A Word from DS Laura Merrill 03/10/22

Many of you know by now that the 2020 General Conference has been postponed again, this time to 2024. I am a member of the Commission on General Conference, the group that made this decision, and it’s a classic example of disappointing people on all parts of the spectrum. I too am disappointed.

I won’t go into the specifics of the commission’s conversation, though some who were not present in our meeting last week have purported to do so and have imagined or attributed motives that are unfair and untrue. One who was present has since stepped down from the group and has shared his perspective on the process we followed. He and I do not see what happened in the same way. In my opinion, not agreeing with the decision is not ground for claiming a lack of integrity.

What I will say is that our group took our work seriously, and we made a solid, fact-based decision. To those who think we should have met in a hybrid or online format, my response is that our legislative work, which happens both in plenary and in smaller committees, is complex enough when we’re sitting in the same room. I cannot even imagine sorting and amending and substituting the important plans and petitions before us, all while maintaining clarity through interpreters and navigating either an online or hybrid setting. And to those who believe we should have just met anyway, there was good reason to believe we would have significant chunks of delegations unable to secure visas before August, far more than a reasonable 10% that might be missing in a normal year. This is too big a decision to be made in a legislative setting by a body that’s missing so many of its members.

The problem is knowing what to do now. We are clear that a fundamental change, or set of changes, needs to happen in our denomination, change that will result in new forms of Methodist witness. The only body that can officially decide on those changes for all of us at once is General Conference, and the GC cannot meet. The Global Methodist Church has announced it will launch on May 1, and some are considering affiliating there. So how can we go on? What do we do while we wait for clarity from the “top” about the parameters of our new and separate paths?

I do not have the whole answer to that. But I do know a couple of things. One is that, while it is our polity, a General Conference in September might not have gotten us where we need to go. Even had we met this year, there was no guarantee that a clean, happy decision would have been the result. I firmly believe that God is in this moment with us, promising to show us the way forward, and if GC isn’t that way for now, there will be another. And that way will help us when the time does come to make a decision.

The other thing I know is that the true ministry of the church always lies right in front of us. People need to know that they are beloved and welcome, and we need to learn loving and welcoming. Schools are full of children whose families don’t have the basics they need to thrive. Hearts and lives all around us have been shattered by Covid and carry unmet need and unaddressed grief. Racial inequity and injustice continue to grind away at the wellbeing of people and communities of color. And there is nearly no place left in our society where people who think differently can sit in the same room, with love and respect for one another. We can be places where this brokenness finds healing. We can be disciples of Jesus Christ for these purposes, GC or no. And I can only believe that it’s in that work that God will make a way for us.

In the meantime, remember our common connection with United Methodists in Russia and Ukraine, both served by Bishop Eduard Khegay. Read here about the ministry of the UMC in Ukraine and surrounding countries, in response to the war unfolding in their midst. Contribute generously to UMCOR, which has already sent funds to the UMC there to aid people in need. And pray without ceasing.

We are not yet where we will be, but the journey will surely be as important as the destination. This conversation will continue. I am grateful to be in it with you.

Grace and peace,