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To the Saints that are in Los Osos, July 2020
Traditionally July pastor's columns in the UMC have been about Annual Conference, and I am going to talk about that. I have a couple of other things to tell you this month. Pentecost is the fiftieth day of the Easter season, this year it was May 31. May 31 began the longest period in the church year from the end of the Easter season until the beginning of Advent, which will begin November 29. The long period between is called "Ordinary Time." In 2020 this is ironic because nothing is ordinary. We've been wearing masks, sheltering at home, social distancing, washing hands and wishing things were different.
I had expected that last month I would be writing about General Conference which would have happened May 3-15 in Minneapolis. Until March, the focus of United Methodist concern and discussion was how we would respond to our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. There was a great deal of speculation and even expectation that the church would be splitting, dividing or re-forming in some way. As I have said before, most of those conversations went out the window by mid-March as COVID-19 took our attention. The issues of General Conference 2020 haven't gone away, but they no longer seem quite as immediate. Part of America has gone into survival mode and part has gone into loud rebellion against health measures and common sense. Safety and travel rules allowing, we will have General Conference 2020 from August 29 - September 7 2021. The issues have not gone away, but no one but, perhaps, the Wesleyan Covenant Association seems to be making them much of a priority right now.
I had expected that my July column would address how our Annual Conference had responded to whatever had happened at General Conference, (and Jurisdictional Conference which would have been held later in May). On the table at General Conference were several plans of separation, some amicable, some less so. In fact, at our Annual Conference this year there was a report from the task force prescribed by our Annual Conference last year for a last-ditch separation measure if we decided it were necessary. (No votes were called since we have as yet nothing to which we must respond).
I did not expect the Annual Conference report that I have to make now. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, neither our General Conference nor Jurisdictional Conferences have met. One of the consequences of this is that we were unable to hold Episcopal elections. Our bishop, Dr. Grant Hagiya was slated for mandatory retirement as of September 1. Because of the current crisis situation, we learned officially that he will continue to serve as our bishop until September 1, 2021. I personally find this a happy necessity. I appreciate and respect Bishop Hagiya's leadership.
Another thing I did not expect for the Annual Conference column was the tone and focus that our Annual Conference had this
year. Unless you have avoided all news since the stay-at-home order, you are well aware that on May 25, just before Pentecost, the world witnessed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, an event that many have interpreted as an example of a black man not following the directions of the authorities, others have seen as another example of police violence, and something that my black friends have called a lynching. At any rate in a very short time widespread outrage that has truly become global has been added to the challenge of our times. This is different from anything I've seen in my lifetime uniting people from around the world and across color and social lines.
I had expected LGBTQIA+ issues to be the focus of our Annual Conference, instead institutional racism and white privilege set the tone for much of what we did. The issue informed our Conference Budget, (which is still down from last year - who knows - our apportionments might actually go down), set the tone for much of our worship, and affected programs and initiatives. The
United Methodist Church, locally and globally, is taking this very seriously. Bishops and others who were at odds about the question of gender identity/expression inclusion have united to oppose this evil. I have already sent emails with links to our bishop's call and to the Council of Bishops' call to address this. I also invited everyone to join the Service of Lament. It is still
available online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y0SDae5_z4&feature=youtu.be.
I would also invite you to check the General Church's page https://www.umc.org/en/how-we-serve/advocating-for-justice/racial-justice/united-against-racism
For forty years I have watched United Methodists in Conferences and factions make great plans that fizzled, argue and fuss, fight and prepare to split. I have never seen United Methodists come together as we have in the last month.
See you in (virtual) church - and Zoom fellowship,