Report of the 2016 General Conference DelegationBy Brenda Leigey
The Susquehanna Annual Conference sent ten delegates to be part of the 864 delegates attending the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Lisa Bender, a lay delegate, shared with the Annual Conference the daily routine of meeting, working, praying, and voting as laity and clergy on behalf of the global church delegation, stating that 40 percent of the delegation in attendance was from outside the United States. Daily worship and sermons by the bishops were designed and focused around the theme of “Go.” The delegates and the global church were encouraged to stay humble, work for unity, and be the church.
During one service, twenty-nine new missionaries were commissioned from eleven countries to serve in sixteen lands in order to reach out with the love of Jesus.
Matthew Lake, a clergy delegate, shared with the Annual Conference some of the high points of the 2016 General Conference. There was great struggle, and emotions ran high over how we as the church would address difficult topics, especially dealing with human sexuality. Two questions surfaced as individuals were interested in the atmosphere of General Conference. The first question, “What was it like to be on the actual floor of General Conference, particularly when the issues of human sexuality were being discussed.” Matt shared that there was a charge of emotions with feelings of uncertainty and deep mistrust. Discussion of unity in the United Methodist Church was also a highly charged topic. In the smaller venues that gathered, there was a sense of productive conversion, even in the midst of disagreement, with a desire to remain in unity.
With the continued discussions about the concern about human sexuality there was also the question of, “Is that all that happened or did we just draw a line in the sand?”
The Council of Bishops encouraged the delegates at General Conference to be patient as a special commission will be established so that the United Methodist Church can move forward when every possible option is discussed to help the church move forward in a new way.
A discussion about the vision statement of the United Methodist Church, Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, encouraged the delegates to remember what our primary focus is as a church united – not to be distracted by issues, but to humble ourselves before Jesus. The time to pray is now; the time to commit to pray deeply is now, discerning how the Lord will help us to move forward.
Rev. Anna Layman Knox and Warren Heil shared with the Annual Conference some of the celebrations as the global church. “Imagine No Malaria” has raised 75 million in cash and pledges the last eight years.
The next Global Health commitment, Abundant Health: Our Promise to Children, has a goal to reach one billion children with life-saving interventions.
The global church approved five new bishops to the African Conference, sending them to areas of the world that is adding to the number of new Christians.
A new commission has been established to create a new version of the United Methodist Hymnal. Once completed and approved in 2020, it will enable local churches to customize the hymns they are more familiar in singing.
The delegates were deeply privileged to serve together representing the Susquehanna Conference, and hope their presence at the General Conference brought hope, grace, and unity to the global church.
Rev. Larry Leland, speaking for the upcoming representation attending Jurisdictional Conference, said that after significant discussion and prayer, the delegation has chosen not to recommend endorsement of any candidate for the 2016 Jurisdictional Conference Episcopal election.
Rev. Gere Reist was recognized for his service of twelve years as the General Conference Secretary, and a total of twenty-four years at General Conference. His retirement was also celebrated.
Bishop Jeremiah Park closed the presentation by offering words of encouragement to the laity and clergy and local congregations to be in a process of deep prayer and discussion as we engage with one another for the future and unity of the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Park’s statement after Delegation ReportAs heard in the report from our delegates to General Conference (Daily LINK, June 10, page 8. tinyurl.com/zfzowk4), United Methodists across the connection are facing important issues where there seems to be no simple or easy answer. For now, we are living in a time marked by anxiety and tension on both sides of the issue of human sexuality.
Our beloved church is at a critical juncture. The Council of Bishops took seriously the charge of the General Conference to begin a process of prayer and discussion that will help us to look to the future in regard to same-gender issues. A special commission assembled from around the world and across the theological spectrum will begin soon to envision how our church might remain united.
As this special commission works over the next two or three years, our annual conference has an opportunity to uphold their work through intentional prayer and our own opportunities for conversation, mutual listening, and discernment.
During the rest of the year, God willing, I, as your bishop, and the leadership of the Annual Conference will be involving persons of differing perspectives in order to look at ways to engage clergy and laity in a process of discernment that more closely resembles a Christ-like model of faith. We will depend on the leading of God’s Spirit to show us the ways we can engage in deep prayer and discussion. Our hope is that our engagement with one another will lead us all to a spirit of openness to God’s preferred future for our church.
Be assured that you, as members of the Susquehanna Annual Conference, will be kept apprised as the plans unfold.