Featured image: Rev. Taesung Kang, the NH District Superintendent, reads the story of the Magi from Luke 2 as the packed UMC gathering opens in worship and prayer.
On Saturday, January 6, United Methodists packed the church at Bow Mills UMC for a discussion led by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England Conference. Bishop Devadhar invited two colleague-bishops to moderate discussion on the Commission on a Way Forward. This denomination-wide Commission has offered three “sketches” of ways in which the United Methodist Church can find unity in the midst of diversity of teaching on human sexuality and its Book of Discipline.
Their sketches try to bring balance to concepts of accountability, contextuality, justice and unity.
Many other member denominations of the NH Council of Churches, like the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, have had similar discussions over recent decades.
The opinions expressed were genuine and heartfelt, and covered the range of opinions found across the denomination. From my perspective as the Executive Director of the NH Council of Churches, I was encouraged to hear many people of divergent opinions talk with one voice about the need to engage the Bible, evangelism and spiritual disciplines more deeply at this time in the church’s life.
From an ecumenical perspective, I encouraged some pastors to remember that they are not alone in this debate. Many of their Christians brothers and sisters (like Episcopalians and Lutherans) have had related discussions and debates. Hopefully we can offer each other hard-earned wisdom about how best to proceed.
Additionally, several participants wondered what happens to those in their congregations who hold a minority opinion? There was great concern over church division and those who find themselves on the “losing” side of a congregational vote. Many churches are from small towns where there might not be another nearby congregation for people to connect with. Again, I hope that the Council of Churches can offer connection, respect and hospitality across denominational lines to help folk find congregations where their “soul prospers” in God.