In June 2000 I returned to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference after a few years away from my time serving the Methodist Church in England. I was coming home. That session of the Annual Conference was held on the familiar campus of the University of Puget Sound where I had attended many sessions as a Page and as a Young Adult member. This time, for the first time, I was attending as clergy. I was very excited to join this body that had formed me in faith and tradition of The United Methodist Church.
In addition to my personal memories of that first Conference as a clergy person, I also have strong memories of the address given by Rev. Tom Eberle. He was the dean of the cabinet in his final year of serving the Seven Rivers District. His address was personal and inspiring as he spoke of his passion for the church. In his address he said, “Who we are in relationship to each other is as important as what we think about things.” He talked about family and church and after each paragraph he repeated that statement. Finally, in words that ring as true today as they did then, he stated, “The United Methodist Church is a body under stress. The United Methodist Church is a body in pain. To use another body image from scripture: When one suffers, we all suffer together…”
As I write these words our denomination’s Judicial Council is hearing arguments regarding the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who was elected as a Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. The question before the Judicial Council is whether her election is valid, as she is a woman who is married to another woman. Meanwhile, just hours before this hearing, the Council of Bishops announced that they are calling for a special session of the General Conference in February 2019. This special session will hear from the Commission on a Way Forward that has been tasked with making a proposal for the denomination while we disagree about issues of human sexuality.
Not only in the denomination, but even at Wesley UMC we have our moments of pain and stress. There are times we will disagree about how to use our resources and time. There are times we must make hard decisions amongst many good ideas to find our way forward. For our denomination, and for our local churches may we remember, “Who we are in relationship to each other is as important as what we think about things.”