Bishop David Bard says that love is the way forward regardless of what we know or don’t know about the future of The United Methodist Church …
Here we are on the cusp of May. Time seems to move quickly during May. There are the final days of school and graduations. Those with summer homes or cabins open them up. We get our yards ready for summer. Annual Conference arrives at the end of the month. Weddings begin in earnest in May and, if you attend or officiate a wedding, you may be very likely to hear the words of I Corinthians 13.
Love is patient; love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things. Love never ends…. For now, we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.
In my role as bishop, I officiate at very few weddings, so I am not sure what the frequent music selections might be these days. In my experience, weddings typically mix songs coming from the church with popular/secular songs. For a while, it seemed that Allison Krauss’ song, “When You Say Nothing At All,” was a frequent choice for weddings. When I was younger, I remember Paul Stookey’s “The Wedding Song” was often used. Julie and I had it sung at our wedding. Songs by the Carpenters were popular at one time: “Close To You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” or “For All We Know.” For All We Know: “Love, look at the two of us/Strangers in many ways/We’ve got a lifetime to share…. For only time will tell us so/And love may grow, for all we know.”
For all we know. As we move toward our Michigan Annual Conference, I want to reflect with you on what we know and don’t know, about annual conference and our denomination.
Annual Conference. We know we will be meeting in person for the first time since 2019. It will be a joy, and it will be different. We have reasonable policies in place that promote the health and well-being of all who attend. I know that none of us enjoys wearing a mask, and I know that gatherings of this size, indoors, continue to pose a degree of risk for COVID. Masking reduces that risk. I also know that the Commission on the Annual Conference will be reviewing our health protocols every week until the annual conference, and may adjust them. Only time will tell. We know that annual conference is shortened to cut down on the cost. We will use more video presentations. The service of recognition, commissioning, and ordination will be Friday evening. Considering both our abbreviated schedule and health protocols, we have made the difficult decision not to share in communion as we gather. The safest way to share communion would have been to use individually wrapped communion elements. We decided that doing so would not offer the kind of communion we cherish at annual conference. We will share in communion together again next year.
I know that some of these changes create anxiety and frustration. I also know that we can all show up with our best selves to make this go as smoothly as possible. We can pray,and we can be gracious and patient with one another. Time will tell, but I hope it is so.
The United Methodist Church. We know that General Conference has now been postponed until 2024. I know that is creating a great deal of anxiety and frustration. We know that the Global Methodist Church has launched as of May 1, 2022, and there are churches and pastors within our conference intending to become a part of this new expression of Methodism. Yet the way forward is more complicated without General Conference. The Michigan Conference currently has one clear path for churches to depart and that is the process rooted in paragraph 2553. That paragraph was approved at the 2019 General Conference and its intent was to provide a way for individual congregations to disaffiliate. It presents challenges when working with a group of churches. I am committed to working to see what additional pathways there may be, exploring additional parts of The Book of Discipline. I will hold together kindness/fairness with my fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities to the Michigan Conference and The United Methodist Church.
I will continue to be in conversation with conference leaders and with those who may seek to leave. Michigan Conference leaders will continue to develop resources for congregational discernment. I invite you, if interested, to seek out information directly from the website of the Global Methodist Church. The Global Methodist Church is the best source of information about its plans, hopes, and dreams.
I am also committed to sharing the ongoing story of The United Methodist Church and the Michigan Conference. The United Methodist Church “is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit” (#BeUMC on umc.org). The United Methodist Church, moving into the future, will continue to focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We will be a church that works to include all persons and to make changes so that the church better reflects the beautiful diversity of God’s people and builds beloved community. We will continue to have global connections and global impact. We will continue to help people connect more deeply with God through Jesus Christ and be open to new ways to do that through worship, spiritual disciplines, and building community.
Through and following whatever separation will happen, The United Methodist Church will continue to change to meet the needs of new people, new generations, and a changing world. We don’t know all of what that will look like. Only time will tell. We know, though, that the Michigan Conference is committed to the creation of a more beloved community and committed to making changes, spiritual and structural, so we can better embody the mission of the church in this day and time.
Weddings begin in both expectancy and uncertainty, with expectancy taking the lead role. Uncertainty may seem in the lead role as we consider our conference, our church, and our world. The Carpenter’s song, “For All We Know,” offers the possibility that love will grow, “for all we know.” When sung at weddings, it was a song of expectant hope that love would indeed grow. The scripture I Corinthians 13 offers more than a possibility. It offers an assurance that one day we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. We hold that hope deep in our hearts and souls. And here is something else I know. While we wait for that time when we see in a mirror clearly, when we know even as we are known, the way forward is love. Faith, hope, and love remain, and the greatest of these is love.