By Cate Monaghan
Interim Communications Director
“When I took a long, careful look at your ways,
I got my feet back on the trail you blazed.”(Psalm 119:59, The Message.)
“Forward on the Trail God Blazed” was the theme of the Western Jurisdiction Conference in Portland, Oregon, July 16-19 – and delegates not only ushered in the future by electing two bishops, but also extended their imaginations to conceive of redefined conference boundaries.
(One Episcopal vacancy was created by the upcoming retirement of Bishop Beverly J. Shamana of the San Francisco Area of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, which is effective August 31, and another by the resignation of Bishop Edward W. Paup of the Seattle Area. Paup is leaving to head the General Board of Global Ministries, effective September 1.)
The Western Jurisdiction has not undertaken a sustained consideration of boundaries since 1984, when the California-Pacific and Desert Southwest Annual Conferences were created. Four years ago the Jurisdiction delegated the responsibility of studying the issue to a Committee on Conferences.
Last year, at a meeting of the Western Jurisdictional Leadership Team in Anaheim, California, that committee outlined four proposals, along with “many related questions” raised during the course of its work. Last week, in Portland, the committee moved continuation of funding for its work of “considering the best options for” conference boundaries in the jurisdiction.
The project was made more relevant by the 2008 General Conference decision to reduce the number of bishops in the jurisdiction from six to five by the year 2012, a directive which must be carried out by the Jurisdictional Conference. Though the determination of annual conference boundaries is not necessarily related to the question of redrawing the episcopal boundaries, the Committee on Conferences has recommended taking an “outside the box” look at the two companion issues, “… in light of the pressing needs for ministry and mission through the Western Jurisdiction [and] our desire to organize as strategically as possible to meet those needs; and … to prevent the ‘reinventing of the wheel.’”
Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Portland Area told the quadrennial meeting of jurisdictional delegates on Thursday (July 17) that presidents of the Colleges of Bishops have conversed about how best to help their jurisdictions “let go of anger, fear, anxiety, and suspicion” and help them “hold fast to their resolve and determination to continue to do ministry and mission together” in spite of the legislation reducing the number of bishops. He said there have been many conversations about how to get “from here to there,” and announced that the conference would be “gathering our collective wisdom,” that evening, “to get us from here to 2012, blazing a trail with God’s help.”
Small group brainstorming
Thursday evening plenary concluded with small groups, comprised of delegates and visitors, gathering for focused discussion of how the jurisdiction is to “faithfully carry out its mission and ministry through five [instead of six] episcopal areas.” The groups were asked to consider what opportunities for mission and ministry the jurisdiction provides The United Methodist Church; what guiding values must be part of the conversation and planning; and what voices must be included at the table.
In one group discussion did, indeed, center on taking an outside-the-box view of the jurisdiction. “If we start with the mentality to have as little change as possible … we’ll lose the whole shooting match,” said one participant.
A suggested approach: to look at the jurisdiction in terms of episcopal areas rather than in terms of conferences.
On the other hand, said another participant, “We could create a ‘Super Episcopal Area’. We’ve been saying we want to operate as a jurisdiction; the key boundary for us could be the jurisdictional one and not the episcopal boundary.”
The diversity of the jurisdiction was a key point. “For whatever language need you have, pooling jurisdictionally would open things up,” said another.
It was stated that there is a higher concentration of immigrants along the Pacific Rim: “We’re an immigrant culture,” and the needs of this area are different, accordingly. But, “More and more we’re seeing the diversity as a blessing and not a curse,” and, “When we talk about the West being a gift to the whole church, [we can also say that] each of our conferences is a gift to the jurisdiction.”
However, “diversity,” one participant articulated, doesn’t just mean inclusivity of immigrants and LGBTs.
“It’s also Middle-America, GPS-savvy farmers, kids in 4-H in Montana being sent off to the Peace Corps and to become Rhodes Scholars,” she said. “They’re also a part of who we are, our diversity. Not all of our churches are going to be out in front on some of the issues; that doesn’t mean we don’t have an atmosphere of hospitality and welcoming in our own way.”
“If people show up we welcome them,” one person said, adding, “ – but we don’t know how to invite them.”
There was much discussion of radical hospitality, with an awareness that, “We live in an unchurched culture, more open to the post-modern world, multi-cultural.” The challenge, it was said, “is how to see our not being the dominant culture as something other than a disadvantage: we don’t go to church just because it’s part of the culture – it’s a choice.”
One young adult participant said the Western Jurisdiction is a paradox, “failing, horribly, to reach out to our youth, yet our adults are so in the forefront of [change].”
“We know about trails in the West,” Susan Hunn of Cal-Nevada, in charge of conference Programs and Arrangements, had told delegates on Wednesday. “We are on the trail that God has blazed. Whether confronted by injustices at General Conference or worldly distractions,” we can stay on that trail, she said, by taking “a long, careful look at God’s ways.”
Indeed, trails were blazed by this conference.
Frank Wulf of the California-Pacific conference, nominated from the floor, became The United Methodist Church’s first openly gay candidate for bishop.
In his candidacy address on Wednesday, Wulf talked about his reluctance to run.
“The problem,” he said, “is that I come as a gay man, and I know where our church stands on the issue of same-sex orientation.
“I know that the church says … a practicing self-avowed homosexual shall not be ordained or appointed within our church.”
He acknowledged that if he “were ever to be elected as a bishop’ within this or any other jurisdiction, there would be personal repercussions – but also that there would be fallout for the jurisdiction, as well.
“If the Western Jurisdiction is not at the point where it is willing … to deal with the maelstrom that will occur, then I am certainly not the person you should elect,” he cautioned. But he said he would be willing to serve, if electing him were what delegates believed God had called them to do.
The United Methodist Church has consistently declared homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching.” However, the official representation of the Western Jurisdiction took an opposite stance. Delegates gave Wulf a standing ovation after his speech – he was the only episcopal candidate to receive that response – and they later approved four statements challenging the denomination’s position on homosexuality. (Read text of statements by linking here.)
They also gave a standing ovation to news that the Northeastern Jurisdiction had gone on record as expressing support for those retired clergy of Cal-Nevada who have declared themselves available to officiate at same-sex marriages and holy unions.
The Western Jurisdiction represents the western United States, Guam, Saipan, and Alaska.
Quick to follow
“Like Moses we stand upon this rock at the Western Jurisdiction Conference 2008.” So said Bishop Edward W. Paup of the Denver Area, in his final Episcopal Address to the jurisdiction, on Thursday.
“‘Upon this rock’ is not about … our agenda … our power or our control,” he added, “but rather about how we are connected to God’s power and God’s control.”
Paup cited accomplishments by each conference, saying, to California-Nevada, “We give thanks to the 100 teams who have responded to Katrina relief”; as well as for four new churches – two Korean, two Euro-American; cross-cultural appointments; and councils for congregational and clergy development.
“These are the stories of our journeys over the past four years,” he said, adding, “but like Moses we not only look to the past, but are directed to look to the future.”
Bishop Paup’s leadership was recognized, the Episcopacy Committee saying, “We like to think that we are sending you forth as the Western Jurisdiction’s gift to the whole Church,” and Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles Area adding, “He is being sent differently, sent into mission around the world, to one of the most difficult and challenging positions in the UMC,” and saying to him, “We love you … go forth and we are with you.”
The passage from Psalm 119 continues, in verse 60, “I was up at once, didn't drag my feet, was quick to follow your orders.” The passage could be said to describe volunteers in mission.
According to Cal-Nevada UMVIM Director Sue King, “The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission movement has expanded around the globe with the numbers of volunteers and projects increasing dramatically into its fourth decade of existence.”
“Mission Volunteers reports incredible growth in volunteers, from just under 20,000 in 1992 to more than 110,000 in 2006. UMVIM participation reached a new high of 135,000 volunteers in 2005, a figure clearly related to the rebuilding efforts following the deadly Hurricanes of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in the Gulf Coast. Annual conferences which have had UMVIM coordinators in each of the last four years report that the numbers of volunteers in the Western Jurisdiction has been growing or holding steady,” she reported.
“During our time of visioning, we affirmed that much of the vitality of the UMVIM ministry comes from the local church as ‘grass roots’ energy. We know that UMVIM missions can change lives, and change churches, and change communities. We want more missional leaders and disciple-making mission opportunities in each annual conference,” King said.
Bishops elected and assigned
Grant Hagiya of Cal-Pac was elected a Bishop of The United Methodist Church on the 16th ballot, and subsequently assigned to the Seattle Area. Elaine Stanovsky of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference was elected on the 25th ballot and subsequently assigned to the Denver Area. Bishop Warner Brown has been assigned to the San Francisco Area from Denver, returning “home” to the California-Nevada Annual Conference from which he was nominated for the Episcopacy. (Read related story here.)
Other items of interest:
- Cal-Nevada Annual Conference Treasurer Diane Knudsen was elected WJC Treasurer for the new quadrennium.
- Episcopal assistants were recognized and given gifts of appreciation. Debbi Grundman, Executive Assistant to Bishop Shamana, was present and was recognized along with Jennifer McGrath, Administrative Assistant to Bishop Shamana, who was recognized in absentia.
- It was reported that the jurisdiction gave 2.8 million dollars to The Advance.
- $1948.12 was collected during Wednesday’s offering at the Memorial/Communion Service at First United Methodist Church, Portland. The money will go to the church’s hunger ministry.
(View photos of the conference here.)