Post Special Session FAQs
The following is a list of questions submitted to Upper New York (UNY) Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb and Conference leadership. This link will be regularly updated as we continue to answer submitted questions. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New York State marriage license now has the option of bride/groom/spouse at the top. If both people choose spouse – is it The United Methodist clergy’s responsibility to determine the sex of each? If so, how are they to do that?
The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church currently prohibits clergy from conducting same sex marriages.
Any suggestions on how we handle folks calling us the church that discriminates?
While The United Methodist Church currently holds a position that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, the UMC affirms that all people are of sacred worth and in need of the grace of God and the ministry of the Church.We are called to be in ministry with and to all people.
We need information on how to leave the denomination.
The disaffliation petition deemed constitutional provides an avenue for congregations to disaffiliate from the UMC. Click here to learn more about this petition.
How would you encourage pastors to minister to their congregations following the grief and uncertainty of General Conference?
We have excellent pastors in UNY and my initial response when I read this question was to say – just keep doing what you have always done. This is not an easy time to be a pastor – but God’s call upon your life remains. The gifts the Holy Spirit has given you for ministry did not change because of the special session. The opportunities for ministry and mission remain as great now as they were before the special session began. Focus on your spiritual center. Trust God’s sufficiency. Help those in your congregation stay focused on their spiritual center. Stay diligent in the spiritual disciplines of Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, worship, service and whatever else you practice that keeps you passionately connected to God. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Trust your colleagues and the laity you serve among and with.
What do you plan to do to help LGBTQ+ Methodists in Upper New York and how will you help to heal the harm done to the LGBTQ+ community by the church?
With those I have relationship with, I will continue to reach out and remind them that they are loved by God and by me. I will continue to honor the gifts of LGBTQIA members of Upper New York and work alongside them on various leadership teams and committees of the Conference, just as I have for the past several years. I will continue to look for ways to build relationships within the LGBTQIA community and engage in conversation, hopefully in partnership with any congregation, but specifically our reconciling congregations to hear thoughts on how myself, the Cabinet and Conference leadership can be helpful.
Is it possible to learn how the various conferences voted in the several votes that were taken at GC 2019?
Conferences do not vote as a block or cast a single vote. Each delegate casts their own vote and those votes are anonymous.
Can you suggest a study or other materials to help us continue the conversation in our congregations?
We will work to build a toolkit that can offer resources and we will place it on the conference website. If there are specific things that you are looking for that are not provided, please communicate with the Communications Team, your District Superintendent, or my office.
Will the discipline/conference have any restriction of 'openly non-traditional sexual oriented' persons holding positions in the church? Lay Leader, Lay Member, Lay Speaker, Trustee, Sunday School Teacher, Youth Coordinator...
The Book of Discipline has no restrictions for lay persons to hold positions in the Church – in the local church, the district, the conference or beyond, other than the requirement of church membership for some offices/positions. This is a local church matter.
Will groups who identify as being or supporting 'non-traditional sexual oriented' causes be allowed to use United Methodist Church facilities for meetings, activities or rallies?
The Book of Discipline has no restrictions except for same sex marriage ceremonies being held in United Methodist Church facilities. Who the local church opens their building to for meetings, activities and rallies is a local church matter.
Will pastors have the option of not providing pastoral care to people of 'non-traditional sexual orientation'?
My expectation is that pastors will provide pastoral care to all. While the Discipline prohibits clergy from officiating same sex marriages our social principles clearly state that we commit ourselves to be in ministry with and for all people. Pastoral care is a part of that commitment and expectation. I will be glad to talk with any clergy person one on one who wonders how to honor their commitment to pastoral care amid the disciplinary restriction regarding same sex marriage. If I am aware of any pastor not offering pastoral care other than same sex marriages because of sexual orientation, I or a District Superintendent will initiate a conversation with that pastor.
What are the implications (i.e. punishment) of retired UMC pastors performing same sex marriages - not on church property? What will happen if UMC clergy perform a wedding for a Christian couple who are LGBT?
It is a disciplinary violation, and therefore could subject the clergy to the process of formal complaint, including fair process as defined in The Book of Discipline
If we as a Conference comply with the Traditional Plan, how do you recommend we seek increased accountability from churches that violate provisions in the Discipline in ways not related to human sexuality (ex. not participating in Special Sunday offerings, not having a young adult on SPRC, not having a local chapter of United Methodist Women, not following sacramental doctrine, etc.)?
This is work that the Cabinet has been doing for almost seven years. We continue to have conversation around accountability for who we have promised to be together, so that we can be even more effective and fruitful than we currently are. When clear violations of the Discipline are brought to our attention we will process them appropriately.
If we as a Conference comply with the Traditional Plan, will you pursue charges against churches who have declared themselves Reconciling Congregations?
There are no disciplinary restrictions regarding a congregation becoming reconciling. If a complaint would be filed simply for a church aligning with The Reconciling Ministries Network, there would be no basis in church law or fact for the complaint to be processed. The disciplinary prohibitions around same sex marriage applies to all pastors regardless of whether they serve a reconciling congregation or not. With regard to a congregation’s ministry, let me repeat some of the words found in our Social Principles: We affirm that all persons are individuals of scared worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church . . . We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
Is there any possible way an individual church can still be Methodist and avoid this?
The General Conference speaks for The United Methodist Church, including each Annual Conference and local church. No amendments came from the general conference that require or allow a vote of an annual conference or local church to operate apart or differently from The Book of Discipline.
Will the Upper New York Conference, and the Bishop, uphold The Book of Discipline?
I have taken vows at my ordination as deacon and elder and at my consecration as a Bishop - that I will uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. I will continue to honor those vows. I will attempt to do so with as much grace, compassion, and care as possible.
What are the issues that will be before the Judicial Council that will need to be resolved as the UMC moves forward with implementing the decision of General Conference?
The delegates of the General Conference requested a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council regarding the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan affirmed by the General Conference. Each petition within the Traditional Plan will be reviewed by the Judicial Council on their April 23-26, 2019 docket. Click here to learn more.
Who is taking care of the spiritual health of the church leaders who are grieving this outcome?
The Bishop and Cabinet of the UNY Conference take seriously our pastoral role among clergy and laity of the congregations we serve. Through one-on-one conversations and gatherings of small groups at the district and Conference level, we will attempt to provide ongoing avenues for healing. We encourage all leaders to engage deeply in the practices that result in spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.
Will sexual orientation become a question on any applications, background checks or other data collecting forms in the church/conference? Other than being 'non-binary gender.’
No one is asked to identify sexual orientation on any Conference forms or forms required to be submitted by local churches.
What options exist for individuals or local congregations who love the UMC and its connections but feel they no longer live within the constraints imposed by the Traditional Plan?
We would encourage individuals or local congregations to engage in the conversation that helps us define unity in a new way and propose legislation to the General Conference that moves us beyond our division into a new reality that provides space and honors the convictions of others, while not compromising the convictions we hold.
Is there a future possibility that the United States UMC member conferences might be able to vote on these Book of Discipline language issues on human sexuality without the Central Conferences?
No. Not under the current structure and constitution of The United Methodist Church.
If a clergy member decides to leave the denomination, is his or her pension credit intact for the years served?
Petition 90017 affirmed by the General Conference amends Clergy Retirement Security program documents so that any clergy member who ends their relationship with a conference will be treated as “terminated vested” participant, meaning their accrued benefits would be safe and converted to an individual account balance. They would not be eligible for any additional benefits conferences add in the future.
How would the declaration of allegiance to the Discipline work? Would all pastors have to sign a statement or only the new pastors coming to ordination?
All clergy at their ordination respond to a vow asking, “will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and accepting the authority of those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?”
Licensed local pastors agree to the same responsibilities and duties of ordained clergy as outlined in ¶340 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
If the U.S. UMC has to begin the Traditional Plan Jan. 2020, why does the rest of the world get to wait until a year after General Conference 2020?
Every General Conference passes legislation that provides a time frame for the Central Conferences to implement the legislation approved by that General Conference to allow Central Conferences appropriate time to gather. According to the constitution of The United Methodist Church, the Central
Conferences shall meet within the year succeeding the meeting of the General Conference.
A number of months before General Conference, the Judicial Council decided that questions about sexuality must be asked at all levels of candidacy for the ordination process. In what ways will this be implemented in the UNY conference? What is the timeline for asking such questions and what specific questions will we be required to ask? Will the answers be required in writing, or will verbal responses be enough? Who will be required to provide assurance that these questions have been satisfactorily asked at the dCom level and BOM level? Will churches who sense a call in one of their members be required to ask such questions as well? What proof will we need from churches or candidates that the questions have been answered satisfactorily: social media, interviews of others, more extensive background checks, etc?
The responsibility for credentialing and appropriate processes lies within the District Committee on Ministry and the Board of Ordained Ministry in accordance with The Book of Discipline.
Is it really feasible to break away from the United Methodist church, since our church building is owned by the conference? If all active members quit, how long does it usually take to close the church physically and financially?
The ability for a congregation to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church as affirmed by the General Conference in the Disaffiliation Minority Report is under review by the Judicial Council. Currently, The Book of Discipline, in ¶2549, outlines a process for congregations wishing to end their relationship with The United Methodist Church by closure of that congregation.
What would it take to have the United States UMC churches split from the international UMC?
A change to the constitution of The United Methodist Church which requires a two-thirds majority vote of General Conference and aggregate two-thirds vote of all annual and Central Conference members.
Since much of the angst I seem to be hearing from some seems to stem from those issues anticipated to be answered by the Judicial Council rulings in April, do we have any idea if there is an anticipated time line for those decisions?
The Judicial Council will meet April 23-26, 2019. We anticipate their decision to be published by or around May 1, 2019. However, the Judicial Council determines their own timeline.
Since the special session essentially reaffirmed the church's long held positions on human sexuality, do we anticipate any significant changes that will affect the life of the local church in the day-to-day operations?
¶202 of The Book of Discipline identifies the function of the local church. The mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world remains our primary task and focus.
If an exit strategy is established for a congregation to "disaffiliate" from the UMC, and since it is already considered inappropriate for a pastor to begin an alternative worship experience opportunity within the "parish" arena of an existing church, will it be considered appropriate for an ordained elder to encourage a congregation to disaffiliate or will that clergy person be required to resign his or her orders first? And if that were to be required, upon surrendering one's credentials, would that person be allowed to speak before a UMC congregation?
The ability for a congregation to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church as affirmed by the General Conference in the Disaffiliation Minority Report is under review by the Judicial Council. If this report is found to be constitutional, a clergy person may be involved in a discernment process with the congregation they serve regarding disaffiliation. If the disaffiliation process is deemed unconstitutional, a pastor may be involved in a discernment process with their congregation and their District Superintendent regarding the disciplinary process for congregations wishing to end their relationship with The United Methodist Church by closure of that congregation. Additionally, if a clergy person decides to withdraw from The United Methodist Church, they would be required to surrender their local pastors’ license or ordination credentials. Who a UMC congregation invites to speak is a local church decision.
Can you address how other bishops across the country and across the globe (Western Jurisdiction, NE AC UMC, NY AC UMC, and Germany UMC of Central Conferences) are landing essentially in the One Church Plan affirming the sacred worth of all persons, by fully including them in spiritual nurturing and pastoral care through marriage and ordination to professional ministry, within the local UM Church?
Individuals have various convictions and chose to live out the convictions in various ways. The Judicial Council has made it clear in multiple rulings that an annual conference, district, or local church does not have the authority to vote to live outside the covenant of The Book of Discipline. As a Bishop, I took a vow to uphold The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. I will continue to honor that vow and do so with as much grace, compassion, and care as possible.
Can lay people perform same sex weddings?
The Book of Discipline prohibits United Methodist clergy from performing same-sex weddings. It further prohibits all same-sex weddings from being performed in United Methodist facilities. Whether a lay person, who is a member of The United Methodist Church, is authorized by the State of New York to perform weddings is a matter of state law. However, because in The United Methodist Church it is the clergy who are authorized to preside at weddings (¶¶ 328, 340), any lay person who might officiate at a wedding would not be doing so as an authorized agent of The United Methodist Church.
Can clergy attend same-sex weddings?
There are no disciplinary prohibitions regarding clergy attending same-sex weddings held in a non-United Methodist facility. United Methodist clergy can be present and participate with the exception of the exchange of vows, the pronouncement of marriage, and the signing of the marriage license. It would be advised that clergy not vest.