From the Desk of Bishop Webb: A letter upon returning from the Council of Bishops
November 8, 2019 / By Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb
Editor's Note: After returning from the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb shared the following letter with the Upper New York Conference on Friday Nov. 8.
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!
I continue to give thanks to God for each of you and for the many ways you are offering the good news of Jesus Christ to the world around us. God continues to move within, among and through us, as we remain committed to partnering with God in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
As a Bishop of The United Methodist Church, I am called to seek the unity of the Church, love the entirety of the Church, and lead all churches within our connection to thrive in their mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, while upholding the order and discipline of the Church.
While there is great ministry happening in and through The United Methodist Church around the world, deep disagreement continues and manifests itself in several ways, but is most clearly seen concerning matters of human sexuality.
The recent call for and commitment by some for a moratorium of all complaints and trials related to LGBTQI+ clergy and clergy performing same-gender weddings without a call for a moratorium on actions that violate The Book of Discipline is yet another example of our brokenness. I choose to believe that all persons are acting from places of deep faith conviction, yet also believe that actions like these continue to divide.
In the past, I have attempted to clearly articulate how I will attempt to lead and carry out my role as a Bishop of The United Methodist Church. I will continue to carry out the sacred vow I made when I was ordained an elder and consecrated a Bishop to faithfully administer The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. I will live out this responsibility with as much grace, compassion, fairness, and integrity as I possibly can.
I will not ignore complaints of any nature that come to me and will process them as outlined in The Book of Discipline which seeks to do all possible in achieving a just resolution. We must remember that The Book of Discipline clearly states that trials are a last resort. Our supervisory process always seeks to do no harm and reach just resolution, reconciliation, and healing.
In addition, I will continue to invite and participate in conversations that seek to engage deeply with the current reality of The United Methodist Church. Our Church is divided, and our system is broken. I continue to desire to lead in a way that acknowledges the form of unity we have been pursuing is untenable. I will lead with the hope that God has a future for us that will lead to a new form of unity that blesses one another to be the Church as we believe we are being called. For the sake of one another and our witness to the world, we cannot repeat in Minneapolis what occurred in St. Louis.
I continue to ask the question - Is God offering a hope-filled future in which there will be multiple expressions of the Methodist witness? I believe United Methodists yearn for a Church focused on mission and ministry in the 21st Century. We live out of the Wesleyan conviction that the “world is our parish” and a deep belief that the hope of Christ is the only hope for our world today. I deeply believe the people called Methodists are longing for a church in which the Holy Spirit is more clearly experienced as bringing good news, hope, and joy. I know we seek to be a church that builds up instead of tears down. I know we envision a more vibrant and missionally effective Wesleyan movement.
I continue to believe that God can use our current brokenness as a springboard to multiply our Wesleyan DNA through different expressions of Methodism that will allow our diversity of theological thought and contextual practice to flourish untethered from conflict. Indeed, God can bless multiple expressions of Methodism in ways that can have a cumulative impact far greater than we can ever have today in our fractured state.
I applaud the groups engaging in prayerful conversations resulting in Spirit-led ideas. The work of UMCNext, the WCA, UMCForward, The Indianapolis Plan, the Bard-Jones Plan, and others offer some emerging consensus that can be built upon. I believe these conversations need to continue to move forward, specifically focusing on a new form of unity that seeks future missional connection with the following objectives:
- A dependence upon the Holy Spirit and deep commitment to prayer and discernment seeking God’s direction for the future of Methodism.
- A renewed focus on making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- Providing instruments and principles that offer as much missional unity as possible.
- Maintain commitment to a global expression(s) with input from all regions and ethnic groups in seeking a new form of unity.
I will continue to invite all laity and clergy – regardless of their perspective on matters of human sexuality - to join in this kind of conversation for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, I will continue to work with the people and congregations of Upper New York as we seek to increase the capacity of Christ-following leaders, multiply the number of vital congregations, and become even more fruitful and effective in living the mission we have been called – that all may know Jesus!
I have joined several colleague Bishops in issuing a similar letter to be shared with the entire United Methodist Church. You can access that letter at www.deeperconversationsumc.org.
I constantly pray for you, The United Methodist Church, and God’s future for all of us.
Mark J. Webb