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To the Saints that are in Los Osos, January 2020
Happy New Year. This column marks a milestone in my life. This is the fortieth New Year’s column I have written. Except for a few times, the theme has been about one of four: 1 – It’s a new year full of new possibilities; 2 – We are in a time of change; 3 - It’s time for resolutions that we know won’t last beyond February; and 4 – Talking about the Epiphany and what it means to the Church.
I’ve written columns in times of war, in times of financial crisis, in times of great uncertainty and in in times of hope. I’ve expressed hopes and doubts and fears. I written them under five bishops. Over the turnings of the past forty years we’ve seen fads come and go, celebrities rise and fall, and technologies eclipse one another with increasing rapidity. For most of that forty years it seemed that there was only one thing that remained constant – Dick Clark… and then he left us in 2002 and New Year’s Eve has never rocked the same since.
I’ve also written columns in many different church settings. I’ve served eleven churches in ten appointments under fourteen District Superintendents and five different Bishops. I’ve written columns under ten versions of the Book of Discipline… or maybe it would be more correct to say now, ten and a half versions.
Under normal circumstances we would be operating under the 2016 Book of Discipline until the General Conference creates a new one for 2020 – 2023 at its meeting in May. We are not living under normal circumstances. I’ve written about the Special General Conference that happened in Indianapolis last February. As you may remember, the Conference passed “The Traditional Plan” that not only kept the exclusive language about LGBTQ+ persons, but added legislation that will oust current LGBT clergy, impose mandatory suspension without pay and probably eventual expulsion of any clergy person who celebrates a wedding of two persons who are not of opposite
gender… and charges can now be brought by anyone anywhere in the world, not just members of the same Annual Conference. And this legislation applies only to pastors in the United States. This is the most extraordinary change to the way Methodists have understood accountability for well over 200 years. This is the only mandatory penalty in the Discipline. There is no mandatory penalty for absconding with the church funds, running off with the choir director, or even engaging in sexual abuse. The Wesleyan Covenant Association, the Good News Movement and other conservative lobbying groups have been taking names and keeping lists.
I’m writing about this now, because the new legislation takes effect on January 1, 2020. No one really knows what will happen. The Wesleyan Covenant Association et. al. may refrain from filing charges until after General Conference for political reasons, but it is entirely possible that on January 1 the groups, or even fanatical individuals may send literally hundreds of complaints to Bishops around the country. We don’t even know if they can file charges retroactively. This year the game has changed and all bets are off.
There is nothing but confusion as we move toward General Conference. The Church may split, it may dissolve and re-form, it may be reorganized in many different ways. No one knows. The one thing that we can say is that Methodism – United or not – will be different in 2020. Hang on… here we go.
See you in Church,