Leadership Institute Second Day Reflections

Today we have updates from two of the East Ohio Next leaders, Dianne Covault and Kelsey Orosan.

Kelsey Orosan

“I refuse to lose faith in the future, because I have seen the past.”  These words from Rev. Junius Dotson resounded through the sanctuary (and the simultaneous Twittersphere) this morning on Day 2 of Leadership Institute in Kansas City. We began the day with a journey through history of the harm done to people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community by the United Methodist Church.  Bishop Ken Carter implored the conference to remember that “change comes when we recognize that we have been part of the harm,” and that change must come as “we are immersed in our tradition, but a living tradition changes.”  The presentations given in the morning session were powerful reminders of the various “isms” that are still present in our beloved church.  We heard not only from Bishop Carter and Rev. Dotson, but also from Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, Senior Pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington DC, Yvette Moore from United Methodist Women, JJ Warren (gay seminarian and my own personal hero), Dr. Randall Miller, and Jan Lawrence from Reconciling Ministries Network.  We were encouraged to “stop talking in slogans. Make the change.”  The first morning session ended on a powerful note as we had the opportunity to acknowledge the harm done, repent of our part and privilege, and look forward to the hope that, as Bishop Carter says, “whatever comes next, God will be with us.”

Mid-morning, the UMNext convening team shared with us the beginning plans for Resistance after January 1st, 2020 when the Traditional Plan takes effect.  January will be an introduction to the resistance movement, with a national day of resistance planned for January 2nd, 2020.  In February, the acts of resistance will be focused on love. In March, as we walk our Lenten journey, we turn to lament. April will bring liberation, and as we approach General Conference, May will focus on witness.  (Please stay tuned to the East Ohio Next webpage and facebook page for more info about local resistance.)

Then, what happened next is a bit of a blur.  In a time span of less than a half an hour, we heard the introduction of a few of the major plans coming before General Conference in May 2020.  The first, known as The Indianapolis Plan, was presented by Rev. Dr. John Stephens who sped through at rapid-fire pace, explaining this plan to be a “pathway for the expression of a Traditional and Progressive (if desired) denominations, when the UMC is not dissolved, but re-named.”  “U.S. Annual Conferences decide majority vote.  Clergy and Bishops self-align.” “The intention was to create a starting point IF amicable separation is the will of the General Conference.”

The next plan, known as The Next Generation UMC Plan, was submitted by Junius Dotson and was presented rather vulnerably today from Rev. Tom Berlin. The plan focuses on repealing the Traditional Plan, supports the US as a regional conference, (global BOD with adaptable portions in different parts of the world) and in Berlin’s words, “leans toward The Simple Plan.” It is a multi-level proposal. Goals for May 2020: an immediate moratorium on charges, complaints, and trials, passing disaffiliation legislation, passing resource allocation formula, creating a commission on the 21st century church, and calling for a 2023 Special Session of General Conference.  Goals for 2023: Pass regional conference legislation, prepare adaptable BOD, report of the commission of the 21st century church.  Berlin added that we know we don’t have the votes to pass such a plan.  It will take the effort of ALL of us to engage in difficult conversations, continue to build relationships, and educate ourselves and others.

Berlin also made quick mention of The NEW Plan, submitted by UMForward, which calls for the dissolution of the denomination and four new, distinct expressions of Methodism.  A panel of bishops encouraged us to “do our homework” and to think about the implications each plan would have in terms of mission, global boards and agencies, finances, and the harm done.

Today was filled with a lot of information that will lead to more discussion, and most importantly, action.  Tomorrow we will have the opportunity to meet with all the participants from East Ohio and then, as we know, it is up to ALL of us to continue the conversations in our local churches.  Here’s to Day 3 and the Spirit-filled work ahead!

Dianne Covault

Thursday afternoon was much less stressful than the morning. At lunchtime, we were able to attend any one of a list of gatherings, from seminary alumni to the general boards and agencies to further discussion and Q&A with the bishops regarding the plans that have been submitted to General Conference. Many of us chose to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. I had the chance to lunch with my daughter, Glennis, who is here in Kansas City on a year long camp ministry internship program.

We began again in the sanctuary at 2 pm. The scheduled speaker, Dr. Ron Heifetz from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business, was ill and unable to attend. Instead, we listened to a speaker who talked to us about the theory of Spiral Dynamics. His talk was interesting and informative. As someone who is not fond of this theory’s claim to be non-judgemental, I still was able to learn more about what it means to progress in thought from fulfilling basic needs to being able to live in a state of awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings.

After a short break, we returned to hear a lecture by David Brooks. Mr. Brooks is a New York Times op ed columnist who also is a regular contributor to the PBS News Hour, NPR’s All Things Considered, and NBC’s Meet the Press. He spoke about his Weave the People project, in particular what it means to be a “weaver” – one who connects people to one another. Although he mainly works in a secular environment, he has found that churches provide the community and connection for which so many people currently long. Mr. Brooks has a wonderfully engaging style and I found that his content gave me a reason to continue to try to work within the church for change.

Again many of us from East Ohio gathered for dinner and sharing. Tomorrow, we will gather by annual conference. We from EO NEXT hope to provide some encouragement and information to the EO group that is here and help discern how we can assist our General Conference delegation, as well as invite folks to attend the regional information sessions that will happen later this fall.

It was a long and emotionally draining day, but it is good to be with so many from our conference. We begin again at 8 am tomorrow!