by Nathan Brasfield
The push for a United Methodist Church clear of official restrictions on LGBTQ identities and relationships has come to a new place. After decades of work within the denomination’s legislative structures, “UMC Next” has now been launched. Consisting of teams from each Annual Conference in the United States, UMC Next aims to form a new, inclusive expression of Methodism. The ten people who make up each Annual Conference team assembled at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas on May 20-22.
While there was no predetermined plan for exactly how and when this new expression of Methodism would come to be, over these three days in Kansas participants were led in a carefully crafted series of conversations from which insights and questions were exhaustively collected, and through which Annual Conference teams prepared to lead similar conversations in their own contexts.
However, the first UMC Next gathering amounted to much more than a discussion of the logistics of an LGBTQ-inclusive Methodism. It was worshipful and prayerful. And it was, as one member of the convening team described it, “practicing what it is like to be the church we long for.”
The conference did not limit its discussions of inclusion and justice to the LGBTQ community alone, but cast a wider net. UMC participants provided testimonies about the struggles of being women or African American in the United Methodist Church.
This vision for a fully inclusive, justice-centered Methodism is reflected in the Four Commitments of UMC Next. These commitments were first delivered in a preliminary form to participants on the first day and they were refined and re-articulated through our work together.
We believe these commitments are essential to a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world:
1. We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
2. We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
3. We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
4. We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
The Memphis Annual Conference UMC Next Team supports these commitments and we are dedicating ourselves to further the conversation and work in the Memphis Annual Conference around these commitments.
To this end, we are hosting a conversation for United Methodists in our area at the Memphis Annual Conference on Sunday, June 2 at Collierville UMC immediately after the evening worship in room 210.
Those who join us can expect to learn more about the work that has been done and plans that are taking shape for a movement in the Memphis Annual Conference.
We would value your voice at the table, and we would appreciate your help in extending a welcome to others who you know would want to participate in this work.
If you cannot make it to this meeting, but you are interested in these efforts, please let us know and we will continue to communicate updates and opportunities with you.
You can contact the Memphis Annual Conference UMC Next Team at email@example.com
A portion of the Memphis Annual Conference UMC Next Team:
Kathy Barker (St. John’s), Rev. Larry Chitwood (Bolton & Macedonia, MTS Class of 2018), Rev. Autura Eason-Williams (Capleville, MTS Class of 2003), Rev. Amanda Crice (UT Martin Wesley Foundation), Nathan Brasfield (St. John’s, MTS Staff), Rev. Lora Jean Gowan (Broadway MTS Class of 2007), Rev. Johnny Jeffords (St. John’s)