By Stanton Adams
LEAWOOD, Kansas—A team from South Carolina joined more than 600 other leaders from across The United Methodist Church May 20-22 for UMCNext, an opportunity to pray, discuss and discern a way forward in response to the adoption of The Traditional Plan.
The Traditional Plan, which was approved by the 2019 special called session of General Conference, retains the church stance that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and strengthens enforcement of church bans on same-sex weddings and “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy. The legislation will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Held at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, which is the denomination’s most-attended church in the United States, the UMCNext gathering brought together at least 10 representatives from each of the denomination’s 54 annual conferences in the United States. Sixteen bishops were among the attendees.
Dissatisfied with what happened at General Conference 2019, the attendees were hoping to help craft a new path forward for the UMC, as well as crafting plans for the next General Conference—set for Minneapolis in 2020—to consider.
Hartsville District Superintendent Dr. Robin Dease was a South Carolina attendee.
“I attended UMCNext because I love the UMC,” Dease said. “Social inequalities continue to plague our church causing harm and creating division. I wanted to be a part of a movement that will develop strategies to change all the language and polity that prevents us from being a truly ‘beloved community.’”
During three days of round-table discussions, two possible approaches toward a new expression of Methodism emerged––continued resistance to the Traditional Plan with the goal of reforming the church from within, as well as some form of negotiated separation to form a new denomination.
“UMCNext was an experience in authentic holy conferencing with brothers and sisters from across the United Methodist conferences in the United States,” said Rev. Fran Elrod, senior pastor of Clemson UMC, Clemson, and chair of the South Carolina Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, who also attended UMCNext. “The spirit and desire for a true gospel way forward was evidenced by heartfelt testimonies, the embrace (rather than rejection) of our differences and the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Love, as commanded by God, enveloped our work and worship together.”
Four commitments of UMCNext
Those gathered were able to identify four commitments they believe to be essential to a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world:
1) To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in Scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
2) To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church that affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
3) To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to resist its implementation.
4) To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts and commit to being in ministry together.
Those who gathered will return to their annual conferences to organize and mobilize others who resonate with the four commitments of UMCNext in ways appropriate to their context.
Adams is a lay member serving on staff at Two Rivers Church, Charleston, and was one of the South Carolina leaders in attendance.