A Letter from our Bishop on UMC Protocol Agreement

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In this New Year I invite you to join me in praying for the United Methodist Church and her people in all places across the world. I invite you to pray that we expand our mission in every place so that those for whom Christ is a stranger will find in Him a gracious and generous friend.

It is no secret that the United Methodist Church has continued to struggle with conflicting views regarding human sexuality, and today I write to you with news that emerged this morning about a mediated agreement called “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.”  This Protocol is a response by a number of constituencies within our Church to propose to the General Conference a plan that would allow a gracious separation among faithful Christians so that we may avoid continued distraction from the work of the Kingdom of God.

The individuals adopting this proposal have affirmed their recognition that they do not, and cannot, speak for every constituency in the United Methodist Church, but have made this proposal after prayerful consideration about how best to go forward in doing our most important work—making disciples of Christ.

This news comes to us from our own United Methodist News Service.  Many of you have no doubt read reports coming from other media outlets.  In light of some of the confusing messages contained in those reports, I would offer the following.

Some have interpreted the proposal as a decision that has already been made, or as a call by the Council of Bishops for a Church divide, or both.  In fact, it is neither.

The Protocol is a mediated agreement among a group of persons who have committed individually and collectively to pursue a common legislative goal when the governing body of the global United Methodist Church meets in May.  That legislative body—the General Conference—is the only body with authority to establish the governing law of the United Methodist Church.  The group of individuals who have come together to propose the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace have made clear that their proposal is theirs alone and is not at this point an official action of the United Methodist Church.

It is to be noted, however, that this proposal is unique in that it was generated by a group of individuals representing diverse advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops with a variety of perspectives, rather than by a group with a single theological perspective.

The group came together as an outgrowth of dialogue initiated by Bishops from Central Conferences outside the United States and collaborated on a proposed agreement for the separation of The United Methodist Church (UMC) that has the unanimous support of these individuals representing varying perspectives.

Some of the central ideas of the proposed legislation are the following:

  • The creation of four regional conferences—Africa, U.S., Europe, Philippines—each with its own ability to adapt the Book of Discipline;
  • The ongoing existence of The United Methodist Church;
  • A path and financial support for the formation of a new traditionalist conservative Methodist denomination as well as other potential Methodist denominations which may emerge;
  • The removal of restrictive language related to LGBTQ identity and practice in the post-separation United Methodist Church immediately following the May 2020 General Conference;
  • Holding in abeyance any church disaffiliations or closures related to human sexuality issues, and any administrative or judicial processes regarding restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to LGBTQ persons, beginning January 1, 2020;
  • Creation of a fund to strengthen ministries with and among persons and communities historically marginalized including Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander communities;
  • Provisions allowing Annual Conferences and local churches to vote to depart from The United Methodist Church with their property in order to participate in another Methodist expression, but making clear that no Annual Conference or local church is required to take such a vote, and no one is asked to leave or separate from the United Methodist Church;
  • Continuity of pension service from Wespath across the various Methodist expressions.

In May of this year the General Conference will gather to consider this document as one of a number of proposals that are before the General Conference.

In the meantime, the work continues in the Nashville Episcopal Area, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. We continue to press toward God’s call upon our lives to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”

Change, and especially talk of separation, is daunting:  yet is heartening that persons of very diverse views have come together to do this serious work, and have listened to, and heard, each other. I would remind us that despite the uncertainty, God is doing amazing work among us and we have tremendous leaders who are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ.

I recognize that for many this report is received with some measure of anxiety. My prayer for you is that you turn toward one another, not away from one another.

A friend sent a book of prayers to me this Christmas, and I share this prayer with you:

Where there is separation,
There is pain.
And where there is pain,
There is story.

And where there is story,
There is understanding,
And misunderstanding,
And not listening.

May we—separated peoples, estranged strangers,
Turn toward each other,
And turn toward our stories,
With understanding
And listening,
With argument and acceptance,
With challenge, change
And consolation.

Because if God is to be found,
God will be found in the space between.*


*Daily Prayers with the Corrymeela Community by Padrig O Tuama

Waking Up in America: Those Were the Days

Waking Up In America
Those Were the Days

A new musical cabaret-style show 

Starring Tajci Cameron and Sanya Mateyas
and Brian Hanson, piano
with special guest David Langley

It’s the American Songbook with International Flair!


Tuesday, August 6, 2019
6:30 PM

City Road Chapel UMC
701 Gallatin Pk. S.
Madison, TN  37115
(615) 868-1673

All proceeds to benefit the music ministry of the City Road Chapel United Methodist Church

 CLICK HERE to purchase your ticket today on EventBrite

Last week at the annual gathering of the Tennessee Annual Conference a resolution was presented and adopted (approved by 2/3 of the voting delegates) as a response to the actions of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. As you likely know by now, that meeting was a special “called” general conference focused on considering a way forward in regards to the division we face in our church over the inclusion of LGBTQ folks in our denomination. Currently, our church law forbids “self-avowed practicing” LGBTQ persons to be ordained and forbids pastors from participating in same-sex weddings. As the church has been divided over these issues (although I would argue ultimately the divide is about how we interpret the scriptures), the Council of Bishops put together a commission to discern a “way forward” and presented several plans to the General Conference. Ultimately, after much heated and difficult debate, the General Conference adopted the “Traditional Plan” which retains much of the current language but significantly ramps up the penalties for persons who feel that they cannot abide by those provisions, and provides a pathway (albeit a difficult one) for congregations to leave the denomination if they disagree with the current church law.

There is much more involved in how that happened but I don’t have several hours to write a full treatise. What I can say with confidence is that a significant number of faithful United Methodists throughout the U.S. believe that the General Conference made a major mistake and are thinking about how to respond to the actions taken in St. Louis.

However, what folks on both sides of the issue agree on is that the St. Louis meeting was harmful to the witness of our church and to various individuals, especially LGBTQ persons, in what was said during the debate. Granted, in some cases, there were cultural and language barriers based on the reality of being a global church with representatives from all over the world who have very different understandings of faith in Jesus Christ. But those barriers sometimes led to speech that was violent in nature and certainly less than loving in dealing with those who believed different things. There have been many people who have struggled with their belief in Jesus in the light of those words, and the church leaders who submitted the resolution were attempting to address the toxic nature of the St. Louis meeting and offer values for our conference that were more sensitive to being in ministry with all people.

You can read a full copy of the resolution here, but I think the most important part is the last two paragraphs which outlines the actions and values affirmed by the conference in the passage of the resolution:

Therefore, be it resolved by the 2019 Tennessee Annual Conference that: the Tennessee Conference apologizes for the harm that actions at the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference have caused LGBTQIA+ persons, their families, their friends, and the body of
Christ. We affirm that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” and urge all in ministry, whether lay or clergy, to affirm that no human being is incompatible with Christian teaching.

(2) And be it further resolved, that we urge all lay and clergy in the Tennessee Conference to make all reasonable efforts to address issues related to LGBTQIA+ ordination and marriage in a manner so as to treat church trials and judicial processes as a last resort.

What does this mean?

First, that we recognize and acknowledge that the rhetoric used at the General Conference caused much pain and as brothers and sisters in Christ we express our regrets for the harm that was caused. This is not an apology for anyone’s beliefs or convictions, but rather a recognition that sometimes what we say can have unintended consequences and that we are called to humility in seeking reconciliation with those whom we may have unintentionally harmed.

Second, we affirm the current stance of the United Methodist Church that ALL people are of sacred worth, created in the image of God. This is nothing new — we are already supposed to believe this.

Third, noting that our statement about the incompatibility of Christian teaching about homosexual practice says nothing about individual identities. People will disagree about whether certain sexual practices are consistent with our faith, but ALL people are of sacred worth and are not rejected as human beings. LGBTQ folks are welcome in our churches and are not to be cast aside for their identity.

Fourth, we recognize that church trials are expensive and painful processes for all involved, and should be the action of last resort. Having served as the secretary for a trial a couple of years ago, I know first hand the expense of pulling a trial together, and as importantly the emotional toll on all involved, from the accused to the judge to the jury. Our Book of Discipline maintains a “just resolution” process which is to be considered first and the conference simply expressed their desire that this process is pursued fully before we try to obtain a resolution through a trial.

Nothing in this resolution falls outside the parameters of our current Book of Discipline. As reflected in our Social Principles, this resolution is completely in keeping with our church teaching, which says:

We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

There will be some who will continue to see this statement as supporting a “lifestyle” outside of God’s will, based on their reading of the Bible. There is certainly room for disagreement about the questions of identity and sin in relation to sexuality. However, what we as a United Methodist Church have consistently said is that ALL persons are created in God’s image and must be held in love. This resolution is an attempt to do just that.

A Report from Annual Conference 2019

Last week, Bill Howard, Nathan Baker, and I found ourselves at the Brentwood United Methodist Church to attend the 2019 gathering of the Tennessee Annual Conference. Meeting on Wednesday through Friday, Annual Conference is always a busy time of recognition of what is doing among United Methodists in Middle Tennessee, as well as making plans for the future. It’s always an especially busy time for me as I have leadership responsibilities at the conference, and I know that by the end of the final session on Friday afternoon, I was plum tuckered out!

Bill Howard, our Lay Member to Annual Conference, and Nathan Baker, our alternate member (who filled in for Bill on Friday) would be happy to share their thoughts about what happened at the conference, but I wanted to give an overview of what I think were the major takeaways from this year’s gather.

Perhaps the most significant issue for us in the coming years is that next year will be the last meeting of the Tennessee Annual Conference as both the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences passed a resolution asking the Southeast Jurisdictional Conference to allow our two conferences to come together as one to form a brand new conference. As you might imagine, there was quite a bit of conversation about this proposal, but in the end, the measure was supported by almost 70% of those voting. While there are still details to be worked out, what we know is that we will meet one last time as a Tennessee Annual Conference next year. The Southeast Jurisdictional Conference will vote on the proposal in the summer of 2020, and the new conference will begin in January of 2021.

One reason this is significant for our church is that the movement toward the new conference includes a new approach to providing financial support for the annual conference and the general church. Currently, the Annual Conference approves a budget and then “apportions” the total cost of the budget to churches based on the church’s spending in the previous year. For churches like City Road Chapel that have relatively high facility expenses, this can be a struggle. Starting in 2021 churches will not be apportioned their cost of the budget, but rather will “tithe” 10 percent of the dollars actually given to the church. By my rough calculations, this will cut the amount we pay each year significantly.

Connected to that, but starting in 2020, is to remove to take the expenses for clergy health insurance and pensions from the apportionments and instead bill each church directly for the actual expense of providing insurance and pensions to their appointed pastor. Currently, based on our high level of building-related spending, City Road Chapel is apportioned to pay for the health insurance of 2.5 pastors even though we only have one eligible for health insurance. Starting in 2020 we will only be paying for the pastors we actually have, and this will likewise lead to significant savings to our church.

As a member of the Council on Finance and Administration for the conference, I want to share that we have been working on this plan for the past three years, recognizing the burdens that local churches are facing. We’ve worked hard to cut budgets at the Annual Conference level, and believe that this plan is fair to all. While there WILL be churches that see increases in their expenses due to this legislation, the majority of UM congregations will see savings, and we have committed ourselves to work to help those congregations who find this a burden.

One of the heights of the annual conference is the ordination and commissioning service in which persons are ordained as elders and deacons, or commissioned for probationary service in preparation for ordination. This year 28 men and women were ordained or commissioned to serve the church. This is something to be celebrated given the uncertainty in the United Methodist Church at this time. If you ever have a chance to attend one of these services I would encourage you to do so as they are very special times of worship.

In terms of other business, the conference elected our delegates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Electing these delegations took most of the day on Thursdays, but I was pleased to see a delegation that was inclusive and included both experienced and new voices. The 2020 General Conference will be in May in Minneapolis, MN and the 2020 Jurisdiction Conference will be in the summer at Lake Junaluska, NC.

As is normal, the conference received a number of reports regarding God’s work through the ministries of the Tennessee Annual Conference. The conference also debated and approved a resolution on inclusion which I will write about in another post.

All in all, it was a very significant annual conference signaling that many changes are ahead of us. I truly believe that these are changes for the good that will help strengthen our work in Madison. I want to thank Bill and Nathan for their faithfulness in representing you! May God bless the work that was done at this year’s Annual Conference!

Loving starts small…

I know that I talk about love a lot! It is, in my mind, the center of the life of discipleship, that is, the life of following Jesus. The Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor is the core of my belief, the lens through which I read scripture, and I sincerely hope the goal of my life.

This morning, as a part of my morning devotional reading, I opened an email by Richard Rohr, a Jesuit priest and author whom I follow. This week he’s writing about unity and diversity, and in the midst of a devotion on love drawing us together, he writes the following:

When we are truly “in love,” we move out of our small, individual selves to unite with another, whether in companionship, friendship, marriage, or any other trustful relationship. Have you ever deliberately befriended a person standing alone at a party? Perhaps someone who was in no way attractive to you or with whom you shared no common interests? That would be a small but real example of divine love flowing. Don’t dismiss it as insignificant. That is how the flow starts, even if the encounter doesn’t change anyone’s life on the spot. To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.

I highlight the phrase above about not dismissing these acts as insignificant because I fear that sometimes in the church we focus so much on the big sacrifices that we fail to acknowledge that the most simple gestures can be amazing and fulfilling gestures of love. What Rohr reminds us of is that love simply requires us to extend ourselves outward. Reaching out may or may not lead to great transformation, but that’s not our calling. We are simply called to love — quietly, simply, without pretense or expectation of the other. To only offer love with the expectation of something happening is not real love, but rather is a transactional relationship (I’ll give you mine if you give me yours). Agape (the love demonstrated by Jesus) always understands that love is given freely regardless of the willingness of the recipient to receive it.

How are you expressing God’s love today and throughout the whole of your life?

Madison Community Feast Update for 4/28/2019

The Community Feast of last Sunday was well attended by 47 hungry guests and prepared and served by 18 eager and loyal volunteers. The delicious meal was made up of a breaded pork chop, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, broccoli and a roll. Then came much desert and a drink. The food was enjoyed by all comers and most took a second meal home with them. Jay, Jim and Janet provided a wide range of musical entertainment during the meal to the delight of all present.

Thank you volunteers for setting up, cooking, serving, washing dishes, cleaning up and providing personal attention for each guest. You are special people. To God be the Glory!

Church Council Meeting on May 9, 2019

The Church Council of the City Road Chapel United Methodist Church will be holding their bi-monthly meeting. The focus for this meeting will be our programs in spiritual formation. These are the programs that help us to carry out our mission to grow in Christ.

The Church Council is the structure which provides leadership for all the ministries of our church. All are welcome to participate and learn about what is happening at City Road Chapel.

For more information on the Church Council please talk to Bobbie Garrett at bandbgarrett@gmail.com. 

Making Sense of the Bible Class Continues

One of the greatest struggles for many today is the place of the Bible in helping them live as disciples. We know that the Bible is the Word of God, but how we understand the words isn’t always clear. Where did the Bible come from anyway? How do we begin to understand it?  Pastor Jay Voorhees will be continuing the  study using Adam Hamilton’s book, “Making Sense of the Bible.” This study is good for folks new to the scriptures and old hands who need to see the Bible with new eyes. Get this on your calendar today! For more information visit www.cityroadchapel.org/makingsense.