Bishop Shamana Reflects on General Conference, Sees Much Cause for Hope

June 05, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I praise God for the gift of our General Conference that brought together nearly 1,000 United Methodists from four continents, 50 countries, and 129 annual conferences! The excitement and expectations were high in Fort Worth, Texas. The Spirit of God was among us as we looked toward the theme of A Future With Hope. The delegations were committed to their tasks and deliberations, which often lasted into the wee hours of the night. We were inspired by the worship and preaching that directed us toward God’s future and what we can be as a body of Christ. 
Among the many exciting events was the ecumenical day that culminated in the vote to enter into Full Communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is expected that the Lutherans will also cast an affirmative vote at their General Assembly in August of 2009. These are positive steps toward enlarging God’s house as together we make disciples for the transformation of the world, to the glory of God – and live out Jesus’ prayer that we all might be one.
Some of you will remember that Bishop David Mullen, Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was our guest at Annual Conference in 2005. He preached a moving sermon and joined me in the ordaining of Elders and Deacons that year.
For the first time in the history of our Conference we have a member from this Conference elected to the Judicial Council, the highest decision making body in our denomination. Attorney Angela Brown, a member of Jones UMC in San Francisco, is the first to be elected to the Council. Thanks to our delegation, reserves, visitors, and pre-conference preparations at home, Angela was elected and flew to Fort Worth to be presented on the floor Thursday morning of the second week. We can all be proud and rejoice for and with Angela. Please see the April 28 Instant Connection article that presents her outstanding vitae.
Many delegates and visitors were deeply disappointed that the incompatibility language of 2004 Book of Discipline, Paragraph 161G, was not changed. Although it appeared that the amendment of compromise would pass, such was not the case. (You may link here to follow the journey of that petition.) Nevertheless, the way in which the witness on the second week was ultimately arranged shows the journey that has taken place since General Conference of 2004. To many it may seem that not much change has happened in four years, since Par. 161G has not changed fundamentally. But there have been many steps that can be interpreted as measurable movement toward full inclusion, even if by inches: 
  1. A diverse and widely representative delegation from the Council of Bishops met several times with Coalition representatives to work toward an agreement on the floor witness. This group will continue to meet into the future.
  2. The Council of Bishops held several meetings to discuss our response and actions.
  3. An announcement was made to the General Conference as the witness began so that the conference would know the different roles that Bishops might choose in response to the witness and statement. Those roles were: a Presidential presence from the stage, offering prayers from the stage, joining the witness on the floor of conference with pastoral care for their delegations, and others. These were historic discussions and actions that demonstrated that we are not all of one mind, but we are of one body – the body of Christ. I chose to be among those who offered pastoral care and solidarity on the floor.
  4. The General Board of Church and Society decided by a vote of 21 to 17 to forward to the General Conference the petition wording that states, “while Christians of good faith differ on what Christian teaching reveals regarding gender and homosexuality, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community.” Four years ago this wording did not pass in the Board.
I believe that the emphasis on holy conferencing helped us be more civil and less rancorous in our discussions about homosexuality. Other issues such as abortion and pastoral authority on membership also benefited from this emphasis.
Our California-Nevada Conference delegation gave outstanding leadership in committees, in the halls, and on the floor. We look forward to their Annual Conference report in plenary on Saturday morning, June 21 at Annual Conference.
The four focus areas that will be the priority for our church, our general agencies, and the Council of Bishops are: 
  • Leadership Development – developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world
  • Starting New Churches – creating new places for new people by starting congregations and renewing existing ones
  • Engaging in ministry with the poor
  • Global Health – stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally
The full set of vision pathways for the United Methodist Church includes the above and these three additional vision pathways: 
  • Teach the Wesleyan way of reaching and making disciples of Jesus Christ
  • End racism as we authentically expand racial/ethnic ministry
  • Reach and transform the lives of the new generation of children
Sunday, May 11 was a high celebration of starting a new church in the Delta District of our Conference, Cho-un Korean UMC of Sacramento. How exciting it was to embrace this focus area of our denomination in this way. Let us continue our emphases in these four focus areas wherever we are in ministry – for the sake of God’s new reign and a changed world through Christ’s disciples. 
As we move toward Annual Conference, where do you see signs of hope?
Your Bishop and Sister in Christ,
Beverly J. Shamana