As we continue in this season of prayer and confession, let us keep in our prayers the voices of those who have been hard at work away from our California-Pacific Conference in recent gatherings led by others as well as the voices of those who have engaged in Holy Conference at our own gatherings.
I believe that within each voice, within every sentence that is shared by every one of us, is a prayer for our church and our world to be fashioned in a certain way. As we pray, let us hear the prayers of others. In this way, we are one body in Christ.
One such prayer comes from the UM Forward event in the form of a proclamation entitled, “Loved and Liberated: A Proclamation from Our Movement Forward Summit,” which persons from our own California-Pacific Conference were involved in producing. The entire proclamation is of greater length than the space that we have in this letter. But, I would like to highlight this portion for our own prayers:
“The Holy Spirit has been unleashed, and we are no longer captive to unjust systems in our denomination that oppress and crucify marginalized bodies. Time and again, these systems fail to live out the rules of the Wesleyan way. In fact, they have repeatedly broken the first rule to do no harm. This betrayal of Methodism catalyzes the unraveling of the UMC. As the connection crumbles, we no longer settle for crumbs.”
Another prayer comes from persons from our own California-Pacific Conference who attended and participated in the UMC Next event. Those persons decided to form a joint statement in reflecting upon the meeting itself. I would like to highlight this portion for our own prayers:
“The success of our forward movement also entails taking our diversity into account. The California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church is one of the most diverse annual conferences in the U.S. – diverse in race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, language, national origin, theology, citizenship status, and more. This diversity is a gift and a strength for our current moment. Any plans for the future must engage the diverse people and contexts of our conference. These plans must also attend to already present systemic injustices around race, class, language, ability, and more, or else this “new thing” risks further institutionalizing white supremacy and oppression. We refuse the politics that pit liberation for one group of people against liberation for another; instead, we work for the liberation of all.”
Our District Conferences were certainly houses of prayer as we gathered together to faithfully articulate what was stirring in our hearts as well as in the hearts of those in our churches. I had shared a number of questions to frame our time together through a video and our District Superintendents helped lead that time. What came about were a number of different topics and approaches, a selection of which I would like to highlight here:
- How congregations stand currently – In general, there was much mention of a sense of sadness and disappointment in light of the recent decision. Some of our churches have expressed that they have been “inclusive” for a long time now and that this would not change. Some churches have expressed that individuals from either side of the matter of our church and inclusion have left because of this decision.
- Human sexuality as a topic of discipleship – One aspect of human sexuality and discipleship that was mentioned was how it has not been a topic of much study, discernment, and discussion as a congregation in some of our local churches. One of the reasons named was how some persons would rather not bring up the matter at all.
- Our clergy – There was also mention about some of our clergy and how they might need to be protected.
- The “brand” of the United Methodist Church – Some of our churches have considered not using the name “United Methodist” in their church name because of what the brand might convey in terms of LGBTQIA+ exclusion.
- Next steps – There was a sense of urgency as well as a great desire to know how things would go from here on out. Some churches have expressed a willingness to wait and see while others have considered taking action by themselves.
Before we get to the end of this letter, I would also like to note a comment from Rev. Tom Kendall who had expressed at a District Conference that it seemed to him that reflections from a Traditionalist perspective on the recent decision was missing in our Conference communications around the Special Called Session. From a letter that Rev. Kendall wrote, I would like to highlight this portion here:
“In all these communications from our Cal-Pac Conference we have yet to hear reflections on the GC2019 from the Traditionalist point of view. If we truly are a ‘Big Tent’ when it comes to our theological perspectives, then we must give equal opportunity to all those perspectives, including those of the minority opinion in our Cal-Pac Conference.”
Prayer is one of the ways by which we are heard by our God. In our prayers, we can ask powerful questions to God. But, remember, that we can also hear the powerful questions that God has for us. This week, my prayer for all of us is that we might sense such powerful questions stirring inside of us.
Next week, I will be sending my final letter before our 35th Annual Session of the California-Pacific Conference begins. In that letter, I will share with you the prayer and confession of some of our Conference leadership. My hope is that it would lead and guide us into a genuine spirit of Holy Conferencing in Redlands, CA.
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop