A four-page Theological Declaration termed a “call to action” had everyone on their feet at the Western Jurisdiction Fresh United Methodism Summit in Torrance, California on Thursday, Nov. 14.
Developed by a work group formed after the 2019 General Conference, the declaration was presented as a litany interspersed by a hymn (“Christ for the World We Sing”) by the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, who chaired the work group, and Rev. Patricia Farris, who Kuan credited as its primary author. At Kuan’s request the 200 people in attendance at the summit’s opening session stood to, “As one body in Christ, affirm and pledge to proclaim:
“the power of God’s love and grace to create and uphold an open, affirming, and inclusive church in which all God’s beloved children are welcomed and embraced [and] the new church as a vibrant loving community in which differences of any kind – race, ethnicity, language, culture, sexual identity, gender, nationality – are affirmed as manifestations of God’s abundant and holy creation,” among other points.
Reciting the declaration, participants vowed “to encourage Boards of Ordained Ministry to examine the content of each candidate’s character and the gifts and grace they possess for ministry and not reject a candidate solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity [and] to refuse to submit to or process complaints of pastors who marry same-gender couples or of pastors for simply being LGBTQIA+.”
The theological work group was one of seven to share its progress with the gathering.
The safe harbor for clergy work group reported that fewer than 10 clergy from outside the jurisdiction – fewer than anticipated – have requested transfer to an annual conference in the West, with 30-40 in conversation about it. In presenting the report Rev. Jeffrey Rainwater noted that the safe harbor declaration is not a panacea, for while it guarantees safeguard of credentials, it does not guarantee gainful employment. He speculated that the harsher penalties for performing same-gender marriages that go into effect January 1, 2020 under the Traditional Plan could generate a dramatic increase in the number of applicants, however.
“This is a work that belongs to all of us: Take up the authority that resides within you,” Rev. Molly Vetter challenged, in reporting for the legislation work group, and added that the West has “a courageous leadership role to play.” She said that a toolkit will be available soon to support the effort.
Rev. Mary Huycke, reporting for the complaints process work group, explained the complaints process and talked about the process of resourcing and encouraging bishops. The Western Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee, she said, unanimously determined to do whatever it can to support the bishops when restrictions tighten churchwide in January.
Also reporting were the new movements, Central Conference relationships, and coalition building work groups.
Rev. Donna Pritchard, chair of the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team, acknowledged that summit-goers came with different expectations, hopes, and dreams, but called that diversity a good thing. The outcome of the summit, she assured participants, has not been “scripted.” Participants would be listening for the “ongoing wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
Noting that the jurisdiction lacks authority to decide on a response to the General Conference action – that responsibility lies with annual conferences – she said that nevertheless, “the work we do together will inform [the work of the conferences].”
“Your jurisdiction is calling you. Are you ready to journey with us? Let’s go!” said Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata, who chairs the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, as the first session of the three-day meeting opened.
He also prayed for those affected by the mass shooting earlier in the day at Saugus High School in nearby Santa Clarita, imploring attendees to add to the prayer their words, actions, and deeds to combat violence.
Host Bishop Grant J. Hagiya reported that two persons who were to have been at the summit were absent in order to be in ministry to the Santa Clarita community.
At the end of day one, Rev. Sami Pack-Toner from the Mountain Sky Conference said she was happy to have been in the room with a variety of people.
Participants were purposefully assigned to different tables in order to meet and work with new people.
“I think we’re asking some of the tough questions we haven’t been asking for 30 years,” Pack-Toner said. “We’re never going to get anywhere unless we’re in dialogue.”
Ryland Christian Fernandez, a 21-year-old Filipino American from the California-Nevada Conference, said the theological statement is a good first step.
“It’s good to have something that’s finally tangible,” he said.
Michael Hsu, a 20-year-old college student in Monterrey, Calif., has been part of the church his whole life and has been a youth leader in the California-Nevada Conference before, too. He considers his theology to be a little different than mainstream United Methodism, but he believes the theological statement is a good foundation to work from.
“I don’t think we’re fighting just for the soul of Methodism, but of Christianity,” Hsu said.