By Bob Constant
The churches that make up the United Methodist Church in Florida are organized into what we call the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Florida Conference is one of a number of conferences throughout the world that make up the worldwide United Methodist Church. The Florida Conference has an annual meeting in June of each year. To that meeting, each church sends the clergy appointed to the church (in our case, David, Jayne, Gary, and Craig). We also send an equal number of lay people as representatives of our church to this conference. This year, my wife Nancy and I, along with Ivor and Mary Scott Singer, were privileged to represent First United Methodist Church of Winter Park to this important meeting, which was held in Lakeland (on the campus of Florida Southern College) from June 7-9. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Remembering Who We Are.”
As part of this theme, we spent a considerable time considering the theology of John Wesley, an Anglican minister who lived in the eighteenth century and is considered the founder of the Methodist movement. Two of the presentations stood out most prominently in my mind. We heard Dr. Paul Chilcote, a professor of Christian theology at the Dunnam campus of Asbury Seminary in Orlando, who delivered a talk on the “Spiritual DNA of Methodism,” in which he outlined three critical Wesleyan contributions to our understanding of grace, salvation, and Christian community. We also were privileged to hear a sermon by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, the presiding bishop of the North Georgia Conference. Her sermon was entitled, “God’s Extreme Makover: What is the Method?” in which she considered Paul’s statement: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in powerful Wesleyan terms. These presentations are available to view at the livestream website.
These presentations (and others) were very timely discussions that touched on the function and work of the church, particularly in times when there is controversy that rises from within the church. We are currently experiencing such a time. Over the next year, the global United Methodist Church and conferences and local churches will be asked to grapple with the question about marriage and ordination of our brothers and sisters within the church who belong to the LGBTQ community. To help our congregations pursue thoughtful and loving discussions about these difficult issues, the United Methodist Church has developed a curriculum called Point of View (POV): Join the Conversation. This curriculum helps to support participating congregations by having facilitated discussions with emphases on empathy, understanding, and generative dialogue. The curriculum is not designed to support any one position regarding these issues, and there is no intent with the program to change the opinion of the participants. The main intent of the POV program is to foster positive and respectful communication amongst the participants. We were given a brief presentation about the work that has been done in producing these POV sessions at our recent annual conference. From that presentation, we understand that we will not be informed about any decisions that will be required on the part of our congregation until after a special general conference (that is, a conference of global delegates called especially for this purpose) which will be held in February, 2019. Still, after hearing the presentations about the POV sessions, I am very hopeful that our congregation would benefit from these types of discussions about the marriage/ordination of LGBTQ individuals in the POV format. I would strongly encourage our members, no matter what their opinion about these issues, to participate in one of multiple POV conversations, which are tentatively scheduled to be held between August and November of this year. More information about the POV curriculum can be obtained at the Florida Conference website.