In a manner emblematic of the Western Jurisdiction, the 2019 leadership team meeting March 14 was dedicated to conversation and dialog about General Conference. Members and guests listened and joined together in the conversation. Worship centered around passages from Job and Matthew with themes of lament, hope, and responding. Considering Matthew 9:16-17 attendees reflected on the possibility of being able to move the church forward with its existing structure. Can new wine be put in old wineskins?

Rev. Donna Pritchard, chair of WJ Leadership team

Those gathered shared hopes for building “new wineskins” that could support both existing commitments to global mission, strong ethnic ministries, and truly inclusive church. Participants also received a sobering whitepaper presented by the Rev. Jeremy Smith detailing some of the opportunities and challenges that need to be considered as leaders consider their next steps in responding to the current state of the Church.

There was talk about the need to wait for Judicial Council rulings in April regarding the constitutionality of the actions passed by the General Conference, and affirmation that the jurisdiction already strives to work in a manner similar to the One Church Plan.

Knowing that the people across the denomination are looking to hear from western voices, the leadership team adopted a statement at its meeting to share with the church. The statement, proposed by PNW Conference layperson Marie Kuch-Stanovsky, calls for United Methodists to, “… resist injustice and insist that the Church repent of the exclusionary principles of the Traditional Plan,” and affirms an intention to look for new ways of being church saying, “Grounded in our Wesleyan heritage, we will foster a new movement to gather the energy of inclusive United Methodists throughout our global connection.”

The leadership team heard about the more than 800 emails received since General Conference with words of concern, hope, thanks, and fear. Meeting attendees also shared their interactions from around the globe in reaction to the outcomes of the General Conference. Many were words of support for inclusion and diversity within the church and a willingness to stand with the values lived out in the Western Jurisdiction.

“Thursday’s leadership team meeting was Christian conferencing at its best as everyone present (and connecting via Zoom teleconference) was invited into the conversation,” said Donna Pritchard, chair of the leadership team. “I look forward to continuing this work in the most open and collaborative way possible as we live out our vision to truly be ‘A home for all God’s children.’”

Pritchard led the group through an exploration of ways to move forward and shared several possible work areas. They were: 

Rev. Wendy Woodworth and others sign up for work areas at WJ meeting.
  • Strengthening our Theological Statement,
  • Coalition Building,
  • Creating Safe Harbor for At-Risk Clergy,
  • Disrupting the Systems of Exclusion,
  • Work for Denominational Structural Change,
  • Examine Relationships and Ministries with Central Conference Leaders,
  • Develop Strategy Regarding Complaint Processes,
  • Funding Inclusive Ministry in the Western Jurisdiction,
  • Branding, Messaging and Communications for An Inclusive Church,
  • Create a Proposal for a New Movement,
  • Future Scenario Projections, and
  • Transform the Council of Bishops for Inclusion. 

Anyone interested in connecting to these work teams can contact Pritchard at .

While the review of and response to General Conference took the majority of the meeting, the committee heard updates on missional priorities of the jurisdiction, including Volunteers in Mission and Early Response Teams, jurisdictional finances, and interethnic coordination. The date and location for the 2020 Jurisdictional Conference is set for July 15-18 in Billings, Montana.

The leadership team meeting was only one gathering in a week of jurisdictional connection. The College of Bishops, episcopacy committee, and mission cabinet (bishops, directors of connectional ministry and leadership team chair) met before and after the leadership team. 

Bishop Robert Hoshibata shares in a table discussion group at the WJ leadership team meeting.
(Patrick Scriven photos)

“My expectation was that we would come together with determination to live into our Jurisdictional vision of the church as “a home for all God’s people, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation,” said Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata, president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops. “I was not disappointed as our leaders expressed their deep love for the church and its message of grace that we know through Jesus Christ. Disappointment with the church we love were balanced by excitement that something new will emerge from our faithful collaboration. We long for a church that will open doors to our LGBTQIA siblings.”

Following the leadership team gathering, the mission cabinet gathered to reflect and respond. They penned their own response to both the statement adopted by the leadership team and the actions of General Conference. They committed, “to partnering with others across our global connection in nurturing and developing structures to sustain the new life that is springing forth.”

They named the harm of the General Conference actions, affirmed the work of the boards of ordained ministry to seek gifted candidates for ministry, and acknowledged that Christians can hold differing understandings of the Bible and live in peace together. 

Considering General Conference action, they also committed to offering safe harbor for clergy at risk because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or ministry with and for LGBTQIA+ siblings. They also offered support for clergy who, after prayerful discernment, choose to conduct same-gender marriages and those congregations who choose to host same-gender weddings.

Reflecting on the week, Hoshibata said, “The hopeful outcomes of the meetings include a galvanization of our desire to work together with groups within and outside of the Western Jurisdiction to transform the church into that place where all of God’s children, in the diversity that God created, will be welcomed. “


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