Dear Church Family,
Well, I promised an update on Annual Conference when I last wrote to you, so it’s time to deliver. But first, I need to cop to a bit of prejudice: just in case you don’t already know, I am not a fan of meetings. While I understand they are a necessity, sometimes, I have an innate belief that there is some kind of inverse relationship between the number of people meeting and the odds of taking decisive action. In other words, they tend to be long on talk and short on takeaways—and when half the participants are people who talk for a living…well, you can just imagine.
That being said, Annual Conference is a great opportunity to network (if you will excuse the grammatical sin of using a noun as a verb), and a chance to see old friends. It is also a good platform for disseminating information, a chance to hear speakers we would probably never hear otherwise, the biggest Bible Study you’ll ever be a part of and an annual refresher course on the intricacies of Roberts Rules of Order.
And, occasionally, a place where important decisions really are made. So, since I know there have been a lot of questions, let’s move on to reviewing those decisions.
Probably the one issue foremost in everyone’s mind was Action Item 7 – A Resolution for Name Change of the Conference Strategy Board, which states that that, the name “Conference Strategy Board” shall be changed to “New Ministries Strategy Board” wherever it appears in the current Conference Rules and Policies.
Of course, the topic on everyone’s mind was how the Wisconsin Annual Conference was going to respond to the decisions about human sexuality made at the Special General Conference earlier this year. The most direct response to the decision came in Action Item 12 – A Resolution the Wisconsin Annual Conference that condemns the adoption of the so-called Traditional Plan by the 2019 Special General Conference.
The resolution also stated that the Annual Conference apologizes for the harm that it has caused LGBTQ+ persons, their families, their friends, and the body of Christ, and affirmatively states that we believe “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” and that no human being is incompatible with Christian teaching.
And, finally, the resolution further stated that no Wisconsin Annual Conference resources will be spent on background investigations, complaints, just resolutions, or clergy trials pertaining LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. (This is not insignificant, by the way—a clergy trial can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.)
I won’t keep you in suspense—Action Item 12 passed. Overwhelmingly. Which is not to say that it passed without dissent—there is definitely a vocal minority within the Conference that backs the Traditional Plan—but when push came to shove, and people were asked to raise their hands for a vote, there was no doubt about the outcome.
So…where does that put us?
I know that I have been asked about whether Annual Conference would be considering a vote to disaffiliate (pull out of the General Conference), or whether some plan would be presented for individual churches to choose whether or not to disaffiliate, but there was almost no talk of that at this Annual Conference. Instead, the Bishop in his address about the current state of the Church, chose to take a more hopeful approach, amidst the pain.
It is his hope — and intent — that the Wisconsin Annual Conference will be able to discern a “Wisconsin Way”—some kind of theological umbrella that will allow churches, pastors, and congregations to coexist in spite of their stances on the Traditional Plan. This is not as simple as it might seem—not just a matter of using what a pastor acquaintance called the “holy 2×4” alongside the head and telling people to get along. It will take work, it will take good faith efforts and trust—and, in the end, it will be entirely worth it.
Every year, Annual Conference has a theme, and this year’s theme—chosen after the Special General Conference—was “The Wilderness.” It was chosen because the Conference and the Church have entered a wilderness time in our journey—whether it is the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered after Egypt, figuring out where God’s call was taking them; or the wilderness that Jesus was taken to after baptism, to face the temptations of the world. Either is an apt description, because in this time of trial we are tasked with finding our way forward through this unknown territory—and we are also tasked with setting aside worldly ways, so that we can interact with each other and with the world around us in holy ways.
The thing to remember, in either case, is that there is an end to the wilderness—a destination. It is not the time for precipitate action or hurtful rhetoric, or even using this as an excuse to turn our backs on the Church in general. It is certainly not the time to allow the good that the Church does in society to be affected by internal conflict. (Some churches are withholding apportionments in protest—and, in so doing, depriving important ministries of financial support.)
Instead, it’s a time to remember that people of good faith can hold differing views; that Church institutions are, in the end, human institutions subject to error and correction; and that if we open ourselves to letting the Holy Spirit work within us, we can discern new possibilities in even the most challenging circumstances.
Something new is coming. Something good that God will cause to blossom from this time of trial. Let us, as people of faith, dedicate ourselves to being a part of it.
See you in church!
(Earlier A Word from the Pastor messages may be found in Newsletters.)