February 15, 2019
By Alan Wild
The Kentucky Annual Conference’s delegates to General Conference 2019 have been getting plenty of input from Kentucky’s United Methodists – input they say they’re happy to have as they prepare to travel to St. Louis.
Ten delegates – five laity and five clergy, along with four alternates – will represent the KAC at the special called General Conference Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis to determine The United Methodist Church’s policy on LGBTQ persons. The three formal proposals to be considered by the roughly 850 UMC delegates from around the world are the Traditional Plan, the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.
As of early February, KAC delegates estimated they have received at least 100 to 150 letters and emails. Most, though not all, have come from people in Kentucky.
Lew Nicholls, co-chair of the Kentucky delegation and a lay member, said the letters he has received have not been nasty or threatening in nature – just lobbying for one plan or the other.
“Many of the people have very strong feelings both ways. We’ve heard from constituencies both ways, but nobody’s been ugly about it,” he said.
“Whatever we do,” he added, “we’re going to make people mad. It doesn’t really matter what we do.”
Nicholls, a retired judge who lives in Greenup, said he is used to lobbying efforts from his days on the bench. “I think that each committee member makes up his or her own mind in consultation with himself and in prayer with God.”
He added, “But I have read every single one of (the letters) and certainly considered them.”
Another lay delegate, Michael Watts of Shelbyville, said many email correspondences have gone to a dedicated site KAC Communications set up for that purpose. Other writers are reaching out directly to delegates.
“It certainly is a consideration,” Watts said of the correspondence. “The one thing with people who send letters and emails, I don’t know that necessarily represents a sample. So I think it’s still incumbent on each delegate to determine the best he or she can as to what will guide them at General Conference.”
He added that he hopes “as a delegation as a whole, we would be representative of the Conference, and I think when we go to vote, that’s how we’ll be voting.”
There will definitely be amendments made to the plans in St. Louis, Watts said, and nobody knows yet how that will look. One of the main jobs of the delegates is to be knowledgeable on all the proposed plans, but “it’s with the knowledge that things are going to change.”
A KAC clergy delegate, Rev. Tom Grieb, said he has heard from a number of people – most by email, some by direct mail. “People have expressed themselves well, for the most part,” he said of the letters.
“I have tried to be very faithful to every person, or in some cases churches … to read through all of those.”
Grieb, senior pastor at St. John UMC in Prospect, said he thinks “everybody has come along and stated themselves well. I’m thankful for the prayer that has gone on at this watershed moment for our church.”
Lay delegate Linda Underwood King, of Louisville, said that she has been praying for a year asking: “Where are you, God? Show me where you are.” In early November, she said, she started seeing His presence in this debate. “And I totally believe that God has packed His bags and will be there in St. Louis with us.”
King said that as she has talked about the future of the UMC with different churches around the Conference, “in every church” there is support for both the Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan.
“We are all now working together, loving each other, ministering to our communities, to each other, the poor, the homeless,” King said. She said she is praying that whatever plan is adopted, the church would remain together, focused on its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
All the delegates interviewed expressed appreciation for the prayers people have lifted up ahead of GC 2019. While many are requests for the delegates to vote one way or another, some are reminders that the delegation is being prayed for.
Watts shared one letter he received that touched him deeply:
“We join you in this continued season of prayer as your thoughts are on the General Conference 2019 in February. Our prayers are that you will seek what is the good and perfect will of God.
“The people who have signed this card and many others join in this expression of prayers and support for you.”
It was signed by the church’s senior pastor and several dozen people under the message: “PRAYING OUR WAY FORWARD: ‘WE ARE ONE IN CHRIST WITH YOU.’”