meeting of the Council.
Third, the April meeting will discuss the results of the listening sessions. What listening sessions? I would appreciate if anyone reading this chat and knows of any such announced listening session might share that information. The inference is the Council has listening sessions in place, but when, where, and for what exact purpose is not explained. Again, if the readership can clarify this point, such would be appreciated.
Fourth, the announcement of an “… extended timeline [that] will allow for even deeper listening… at the general church level... [and] also in residential settings.” This a quote from Bishop Harvey, but there is no context for explaining that “extended time.” Are we talking about waiting until the April meeting, for another date for a virtual GC, or the announced 2022 General Conference? Vagueness seems to be the active ingredient in the news from the closed meeting. Are we witnessing a Council of Bishops with internal disagreement? Are we witnessing a Council of Bishops that is simply not certain of how to lead the denomination? Are we witnessing a Council of Bishops that needs more time to navigate through the pandemic and the increasing numbers of national churches and international conferences aligning with the WCA?
Fifth, the Bishops confirm the General Conference gathering in Minneapolis, previously set for August 29 through September 6, 2022. The article confirms the Protocol will be on the agenda.
I welcome your thoughts and questions in response to this first in a series of ‘Chats with Chet’ about the UMC news article and other news that is related to the future of the establishment of an evangelical and traditional denomination.
All for the Kingdom,
Rev. Dr. Chet Harris
East Ohio WCA Regional Director
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