Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation
I write to commend to you the fruit of a mediation process undertaken by sixteen United Methodists, entitled “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” The eight-page document, linked here, represents work done by a group of United Methodists from across the world who represent many (not all) of the important streams of our church. This work was done in collaboration with Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, noted mediator known for his work with the September 11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, the Virginia Tech and Boston Marathon victims, and the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Mr. Feinberg, who is not a United Methodist, offered his professional guidance to us pro bono.

The Protocol is offered in service to the delegates who will gather four short months from now in Minneapolis for the 2020 General Conference. It is not perfect--no mediation is--but it gives a great deal to each of these different streams, more than I could have imagined at the beginning. All of this has been done—and the word I hear from many is that it is something of a miracle—without harming these persons. I attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The protocol was unanimously affirmed and signed by the sixteen participants. Key features of the mediation protocol and proposed legislation that will follow are:

  • The ongoing existence of The United Methodist Church
  • A gracious way of departure for a traditionalist conservative Methodist Church, with a financial settlement.
  • The creation of four regional conferences—Africa, U.S., Europe, Philippines—each with its own ability to adapt the Book of Discipline.
  • The removal of restrictive language related to LGBTQ identity and practice in the U.S. post-separation United Methodist Church immediately following the May General Conference.
  • Holding in abeyance any administrative or judicial processes regarding restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to LGBTQ persons, as of January 1, 2020.
  • Creation of a fund to strengthen the Black Church and ministries with and among marginalized persons.
  • No annual conference or local church is required to vote on departure from the United Methodist Church.
  • No one is asked to leave or separate from the church.
  • Annual Conferences and local churches may vote to depart from The United Methodist Church with their property in order to participate in another Methodist expression.
  • Wespath will offer a continuity of service across the various Methodist expressions.

Note: This brief summary is not intended to be a substitute for the actual reading of the protocol. It is simply to encourage United Methodists to develop an understanding of the contents of the protocol.

Much of the effect of this protocol will be how we receive it and how we turn toward each other. It is not about winners or losers, but about how God's promise of grace and reconciliation relates to our structures, convictions, and hopes. It is significant, and at the same time, it is one step in a journey.

For me, this mediation work is in the fulfillment of my consecration vows as a bishop, to seek the unity of the church. And for me, it is in continuity with the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.

  • No one has to vote to leave the church.
  • No one is being asked to leave the church.
  • And the United Methodist Church, under the cross and flame, will continue to be in ministry across the world.

We were told in the mediation process that if we did not write the narrative, it would be written for us. A culture of trials related to LGBTQ persons in the church becomes the dominant narrative. By holding these administrative and judicial processes in abeyance until the resolution of these matters, we are able to devote our energies to working and walking together to finding reconciliation and grace through structural separation.

I give thanks for those who participated in the mediation and particularly to Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, who led us in this process. I give thanks for all the people of the Florida Conference, and believe this mediation does no harm to anyone of them. I also place great trust in our delegation to the 2020 General Conference. They are authorized to help our church to move forward into a new season of mission and flourishing.

In the interim, we have much work to do in service to our Lord, in the strengthening of our local churches and ministries. We have an important question to answer: “What kind of annual conference will we be?” And we are in connection with each other, for a larger purpose: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This will continue to be my focus, and I ask you to join me.

The Peace of the Lord,
Ken Carter
Bishop, Florida Conference,
The United Methodist Church

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A 2019 Christmas Letter to the People of
The United Methodist Church
As we journey through Advent on the way to Christmas, we read and sing Israel’s promises and prophecies. We hear the prophet Isaiah’s invitation: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5). And for many of us, all of this culminates as we stand in the darkness of a sanctuary on Christmas Eve, holding a candle, and sharing the light of Christ. “The light shines in the darkness”, we proclaim, “and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In these days many of us realize that, even as we walk this road, we have not arrived at our destination. Every year we light the candles of hope and peace, joy, love and light. And yet every year we confess our desire for a greater sense of hope and not despair, peace and not separation, joy and not sadness, love and not resentment, light and not darkness. But, to be honest, we are a mixture of all these qualities, and so we depend upon God, our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1).

And perhaps we listen more closely to the invitation —“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” What does it mean for us, followers of Jesus in The United Methodist Church, to walk together, in the light of the Lord? In this season, it might mean a greater focus on the light that we share in common:

  • the voice of the Creator saying, “Let there be light”;
  • the appearance of the rainbow after the devastating flood in the time of Noah;
  • the burning bush that caught the attention of Moses and led him to walk in a new path that would deliver his people from slavery;
  • the cloud by day and fire by night as the people journeyed together;
  • a star that shines upon a village in Bethlehem;
  • the opening of the heavens as Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and the light that falls upon him;
  • the transfiguration of Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah, who embody the law and the prophets;
  • the words that Jesus speaks of himself, “I am the light of the world”;
  • and the words he speaks to each of us, “you are the light of the world.”

The light is the Torah, the sacred story of Israel, and by the grace of God it shines upon us. We have the opportunity to say thank you in this season to our Jewish brothers and sisters. They are our root systems, our DNA, and we live and flourish because of them. We remember that each character we will focus on in the season of Advent--Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, John the Baptist and Jesus himself--was a devout Jew who worshipped in a synagogue and waited for the promises to be fulfilled.

We continue to pray for the fulfillment of the scriptures, that God would be with us (Matthew 1:23), that the word would become flesh and live among us (John 1:14). We seek to be faithful as disciples of Jesus Christ, living out our convictions in such a manner that others will be drawn to the light and life and love of Jesus, who is the prince of peace and the world’s light.

I love the words of the hymn of John Henry Newman:

“Lead, kindly light, amidst the encircling gloom, 
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home. Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet. I do not ask to see the distant scene;
one step enough for me.”

Because “all of the promises of God find their yes in Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20), we await the birth of the Savior, and we trust in the assurance that we will walk together, into 2020, in the light of the Lord.

The Peace of Jesus Christ our Savior,
Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

No Vacancy:
The Christmas Story Retold
Joseph and his very pregnant wife, Mary, traveled 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The long journey over rough roads and probably on a donkey, left them exhausted and needing rest. Bethlehem’s only welcome was a “No Vacancy” sign.

No one anticipated their arrival, and no room was ready. No one expected that the Baby-King would be born that first Christmas night.

No room was ready for Jesus and His family 2000 years ago. But today the roles have been reversed. Now Jesus and His Heavenly Father are preparing rooms for us. One of the last things Jesus told his disciples was “Don’t worry. When you reach your destination, I’ll make sure your rooms are ready.”

Scripture tells us that today, Jesus is busy preparing a place for us. He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2)

We were not ready for the King, but the King will be ready for us. That is the Christmas story. God came to us despite our lack of room for Him. And, through the life, death, and resurrection of that baby, God provides the rooms for each of us to dwell with Him forever.

--Source Unknown—