United Methodist bishops open spring assembly with message of unity amid schism
(RNS) — Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the outgoing president of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, opened the bishops’ spring assembly Monday (April 25) with a recap of the historic occasions the denomination has confronted since she took workplace in 2020: political turmoil in america and past; the battle in Ukraine; a worldwide pandemic that pressured many church buildings — and the bishops’ twice-yearly conferences — on-line.
And naturally, there’s the large one: a looming schism within the United Methodist Church.
“Any certainly one of these would have been sufficient, however all on the identical time, in a compressed period of time appears unthinkable,” mentioned Harvey, whose personal election as the primary Hispanic girl to guide the Council of Bishops was historic.
“But, what we all know is that in all of this, God is with us and sustains us for the going through of one other day, one other tragedy, one other problem, one other complicated state of affairs that appears insurmountable.”
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Greater than 100 bishops from throughout the globe are gathering by way of Friday on Zoom to debate the way forward for the denomination, according to the Council of Bishops. Monday’s and Friday’s open classes will probably be livestreamed on the Council of Bishops’ Facebook page.
On Monday, Harvey mentioned in her opening handle that the United Methodist Church, one of many largest Protestant denominations in america, is “large enough for the left and the best and the in between.” However she feared that wasn’t the message individuals have been getting from current occasions.
“I’m afraid that our witness hasn’t all the time been its greatest just lately as a result of we now have not been our greatest,” she mentioned.
Throughout her two-year tenure as president of the Council of Bishops, the often quadrennial assembly of the denomination’s decision-making physique, the Common Convention, was postponed three times by the COVID-19 pandemic — from 2020 to 2021, then to 2022 and now to 2024.
Bishops known as for a particular session of the Common Convention — then recalled that session.
With conferences postponed, the denomination has not elected new bishops in six years, dropping from 66 energetic bishops to 54. Many have been serving on boards and companies past the tip of their four-year phrases, Harvey mentioned.
And a few conservative United Methodists have introduced that — relatively than anticipate the following Common Convention assembly to vote on a plan to separate the denomination over disagreement about same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy — they plan to leave the denomination on Might 1 to type a brand new expression of Methodism, the World Methodist Church.
Tensions are operating excessive inside the denomination, the bishop mentioned.
“Rumors are flying rampant. Untruths are being informed. Phrases that rarely entered our lexicon have turn out to be commonplace, like ‘disaffiliation’ or ‘comity agreements.’ Extra of us have turn out to be aware of elements of the E-book of Self-discipline we didn’t even know existed or had forgotten about,” she mentioned.
Harvey mentioned she understands some members can not stay within the United Methodist Church.
However she grieves that’s the case. She regrets it. And, she mentioned, she has little interest in disparaging others or serving an echo chamber.
“All our members, clergy, native church buildings and annual conferences may have a house within the United Methodist Church, whether or not they think about themselves liberal, evangelical, progressive, traditionalist, center of the highway, conservative, centrist or one thing else. And don’t let anybody — anybody — inform you in any other case,” she mentioned emphatically.
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On Friday, Harvey, who’s bishop of the Louisiana Annual Convention of the United Methodist Church, will cross the digital gavel to Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the denomination’s New York Space. Bickerton was elected final November throughout the bishops’ fall assembly.
In between, bishops will hear management stories concerning the denomination’s anti-racism work, catastrophe reduction efforts and ecumenical relations, amongst different issues.
“We’re the United Methodist Church, and we should love each other by way of this,” Harvey mentioned.