A glimpse of the 2017-2018 District Days
The focus for the 2017-2018 District Days is on the denomination’s impasse regarding homosexuality. Bishop Webb enlisted the Upper New York Human Sexuality Taskforce that he formed in 2012 to help conduct the District Days, which are much more discussion-oriented than in years past.
The theme of the District Days is “A Way Forward.”
Earlier this year, the United Methodist Commission on a Way Forward sent questions for the Bishops across the global church to answer in order to help with the report they will submit to the Council of Bishops in May of 2018. Based on this report, the Council of Bishops will bring a recommendation to the special session of the General Conference to be held in February of 2019.
The District Days provide the perfect opportunity for voices across the Upper New York Conference to be heard on one of the most controversial topics facing the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries, said, “The taskforce is helping to lead each meeting not only to gather responses, but alsoto allow members of the Conference to become participants, not just spectators, in the wider conversation, , and to do so in a safe space.”
Jami Breedlove, a lay member of Ithaca St. Paul’s UMC and member of the Taskforce, said “The Taskforce meets several times a year. We reconvened back in the spring to work together around the District Days. Most of the members of the Taskforce have been together for about four years and we have become really close through our work.
I really love working with teams and this team in particular. I have found Bishop Webb and Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding personally to be thoughtfully engaged. They care about the Conference and the denomination and I feel that they want us all to be engaged and want us to succeed. I enjoy the other participants on the Taskforce and I feel that we care deeply for each other. Even though we may not all agree with each other's position we are respectful and value each other in a way that Christ is honored.”
At each District Day, Bishop Webb gives a presentation on the history of the human sexuality disagreements in the United Methodist Church and reminds the Conference about the formation of The United Methodist Commission on a Way Forward (the Commission) and what their vision is.
Bishop Webb explains that the Commission is a group of laity and clergy from across the global church that was gathered together by the Council of Bishops to work on the issues related to human sexuality which arose from the 2016 General Conference.
The vision of the Commission is to balance an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with as much unity as possible.
Bishop Webb has said, “It’s not just about changing the language of the Book of Discipline (that the Commission is working on); it is refining our connection, which is showing signs of brokenness.”
After Bishop Webb’s presentation, District Day attendees gather together for smaller round-table discussions facilitated by members of the Upper New York Human Sexuality Taskforce.
The discussions are based on questions that the Commission would like answered for help with their report.
Each table has guidelines spelled out for them, which were adapted from The Artistry of Convening with Faith Based Communities:
- Prayerfully think on each question before answering it.
- Listen to understand, not to debate or convince.
- Suspend judgements.
- Be kind.
After the time of discussion, there is time to harvest the questions. A host from each table presents highlights from the discussions that took place at their table.
Overall, attendees and the taskforce feel that the discussions from the District Days that have happened already have been effective. Rev. Doug Mackey, a member of the taskforce said, “I have heard a lot of good conversations and people seem to be respecting each other even if they have differences in opinions.”
The answers gathered from all District Days through December will be used to draft a report for the Commission on a Way Forward, and an additional report will be sent to the Commission by March based on discussions that take place for those Districts that will have their District Day in 2018.
Update: Following the update from the Council of Bishops on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the questions at the District Day gatherings going forward have been updated to reflect the possible paths that the Commission and the Council are exploring. Click here to read a letter from Bishop Mark J. Webb about the meeting of the two bodies and to find the full press release from the Council of Bishops.