The final report from the Western PA Conference's Task Force on A Way Forward was released today along with a statement from Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi.
The Bishop created the task force of laity and clergy to develop ways to share proposals from the denomination's Commission on A Way Forward with local church members and receive their feedback. The Commission was formed by the Council of Bishops to find a way to get past long-standing disagreements over the full inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the United Methodist Church.
In addition to a webpage with reports and an online form for gather feedback, the Western PA Task Force held 20 Listening Posts -- two in each of the Conference's 10 districts --for church members to hear about the three proposals made by the Commission and discuss them in a safe space. Participants in the Listening Posts filled out individual surveys and participated in groups where they discussed a list of questions. Answers and comments were written down by a facilitator. Links to the survey results and a compilation of answers from the group discussions are at the end of the Task Force report.
I am extremely grateful to the members of the WPA Task Force on a Way Forward who worked faithfully to develop and implement a process whereby we could disseminate accurate information about the Commission on a Way Forward Report and provide avenues to listen to each other’s hopes, fears, concerns, and joy regarding the work of the commission. I am also very pleased that so many people participated in the process and so many were able to have meaningful conversation.
I was happy to hear that even though the conversation was sometimes difficult, most of you were grateful for the opportunity to hear from the task force and from one another. I acknowledge that for many the conversations felt uncomfortable, for some they were extremely challenging, and for a few they felt harmful. I have been praying for healing where harm may have been done. I have also been praying that God will continue to make something beautiful come from each of the conversations. It is my belief that the work reflected in this report will help our delegates in their discernment process.
Our delegates have received a tremendous amount of information that they will use in their discernment process. They will have this report with information from those who attended the listening posts. Members of our churches who were not able to attend the listening posts have contacted our delegates directly or made comments to the delegation through the WPAUMC website. The Council of Bishops and United Methodist Boards and Agencies have provided information for our delegates to use. The Judicial Council has issued rulings that provide information to our delegates. People throughout our connection have shared their thoughts with the delegation. Some have written books and developed websites to provide information and their views.
Our delegates also have engaged with scripture and rely on their own experiences, their knowledge of church history, and their reason, as well as scientific information and data, in their discernment process. They have much to consider. All delegates need our prayers for wisdom, insight, courage, and compassion as they do their work at the Special Called Session of General Conference.
The work of delegates would be much easier if we had a process akin to the Electoral College. Then, their votes would be bound by the votes of the annual conferences they represent. We could, therefore, have taken a vote in each annual conference, then delegates to the general conference would vote according to the proportions of their annual conference votes.
This process may work in the secular world, but our understanding of who God is and how God works with God’s people demands a different process. We believe that when two or three believers gather together in God’s name, God will be with them. And when God is with God’s people, miracles happen and spiritual gifts of creativity, wisdom and vision are revealed in spectacular ways. Our process leaves room for, and even anticipates, the miraculous work of the Spirit of God. As United Methodists we are no strangers to the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. We have been praying for a movement of the Holy Spirit.
Because I know the volume of prayers that have been offered by this annual conference for our delegates and all the others, I am confident God’s Spirit is already at work in the hearts and minds of General Conference delegates all across the world. Please continue to pray they will feel the presence of God and discern the will of God and that General Conference will be a process of Holy Conferencing for all. God continues to be in control. And God has got even this!