By JB Brayfindley
Contributor to Instant Connection
“Christ pulls us into His Body … making space for all of us,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño told members of the Great Northern District attending the sixth of 12 Post-General Conference Episcopal Visits within the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC). “We all believe in Christ.”
The April 9th event was at First United Methodist Church in Yuba City, where the Rev. Dr. Lois Black serves as pastor.
Around 70 people were present in the sanctuary while 20 others participated via Zoom video conferencing. In the middle of a snowstorm in the Nevada mountains located more than 609 miles away, members of Ely UMC were grateful to drive the short distance to their local church to be able to listen in and ask questions over the Internet.
After singing songs of praise, led by Shannon Black and his team, the bishop began her talk by detailing the events leading up to, during, and after the Special General Conference held in February. She summarized each recommendation including the One Church, Traditional, Connectional Conference, and Simple Plans.
Bishop Carcaño noted that it is was not an easy process for delegates. “Though it was one issue, it was a complex issue, one which has fractured us for many years … so, not an easy issue to address.”
Although a plan was approved by the Special Session of the General Conference, Bishop Carcaño stated, “it was approved by 54 votes – so in a body of 850, you know by that vote that we are a divided church, a very divided church.”
April 23-26, the Judicial Council will meet in Evanston, Illinois to make the final determination on the constitutionality of the Traditional plan and Disaffiliation Petition 90066, both of which were passed by the recent Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
The bishop noted that the Judicial Council has already found the enforcement sections of the Traditional Plan to be inquisitional in nature and not constitutional.
While the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), which supports the Traditional Plan, lays claim to “scriptural Christianity,” the bishop pointed out, “We need to remember who we are as United Methodists … we are not fundamentalists and we are not biblical literalists.”
The bishop went on to delineate the Wesleyan Quadrilateral or Methodist Quadrilateral, a methodology for theological reflection. “We are people whose first book and most important book is Scripture; but we add to that the traditions, the stories, and learnings of those who have gone before us; we add to that our minds, under the power of the Holy Spirit; and then we share our experience – how have we experienced God … and that’s how we make decisions among ourselves.”
Regardless of what the Judicial Council rules later this month, the bishop made clear that the conference and Western Jurisdiction leaders continue to explore how the church can move forward.
“We are in a moment of tension and continue to be in deep dialog. But I do know what has been determined – not by us but by Christ – is that no one is excluded from the grace of our Christ Jesus.”
The Connectional Table, a strategic programmatic and missional arm of the church, will be taking a proposal to the 2020 General Conference to create a general church-level committee and a US central conference that would make decisions solely for the United States. The bishop noted that a survey stated that 60-75% of US delegates voted for the One Church Plan and are ready for an inclusive church.
Several participants, including some who participated through Zoom, asked questions about the future of the church and how to mitigate the decisions being made.
The bishop reflected on the church’s history of dealing with conflicts involving matters such as race and immigration, as well as sexual orientation, citing personal examples in her life – including when the denomination would ordain, but not appoint, women clergy.
“I know what it means to stand in resistance to the racism, sexism, and now the homophobia in our church,” she recalled and then, referring to this current time in history, stated: “It is calling us to resist unjust law … I view it as unjust law … It is a moment of resistance.”
“So where does this put us at this moment?” As they wait for the Judicial Council decisions, the Bishop asked pastors and lay persons to continue in ministries under the One Church Plan – a model that she notes the California-Nevada Conference has been following for decades.
Some who were present expressed frustration, saying they felt the struggle over the issue is not reaching a resolution. One questioned, “You talked about how we have lived through a One Church plan … some of us have done that well, others have not … how do we do that? ... We are broken and are not perfect.”
The bishop agreed that the church is "broken" and that relationship building is difficult but necessary for the health of the church.
“I think that we continue to call each other to the table for conversation and for prayer and for relationship building,” she stated. “And, part of the reason of having 12 Episcopal Visits is to keep calling us to the table so that we can deepen our awareness of each other, see each other face to face-- not as ‘someone-who-is-over-there’ in that ‘position-that-I-don’t-know-and-never-see,’ or ‘over-there-at-that-extreme,’ but rather, that we see each other’s face and be able to engage, give witness to one another and commit to be prayerful for one another.”
The bishop put forward the need to work within and without the church to work for healing.
“My commitment is to continue … to build the relationships so we are respectful of each other, loving of each other,” Bishop Carcaño explained, and shared one of her continuing commitments to meet with the more conservative Evangelical Renewal Fellowship group, among others who have felt marginalized within the conference.
“We are going to keep naming those places where we are not being the Body of Christ … we need to attend to that brokenness while we attend to the brokenness of the world,” she affirmed. “The better we do that the better we’ll give a witness so that we can, by God’s grace, be made well and be made whole.”
She summarized, “If we can focus on loving everyone … all are welcome—that is core to who we are as United Methodists. And so, I am inviting us to be in that holy place of following Jesus to the margins and welcoming everyone and extending the grace of our Lord Jesus to everyone. That is the place of defiance that I hope we will be in. This is not our church. This is Christ’s church and Christ Jesus excludes no one. Let’s be that church and let’s welcome everyone.”
Other guest speakers reiterated support for unity and welcome despite the challenges involved.
Born and raised in Red Bluff, delegate Gayle Sherman has attended four General Conference sessions and said she was concerned that the church “once again find(s) something that divides us instead of … around the things that make us grow.” She expressed a need to remain unified and focused on our mission in order “to live in a community and spirit that Christ called us to.”
Jorge Domingues, executive director of Connectional Ministries, reflected on the 1844 division of the Methodist Episcopal church over the biblical interpretation of slavery ownership by bishops. The division interrupted the mission work to his native Brazil for 35 years. He told the ironic story of the commissioning of the first Methodist Episcopal missionary (to the Wyandotte people in Ohio), John Stewart, who was an African American, 25 years before the church division.
“It should not be our differences that should prevent the work of God, the mission of God that we are called to do.” Reverend Domingues added, “What is ahead of us is to look into what God is asking us to be and how can we best respond to God’s call in the future ahead of us.”
The final speaker was Conference Lay Leader, Micheal Pope, who recalled being drawn to tears during the General Conference session as she sat in the observation area. She said she yearns for understanding and a way forward.
“As we begin to live out the General Conference, as we begin to understand what it means to be a family under the cross at the foot of Jesus,” explained Pope. “It means accepting people where they are, it means loving people where they are.”
The bishop re-clarified her purpose in speaking before the different churches saying, “It is about my being able to share with you where your bishop stands. I believe we can be one body even in our differences. We can love each other as we grow together.”
The event ended with District Superintendent Blake Busick leading the Consecration of Anointing Oil for Healing. The bishop gave the benediction and presented individual vials of blessed oil to each participant.
The next event will be April 24, 2019 from 6:30-9:00 at Tulare United Methodist Church, 228 W. Kern Avenue, Tulare, CA.
Each of these visits is open to all clergy and lay members from all over the United Methodist Churches of our conference. The bishop encourages as many as can take advantage of one of these opportunities to receive important information and insight into church process and outcome of the actions of the historic special session of the General Conference.