After Annual Conference

After annual conference
Reflections from the bishop

Worship, conversations, prayers, reflections, discussions, laughs, ordinations, visions, encounters, elections, hopes, commissioning and much much more is annual conference. Leaders deacons, delegates, pastors come together for intensive fellowship and work in Christian conferencing believing or hoping that the Holy Spirit will make his presence known among us, lead and send us where Christ wants us move.

Of course, church is much more than annual conference, and yet at annual conference is one of the places we see the church at work seeking God’s way for us into His future. I have always enjoyed it, and usually looked forward to go to annual conference. This year was no exception, though I knew it might be difficult, as we would be discussing the church’s current impasse over our understanding of human sexuality and of how we can be church with all people including those, who identify themselves as LGBTQ.

The following is a status on where the conferences currently stand in their conversations regarding human sexuality and the church after the decisions made at the called session of General Conference.

Estonia, Lithuania, Finland Swedish, Finland Finnish:
The annual conferences expressed general acceptance of the decisions made by the called session of the general conference. The concerns raised evolved around possible implications for the global church and for the episcopal area.

The annual conference expressed strong concern and dissatisfaction with the decisions made by the called session.

The conference decided to form a commission to look at how, the annual conference can become fully inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons, ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals and offer weddings for same-sex couples. The commission must uncover what possibilities the churches in Denmark has to achieve this inside or outside of the United Methodist Church, and as far as possible asses the consequences of each option. The commission will be composed of three clergy and three lay, and it will report to the 2021 annual conference.

A survey conducted among the delegates indicated that 85% are in favor of same-sex marriages, 88% would accept ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and 79% would accept multiple practices in the annual conference.

Several motions were before the conference. Through a very respectful consensus process, all voices and concerns were heard, appreciated and respected. In the end, there was full consensus that the will of the conference was to accept a proposal crafted as a compromise between several different proposals. The full text of the proposal reads:

After the called session of General Conference, the United Methodist Church in Norway experiences unrest and deep disagreement, and the conference is at risk of a split.

We acknowledge that many in Norway hold a position different from the decisions made at General Conference, and that we therefore are moving towards a church, which includes both positions. At the same time, a clear minority wishes to maintain the church’s traditional view. Before we make any formal decisions, we should look at all possible ways to remain together in respect and disagreement.

The committee must update itself on similar processes in the United Methodist Church within our own episcopal area, Europe and the United States.
It is a strong desire to keep the church together and to find ways or models to remain one church. We therefore propose the following:

A committee of eight persons should be formed, three ordained clergy and four laypeople, and in addition the district superintendent of the Eastern district. The committee will present a recommendation to the 2020 Annual Conference.
The committee must reflect different understandings. The cabinet in consultation with the leadership of the annual conference council will appoint the committee, and the district superintendent of the Eastern District will chair it.
The conversations will be confidential, however with open channels of communication to the church.

The committee must respond to the following questions:

What will it take for the United Methodist Church in Norway to live into a fully inclusive view of human sexuality?
What are the consequences of the choices the annual conference would be invited to make, in terms of the order and discipline, finances, administration and international connection?

During this year’s annual conferences, I was not surprised to experience great worship. People whole-heartedly engaged in conversation about mission, how we can be church in the 21st Century, and offer better conditions for our employees, find ways to strengthen our work with children and youth, reach out to migrants and other marginalized groups in society, start new faith communities and explore fresh expressions of church.

Across the episcopal area, many people are anxious about the situation in the worldwide United Methodist Church; anxious about their own annual conference as well as about the episcopal area and the central conference – and they have good reason to worry. We are divided, and we hold diverse position that will be hard to reconcile.
However, it is also true that this is God’s church, and when we pray, and when good Christian people come together, amazing things have been known to happen. We do not know what the future will entail, and we do not know if we will be able to remain one church. But this year’s conferences showed me that we are to speak truth in love with each other, that Nordic and Baltic United Methodists are able to disagree without compromising our faith and our calling, and we are able to seek God’s future together.

After this year’s conferences, with the Latvia conference still to come in August, I continue to have great hopes and expectations for the future of United Methodism in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Much prayer and work is ahead of us, and we have every reason to move forward with the confidence of God’s children.

Christian Alsted, July 2019