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Legislation seeks more inclusive church

Posted: June 5 2019 at 08:49 PM
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Anna Voinovich (center) proposes a non-binding straw poll to gauge which direction the Annual Conference would like to move forward with for its future. (photo courtesy Aquilino Javier)

Much of the legislation that passed at the 2019 Northern Illinois Annual Conference reflected the disapproval of the Traditional Plan adopted at February's General Conference Special Session. The Traditional Plan, upheld by the Judicial Council, the denomination's top court, emphasizes the current policies around homosexuality in the Book of Discipline for ordination and same-sex marriages and strengthens enforcement of those rules. 

The Annual Conference first approved the Consent Calendar, which included 10 pieces of legislation to be sent to the General Conference in 2020 for consideration. Most of the legislation supports the Simple Plan and the removal of discriminatory language against LGBTQ persons in the Book of Discipline.

After some debate, the Annual Conference (AC) voted to suspend payments to the General Administration Fund until changes are made to the structure and practices of the General Conference, particularly in light of questions over voting irregularities at the February Special Session. The General Administration Fund underwrites General Conference and the Judicial Council. This legislation was amended to add that the decision to withhold funds and whether to continue into 2020 will be reviewed at the 2019 NIC Special Session on Nov. 16. The AC also approved legislation to "do no harm" by limiting complaints and trials, to call on the restructuring of The United Methodist Church to be more inclusive, and to form a task force to explore a way forward for the NIC, including the possibility of a new Methodist expression. 

A late motion by Anna Voinovich, associate pastor at First UMC in Downers Grove, called for a non-binding straw poll to gauge the annual conference on which direction it would choose for its future. The two choices included: 1) a conference whose policies allow for clergy to officiate at same-gender weddings, allow for consideration of ordained ministry people of varying sexual orientations and gender identities, and in which appointments are made with consideration given to the full range of contextual realities, or 2) according to the Book of Discipline as amended in 2019.

"The straw poll would give us an opportunity to know where we are and give direction to the task force deciding what we will do for the future," Voinovich said, explaining the legislation's rationale. "It also sends a message to our Jurisdiction and other annual conferences so they know where we stand, and if they take similar votes, we will know who we may be in connection with in the future." 

After debate late into Monday's plenary evening session, Bishop Dyck called on it to be considered as legislation in the morning. The annual conference approved the legislation in the final plenary and the straw poll was taken via the electronic voting pads. The result: 441 for option #1 and 79 for option #2.

The Annual Conference Shepherding Team (ACST) presented three top goals for the Conference that were approved with no debate. These strategic goals will be implemented over a two-year plan: 1) To Grow and Reach New Disciples of Jesus Christ, 2) To Live Out the Conviction that Racism is Incompatible with Christian Teaching, and 3) To increase the Number of Highly Vital Congregations. 

"These three interrelated goals are intended to have the greatest impact on the sustainability and future ministry of our annual conference," said ACST Co-Chair Liz Gracie.”  Visit www.umcnic.org/shepherdingteam to read more. 

The closings of four churches, Elmwood Park, New Hope in Chicago, Pilgrimage Protestant Church in University Park, and Lindenhurst Trinity were also affirmed. We celebrate and bless the faithful ministries, witness, and legacies of these churches, pastors and members down through the years.

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