Life at the Council

The Council of Bishops (COB) meeting started early for me with a gathering of the Executive Committee of the COB.  Actual activity had begun the day before through my participation in a live web-cast presentation on the church's response to the divisive issues of weddings for same-gender couples and ordination of those who are "avowed practicing homosexuals." In America same-gender issues dominate much of our conversation and energy.  The bishops of the church are very aware that these issues are potentially denomination splitting.  Every meeting has been greeted by protesters from a group called "Love Prevails." (They advocate a change in church law to permit same gender marriages and ordination of gay and lesbian individuals.) We have been in deep and committed conversations (much of the conversations have been in Executive Session and are confidential) with each other on how to best lead the church around these issues. It is accurate to say that the Council reflects the larger church.  We are not of one mind.  Reflecting the larger UMC, we struggle with deep issues of faithfulness. As we do I am struck again by what it means to be a worldwide church.  Other areas (most of Africa & parts of Europe and Asia) find the conversation very disturbing.  Our various contexts are quite different.  Taken together they challenge us to seek a way to live together that honors integrity, holds to unity and enables the greater mission we share to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our work is far wider than one issue.  We heard a tremendously encouraging report from Bishop Tom Bickerton on "Imagine No Malaria."  The total raised to date has gone over $64.5 million.  We are in sight of the overall goal of $75 million.  It is difficult to understate how much good and how many lives have been saved through this great work of God.  Dr. Christopher Benn reported from the Global Fund (which is one of our international partnering agencies in the battle against killer diseases) that the global rate of death for children under 5 years of age dying from preventable diseases has dropped 41% since 1990. Those who served in Vietnam will remember the blight of malaria in that country.  Amazingly enough last year there were only 20 malaria deaths in the entire country. There is much that remains to do.  The battle is not over, but we can say with confidence that the fight against malaria is being won.  I urge congregations and individuals in Central Texas to continue to support "Imagine No Malaria."  It is the gift of life we can give again this Christmas! Monday morning's worship featured a great sermon by Bishop Mike McKee (Central Texas missionary to North Texas).  We have spent quality time in worship and small covenant groups for spiritual growth and discernment.  The focused question is one used commonly in historic Methodist Class Meetings:  "How is it with your soul?" Dr. Kevin Watson, author of The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience, offered an insightful teaching on the importance of Holy Conferencing.  He challenged our tendency to abuse the term "holy conferencing."  True holy conferencing according to Dr. Watson, can only be nurtured in an intimate small group where genuine care and spiritual accountability can take place.  It is not a term to be used (or rather misused) as a mantra for listening politely before you try to convince someone else they are wrong. We also took part in the quadrennial sexual ethics training for bishops.  Just as this is required for every clergy person under appointment in a conference, so too it is required for bishops. On a quite different tack, Bishop Greg Palmer (West Ohio) moved and I seconded a special proclamation by the Council of Bishops honoring Dr. Lyle Schaller.  Dr. Schaller was the great "guru" of church growth and leadership for decades.   He is the author of over 50 books with Abingdon Press (the United Methodist Publishing House).  He is now living with his wife of 68 years in a memory care unit in Oklahoma City.  Along with President and Publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House), Bishop John Hopkins and I had the privilege of presenting him with the proclamation. Wednesday, the Council of Bishops will be in a joint meeting with the Connectional Table focusing on building Vital Congregations.  Thursday we will participate in important acts of repentance, learning and healing as we seek to learn from Native Americans who are a part of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.  This is a part of the continuation of our work of repentance for mistreatment of Native Americans.  Acts of repentance were begun at the Tampa General Conference of 2012.  Hopefully I will be able to offer a follow up blog on those two important issues.