When General Conference met in Portland about three years ago we worked under the theme, “Therefore Go,” a shortened version, presumably, of The Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” from Matthew 28:19, NIV.
That General Conference, of course, voted to table all matters relating to human sexuality to a specially called General Conference that was eventually schedule to begin this weekend. So in a few days in St. Louis we were to consider all of the places in the Discipline that refer to this issue, especially homosexuality and make a holistic, cogent position.
You know by now of the three plans and their various nuances and amendments. I expect that we will discuss all three. I don’t know of many handicappers who are putting odds on any of the three plans passing.
What I believe will be front and center goes back to that 2016 theme, “Therefore Go.”
Perhaps the biggest decision we make in St. Louis is who is allowed to Go and under what terms.
If a church wishes to leave the denomination at what cost will it be possible? Will it need to purchase its land, buildings, hymnals and light fixtures from the Annual Conference? What pension liability is out there for pastors who have served that church in the past and will expect to be able to retire some day. Consider an elder being ordained this summer could be 28 years old, work another 40 years or more before retiring, then live until perhaps age 90. That pastor’s pension liability won’t end for 62 more years, in 2081.
Dale Jones, managing director of church relations at Wespath Benefits and Investments has, along with his top-notch staff, had done yeoman’s work to calculate some of these liabilities. Both the amount of work completed and the financial implications are staggering.
The decisions made in St. Louis around what seems to be minutiae could have a significant impact until nearly the 22nd Century.
Conversation in the last year or so makes it clear that not everyone in The United Methodist Church will Therefore Stay. It will be up to us to decide how a church Therefore Goes, and what it means for all of us.