A group of United Methodists is urging bishops to allow congregations that want to do so to leave with property now — rather than wait for General Conference.
“As the writer of Ecclesiastes notes, ‘For everything there is a season,’ and the season for waiting on General Conference legislative solutions as the only way forward has passed,” says the group’s open letter, titled “A Call to Grace.”
The ad hoc group released its letter Nov. 2 — as the Council of Bishops begins its fall online meeting that goes through Nov. 5.
“We call bishops and annual conferences to use existing disciplinary authority to find grace-filled ways for these leaders and churches to follow their call now, allowing them to take their church property with them where appropriate,” the letter said.
As of its release early Nov. 2, more than 250 United Methodists had signed the letter. The document began circulating late Oct. 29.
Initial signers include General Conference delegates, lay leaders, pastors, district superintendents, seminary professors and other church members. Signers come from across the U.S. as well the denomination’s central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The group now invites other United Methodists to sign.
“We hope the bishops receive this in the spirit which it is meant,” said George Howard, one of the letter’s initial signers and a General Conference delegate from West Ohio.
“We believe all in the UMC want to pursue mission and ministry. We encourage the bishops to consider all the available options open to people seeking a path beyond the UMC. We likewise encourage all who seek a different path to engage with their bishop and annual conference.”
Council of Bishops President Cynthia Fierro Harvey told United Methodist News that the letter serves as a reminder of one of the foundational values United Methodists hold — grace.
“The letter calls us to take a breath, to calm our minds and spirit and respond with grace in ways that will advance the kingdom of God,” said Harvey, who also leads the Louisiana Conference.
“The Council of Bishops will meet this week to continue exploring how to best honor its commitment to walk alongside one another in this in-between time and to use its agency to lead our conferences and churches to honor and respect one another, serve one another, and let love be our witness.”