Congregations meeting to discuss Way Forward report, General Conference

2/4/2019

By Kara Witherow, Edior

Although the start of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference is more than two weeks away, South Georgia pastors and laity have been meeting to discuss the Way Forward report, its three legislative plans, and possible outcomes of the General Conference session.

At Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, senior pastor Dr. Matt Woodbery in January began a weekly series with his congregation to discuss the 2019 General Conference session and the Way Forward report.

Meeting on Wednesday afternoons, the intent of the meetings is to inform, Dr. Woodbery said. The purpose of the special session, the Way Forward Commission, the three plans, basic United Methodist polity, and church governance have been discussed. During one session he introduced John Wesley’s Three General Rules and the Wesley Quadrilateral to give two Methodist models that those in attendance could use to discern and make their own decisions.

Informing the congregation in a balanced, non-biased, clear, precise manner is intentional and important, Dr. Woodbery said.

“Change is coming,” he said. “We will be different after the special General Conference. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how much. That’s what I’m trying to equip them for, to be prepared for the change in order to mitigate any turbulence or pain.”

In downtown Savannah, Rev. Ben Gosden, senior pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, is telling his congregation to be careful about their news sources.

While he doesn’t sense much anxiety yet and therefore hasn’t held formal meetings, he is keeping church leaders informed and up to date with news from official UM outlets.

“I’m reading the room and I’m not sensing a lot of anxiety, so why create anxiety where there’s not any and when there isn’t a path evident yet?” he asked.

Very careful about the information and links he does share, he says he will begin more in-depth conversations about the outcome of the special General Conference session between the March 9 Post-General Conference Information Session and Annual Conference.

“We are being very careful about the information we use and trust and distribute,” he said. “We are not spinning this, especially in the void of information. When there is a void of information people tend to fill it with their worst fears, so we are being really careful.”

Late last fall Rev. Robert Greene began a three-phase process of education, conversation, and prayer surrounding the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference and the Way Forward report.

Not wanting to merely react to whatever news comes out of St. Louis, he and Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church’s leaders opted instead to share, listen, and pray.

“When people are panicky, nothing good comes out of it, so I’m trying to do what the Bishop says – stay calm, stay connected, stay the course,” Rev. Greene said. “I think by actually talking about it we’re better able to do that, as long as we talk about it in the right way, with the right tone. That’s been the objective.

As part of the sharing phase, an open forum was held last fall (a second was cancelled because of Hurricane Michael). Now, during the listening phase, Rev. Greene and the church’s two lay delegates to Annual Conference are spending time in each adult Sunday school class, discussing the three plans and the situation, and giving class members a chance to talk and be heard. Prayer, the third phase, is being integrated into all that’s being done, and a special Wednesday night prayer service is being planned for the General Conference delegates.

“It’s important to listen and to have this time and not to just react,” Rev. Greene said.

The congregation appreciates the chance to hear from their leaders and express their viewpoints, he said, and, while frustrated with the lack of answers, is eager to move on and focus on their ministry.

Making time for education, discussion, and dialogue is important, Rev. Woodbery said, and is a vital part of being United Methodist.

“I believe it’s who we are as Methodist,” he said. “I believe in the priesthood of believers. We’re all in this together, and I want to make sure that there’s a levelness about the information we have and to equip the saints. The Holy Spirit is alive and at work in their lives, and I want to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say through them. That’s part of what we mean about being in connection.”

For further information and resources about the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference and the Way Forward report, visit www.sgaumc.org/wayforward.