Some of you may have noticed my absence from daily church life last week. You’d probably not know that I’m reported Missing In Action (MIA) during the third week of every January as I am called (not asked) to attend something called the Gathering of the Orders. Recently, this annual meeting has convened at Mt. Hermon Conference and Retreat Center near the small mountain town of Felton just outside of Santa Cruz.
There are two distinct orders in the United Methodist Church into which we are ordained: the Order of Elders (my order) and the Order of Deacons. The purpose of an order, as provided in ¶ 307 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016, is to: (1) provide for regular gatherings of ordained deacons and ordained elders for continuing formation in relationship to Jesus Christ through such experiences as Bible study, study of issues facing the church and society, and theological exploration in vocational identity and leadership; (2) assist in plans for individual study and retreat experiences; (3) develop a bond of unity and common commitment to the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church and the annual conference; (4) enable the creation of relationships that allow mutual support and trust; and (5) hold accountable all members of the order in the fulfilling of their purposes. Believe it or not, we’re pretty good at accomplishing all this in just three days out of the year!
In addition to enjoying a number of in-depth conversations with many of my colleagues, several highlights that stood out this year included a conversation we had led by four colleagues on Finding a Way Forward–the effort to address a compilation of inconsistencies voted by General Conferences into our Book of Discipline over the past 44 years related to statements surrounding human sexuality and, specifically, the denomination’s effort to address issues related to LGBTQ laity and clergy. A task force will make a series of recommendations to our Council of Bishops who’ve already called for a special General Conference for 2019, one year earlier than what will be a shortened 2020 General Conference, to decide the degree to which our churches can coexist without agreement over these issues or whether we will split–as has been the case with other denominations such as, most recently, the Presbyterians (PCUSA and the newly formed ECCO).
Another highlight were sessions led by guest speaker Alex Awad, a Palestinian Christian who was born and grew up in Jerusalem and recently retired as a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries Missionary assigned to Jerusalem. His comprehension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the degree to which U. S. policies have fueled that conflict, and how evangelical Christian theology has exacerbated that conflict, were both enlightening and elegant. Thanks to his generosity, he is making all of his Power Point slides available to us. I’m hoping to schedule a presentation later in the year using his slides to address the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations with the help of several of my clergy colleagues here in Napa.
Finally, our still relatively new Bishop, Minerva Carcaño, used this opportunity to have some face time with us stating her understanding of accountability among members of our Orders. She prayerfully asked us for consideration to changes in both attitudes and actions across our connection which many of us found to be both courageous and correct. I came away from her presentation feeling proud that she is our Bishop and grateful that I have the opportunity to serve on her behalf in churches of the California Nevada Conference.
As always, I appreciate your patience and blessing during those weeks that I’m away, especially for such quality experiences as I had last week. I trust you’ll benefit over the coming year as a result of my continued spiritual formation as aided by my membership in the Order of Elders.