e-letter 2/22/19

This weekend, a special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be held in St. Louis Missouri. The conference will begin with a day of prayer on Saturday, February 23. On February 24 the day will begin with worship led by our own Florida Conference Bishop, Ken Carter who is the President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. The General Conference is the highest legislative body of the United Methodist Church and the only body that can speak officially for the denomination.


The General Conference is made up of 894 delegates, (half lay and half clergy) from around the world. The Florida Conference is represented by nine clergy and nine lay delegates who were elected at the meeting of the Florida Annual Conference in 2015. While Suntree has no delegates to General Conference, Suntree’s pastors and lay delegates to Annual Conference participated in voting for our General Conference delegates in 2015.


The purpose of this General Conference is to receive and vote on a report from the Commission on the Way Forward along with other legislation. The Commission was formed by the 2016 General Conference and was asked to find a way forward for the church that would move us beyond the current impasse related to human sexuality, a discussion that has been going on in the church since 1972. Suntree has been sharing information about this conversation for more than a year in preparation for the meeting of General Conference so hopefully you are fully aware of the questions before the Conference. A couple of weeks ago we provided a bulletin insert that outlined the 3 options that the Commission has placed before the General Conference: The One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditional Plan. I will not detail those plans here but there will be copies of the insert available on Sunday in the lobbies of the Sanctuary and the Worship Center.


Whatever plan is adopted, (and it is possible that no plan will be adopted) it will not be implemented until 2020. Also, General Conference is scheduled to meet again in 2020 so refinements or changes could be made at that subsequent meeting.


While I cannot predict what the outcome of General Conference will be, (and anyone who says they know is mistaken) there are some things of which I’m sure:


When General Conference is over, Suntree UMC will still be Suntree UMC. We will still be about the work of loving God, loving each other and loving our neighbors in extraordinary ways. We will still be about the mission of sharing the love and grace of Jesus with the world that God loves and with all God’s children. We are already a diverse body of Christ followers who reflect the beauty and diversity of God’s truly marvelous creation. We worship and serve together as one body in Christ even while we hold differences of opinion on any number of topics. We are conservatives, moderates, liberals and everything in between. We are married, single, divorced, widowed, and widowers. We are young, old (however you care to define that?) and everything in between. We are straight, gay and transgender. We are black, brown, white, and more. In the words of our last message series, this is us! And we are all, followers of Jesus who are seeking to live as faithful, loving, servant hearted disciples seeking to bring God’s healing grace and love to bear on a world in need. And no matter what the decision of General Conference, none of that will change.

When Suntree adopted the 4D vision plan last March, we committed to living into the following Big Ideas:
  1. Commitment to radical, unconditional love for others as a reflection of God’s radical, unconditional love for us.
  2. Commitment to reconciliation and bridge building in our church, our community and our world as an expression of the reconciliation we know in Christ and in recognition of the diverse beauty of God’s creation.
  3. Commitment to read, practical Kingdom transformation through Christ in our backyard and beyond to the world, using the unique gifts that God has planted within this congregation.

Those Big Ideas give us our marching orders. They are our Holy Spirit inspired blueprint for future mission and ministry, which means we have work to do in living into these commitments. General Conference won’t change any of that.


To be sure, what happens at General Conference matters. And I ask you to be in prayer for the hope, healing and unity of God’s church. I encourage you to read and prayer over Jesus’ words in John 17. And while we are not there to make the decision, we will be here to respond to it. And it is my prayer that as we respond we will seek to live into the rules that John Wesley gave to the members of the earliest Methodist Societies, rules that form the basis of the 2- part message series that we will begin this week, “Three Simple Rules”. Wesley challenged the people called Methodist to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. In fact, it is my fervent hope that those who gather in St. Louis will be guided by these rules themselves, to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.


This week in worship we will reflect on the first 2 rules: do no harm and do good. We will explore the way Jesus embodied those rules in his life and teachings, reflecting on one of the healing stories in Matthew 12:9-14.


In the meantime, I encourage you to be in prayer for the General Conference and all the delegates and the Bishops who will preside over the proceedings. You can view the conference by going to the live stream at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/general-conference-2019-live-video-stream-english. We will keep you informed of any news that develops. There will also be a webcast from Florida Conference Leaders on Friday, March 1 at 11. The link for the webcast will be found at www.flumc.org. Finally, Suntree UMC will hold a Town Hall to discuss what we know and answer questions on Sunday, March 10 at 4:00pm.


Thank you for the joy and privilege of serving as your pastor!


Grace and Peace,