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Bishops agree on narrative for the continuing United Methodist Church

Posted: November 8 2021 at 01:19 PM

Bishop Thomas Bickerton is cheered by his wife, Sally, and New York Conference staff after giving his acceptance speech as the incoming president of the Council of Bishops.

The Council of Bishops ended its fall meeting on Friday, Nov. 5, having spent time in worship, plenary and covenant groups as they seek God’s guidance to lead The United Methodist Church.

The worship services were coordinated by Bishops Sharma Lewis and Lawson Bryan, and were led by Bishops Harald Rückert, David Bard and LaTrelle Easterling.

The bishops, from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, overwhelmingly approved a narrative that provides a framework and begins to paint a picture for the continuing United Methodist Church.

The document reminds United Methodists of Christ’s prayer for unity and the commandment to gather all to the table, to make space for one another, appreciate one another, and look for Christ in each other.

The bishops noted that they are “committed to strengthening every local church, where the word is preached and Christ is offered, and where the table is set before all who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Click here to read the full text of the Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church
Click here to watch a video of the bishops affirming the Narrative

United Methodist Communications reported the agency’s work particularly related to the #BEUMC campaign.

Lives celebrated

The meeting began on Tuesday with a special and sacred service, celebrating the lives of those bishops and spouses who have joined the church triumphant since the last time the bishops met in April.

In her president’s address which followed, COB President Cynthia Fierro Harvey articulated her vision for the continuing United Methodist Church – a vision that embodies the radical love of God in Christ Jesus, noting that that the church is one, “where traditionalists, progressives, centrists and LGBTQ persons will find a home.”

The bishops received the report of the Task Force to End Racism led by Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling along with COB consultant Erin Hawkins Smith. The session focused on one of the pillars of COB anti-racism work, proximity to pain. Three people, including Bishop Leonard Fairley, shared their pain of being profiled and discriminated against due to the color of their skin. The bishops also heard from Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi who is working with a team that is providing a theological lens by which to shape the Council’s anti-racism work.

The collegial work of the General Secretaries was highlighted by their convener Dawn Hare as they continue to steward the churches resources.

Members of the Council then received the ecumenical report from COB Ecumenical Officer Bishop Sally Dyck and Dr. Jean Hawxhurst and the newest addition to the ecumenical team, Dr. David Field.

On Wednesday, the bishops went into executive session where they heard from Bill Waddell, who serves as counsel for the Council and continues to help the bishops do their best work. The bishops discussed the upcoming Judicial Council docket and its impact on their current and future work. The bishops also have begun a repository of decisions of law from annual conferences that will serve as a guide for future annual conference sessions.

There was a robust conversation regarding scenarios planning should the 2020 General Conference be postponed or cancelled. A small working group appointed by Bishop Harvey earlier this year and affirmed by the COB continues the exploration.

New leaders elected
Wednesday's session ended on a super high note – with the election of officers who will take office at the Spring 2022 meeting.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, the residential bishop of New York Conference, was elected as the next president of the Council of Bishops. In his acceptance speech, Bishop Bickerton said: “It is time for us to move forward with a narrative of who we are and who, by the grace of God, we will be as United Methodists.”

Also elected were Bishop Tracy Smith Malone of East Ohio Conference as president-designate and  Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of South Carolina Conference as secretary. 

On Thursday, the bishops heard from the Commission on General Conference and their plans as the Commission continues to monitor issues regarding visas, vaccines and other things challenging 2020 General Conference gathering set for August 2022 in Minnesota.

Bishop Mike McKee reported on behalf of a task group that continues to discern the role of the episcopacy, particularly in the denomination’s ever-changing environment.

Bishop John Schol reported on the continuing mediation regarding the Boy Scouts of America.

The bishops acted on five items as a response to climate change and climate justice and made a commitment to this important work and have asked the Executive Committee to create a plan working alongside the boards and agencies.

At the end of the meeting, Bishop Harvey told United Methodists: “We will continue to listen and to learn from you, the church. Conversation is the currency of change. We commit to listen to the voices of the people as we lead with grace and with love as our witness and invite you to do the same.”

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