A number of years ago we held a Transforming Ministry Conference in Los Angeles. This conference is designed to spark our imagination and innovative thinking and we had a once in a lifetime chance to learn at DreamWorks here in Southern California. Director Tim Johnson (Movie: “Home”) shared his thoughts with us. One of the concepts he talked about was how great movies have “reversals” in which the plot changes so suddenly you never knew this was coming. The best example of this is the movie, “The Sixth Sense” in which Bruce Wills learns near the end of the film that he has been dead all along. These “reversals” or “pivot points” are also true in life. There are certain watershed events that have reversals inherent in the unfolding of the journey.
Of course, the huge reversal for me at General Conference was the death of the United Methodist Church that I love. We have always been the “big tent” where all people are welcome and affirmed. I truly believed that we can all live together, no matter how different or far apart our theology, viewpoints, or perspectives are. With the vote of intolerance toward our most vulnerable community, that church died for me. If the unconditional love of God can be voted to be withheld from one group, it can be withheld from other groups as well and that is not the Church of Jesus Christ that I serve. I grieve the death of the church that raised me and loved me. My response now is to resurrect a new vision of the church and work for a new birth.
After the shock of the repressive turn of our Special Called Session of General Conference, there are certain pivot points that can change everything. One of these pivot points we projected was our Western Jurisdiction Leadership meetings, where we agreed to strategize our next steps as a Jurisdiction. The next pivot point will be the Judicial Council rulings in April 2019. The third pivot point will be our General Conference 2020.
At the recent Western Jurisdiction meetings, we looked long and hard at a process that could help us move forward proactively. After a series of long and deep discussions, listening, and planning, we have released a unified statement that you may read below my reflection.
At the Western Jurisdiction meeting itself we wanted to leave “no stone unturned” in our projections and research. We have come up with a comprehensive list of actions, plans and possibilities that we will continue to provide concrete details on. I will share this list as well below my reflection.
We all agreed that there are certain core values that we live out in our Jurisdiction and the most important is that all are welcome in the house of God and no one should be excluded from the love of God. We see the current church decisions as contradicting this value and we will continue to welcome all and live our faith in this foundation of divine grace. A draft of this list of values is included at the end of this reflection.
However, many of us want more than just this principle, and nothing is off the table as we seek to restore the church to our understanding of our Wesleyan heritage. Among one possible alternative is for us to vision a new church that divides itself from the repressive church turn that we have experienced. One possibility is that both traditionalists and progressives create a new structure where no one has to leave, but both form semi-autonomous bodies that live out the theology and practice that has integrity from each. We will have to work out much of the structure of this concept, but we have to come up with viable alternatives because our current church system is broken beyond repair.
At our upcoming annual conference session in June 2019, we will be talking more about what we might do and this year’s theme of “I See a New Church” is a perfect starting point for these discussions. We have much to consider and discern and nothing is certain at this time. God is providing new possibilities and opportunities continuously and we must “wait on the Lord,” for answers and directions.
Below you will find a comprehensive listing of the areas that we will be exploring as a Jurisdiction and annual conference. If you would like to become involved please be in touch with your pastor, District Superintendent, or annual conference staff.
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop
Trusting in the Author of Life
who understands the blessings of diversity we fail to comprehend,
Inspired by the nonconforming Christ
who teaches us to defy oppression in all its forms, and,
Guided by the Holy Spirit
who continually leads us by grace into abundant life,
We, laity and clergy, of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church,
as one body, deeply saddened and greatly harmed
by the rending actions of the 2019 General Conference,
Reaffirm our commitment to a radically hospitable church in two converging ways…
The Mission Cabinet of the Western Jurisdiction, composed of the bishops, directors of connectional ministries, and leadership team chairperson, receives and wholeheartedly embraces the statement of the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team, recognizing in it the shared values of the West, and the longing for the home God calls us to share with all.
In a manner emblematic of the Western Jurisdiction, the 2019 leadership team meeting March 14 was dedicated to conversation and dialog about General Conference. Members and guests listened and joined together in the conversation. Worship centered around passages from Job and Matthew with themes of lament, hope, and responding. Considering Matthew 9:16-17 attendees reflected on the possibility of being able to move the church forward with its existing structure. Can new wine be put in old wineskins?