COVINGTON, Kentucky –
“It may be Friday” in The United Methodist Church – “but Sunday’s coming,” Bishop Leonard Fairley assured clergy and lay delegates Monday during the opening worship service of the 2019 Annual Conference.
“What if in this particular season in our lives personally, and in the collective life of our denomination, God is calling us to tarry a little while longer in the wilderness of our brokenness?” the bishop said during his sermon, titled “The Mark of Holiness.”
“What if there is a need for a deeper confession of the truth that we have not been the people God has called us to be?”
The bishop’s often-passionate message was partly reassurance and partly a call to civility as the UMC continues its long and sometimes-strident debate over LGBTQ policy. The bishop’s words were punctuated several times by applause and “amens.”
The worship services during Annual Conference are following a Lenten theme. The opening service represented Ash Wednesday and included imposition of ashes at the end of the service.
Those ashes, the bishop said during his 25-minute message, are the mark of holiness and represent our brokenness and our need for Jesus Christ to heal the wounds of a broken world.
He quoted from “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” by Barbara Brown Taylor: ”While the dark night of the soul is usually understood to descend on one person at a time, there are clearly times when whole communities of people lose sight of the sun in ways that unnerve them.”
“This seems to be what is happening to a lot of church people right now, especially on a denominational level,” Fairley said. “Friends, it’s true that darkness of this season has the church locked in deep division.”
He later added: “What if we need to linger a little while longer in the darkness of our weakness and fear? What if it’s true that only when it is dark enough will we ever see the light? What if we need to linger with our own mortality and limits? What if we need to linger with our sinfulness long enough to understand that our only help is in the name of the Lord?”
Lent, he said, “begins with it the realization that we are dust, we are mortal with a bent toward sinning,” but longing to carry the mark of reconciliation.
“God has a way of taking dust and breathing into it the breath of life,” Fairley said. “We are dust. We are sinful mortals in need of repentance and a grace powerful enough, sufficient enough, to get us through this wilderness journey.”
When we carry the mark of holiness, “What should be different about us? When we have been marked as a forgiven people of God, what changes about how we see the world?”
“What changes about how we see each other, and how we live with each other? … What if the road we travel now after the February 2019 General Conference, leading toward General Conference 2020, is the Lenten road through fasting, prayer, repentance, sacrifice, and death to self? What if this is the only road through the wilderness that leads to resurrection?”
“Are we willing to follow the road that leads toward new life, and a complete turning away from sin and death? What deaths are we willing to endure? What things are we willing to die to? What if God tells us to let go of the very thing we think we have to hold? Can we still say, ‘Yes, Lord, we trust you’?”
He also pointedly told the gathering, “I can hold my conviction without demonizing another.”
“Jesus,” he concluded, “is still Lord of the church, and He can get us through this wilderness.”
The business portion of Annual Conference opened after lunch with a plenary session that lasted the balance of the afternoon.
By far the most drama was over a petition and resolution concerning the human sexuality debate. The petition to the 2020 General Conference seeks to “remove incompatible language from the Social Principles.” The resolution calls for “a church of Open Minds, Open Hearts and Open Doors.”
A motion was made to take the votes by paper ballot to preserve anonymity on the volatile topic, and a lengthy debate took place, with three speaking briefly in favor of a private ballot and three in favor of an open vote.
In the end, the vote was solidly – though not overwhelmingly – in favor of a paper ballot. The petition and resolution will be considered during one of Wednesday’s plenary sessions.
A proposal presented earlier that would petition the 2020 General Conference to expand the voting rights of local pastors and also allow them to be eligible to be General or Jurisdictional Conference delegates was easily defeated in a floor vote by show of hands.
A change in the allocation of net proceeds from the sale of church property was approved by show of hands. The proposal passed easily, though not overwhelmingly.
Delegates also received detailed instructions on how the electronic voting will work when clergy and lay delegates are elected for 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
In other plenary developments:
Ordination & Commissioning Service
- Cathy Bruce, who oversees the KAC’s Communications Office, received an Excellence in Communication Ministry award from Nashville-based United Methodist Communications for her work for the KAC. Bruce has been a staff member since 2006 and has been Associate Director of Connectional Ministries for Communication since 2008.
- Two video tributes were played recognizing Rev. Julie Hager Love’s 15 years as Conference Secretary and Director of Connectional Ministries and Rev. Tami Coleman’s seven years as Associate Director of Connectional Ministries.
- Also presented during Monday’s three-hour-plus session were various reports, including tightening of the KAC’s 2019 and 2020 budgets; a brief rundown on coming changes in KAC health insurance; and a plug on behalf of the KAC’s three camps, Aldersgate, Loucon and Kavanaugh.
Bishop Paul Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference preached the sermon, titled “What Are We to Do?”
Addressing those to be ordained or commissioned directly, he urged them always to be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and not to be overly concerned about other things.
He drew laughs when he talked about his first appointment to a small church in Eastern North Carolina. It came with a parsonage – a small mobile home with barely enough room to move around inside. When he saw it, the overjoyed young pastor looked at his fiancée and said, “Now we can get married!”
Then growing serious, he said, “I just wanted a chance to serve the church, and I don’t ever want to lose that feeling.”
Those recognized at the service:
- Ordained an elder: Michael Romans.
- Commissioned on the elder track: Dennis Cotton, Sarah-Cate Cox, Zachary Davis, Daniel Henson, Christopher Lewis, Elizabeth Smith, Chay Smithson.
- Commissioned on the deacon track: Eric Hughes, Anna Merlo.
Highlights include Tod Bolsinger’s learning session at 8 a.m., followed by our morning plenary session where we will begin voting on delegates for the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The Retirement Service is at 10:45 a.m., Church Beyond is from 2-4 p.m., and the Celebration of Mission & Ministry Service is at 7 p.m.
Don’t forget the live stream
will begin with Bolsinger’s learning time.