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Bishops stress commitment to unity, moving church forward

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A UMNS photo by Dawn Hand

More than 550 people attended the "Hearts On Fire" convocation Sept. 2-5.
Sept. 9, 2005

By Kevin Rippin*

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) — Seven United Methodist bishops from across the United States discussed issues surrounding leadership, dialogue, homosexuality and other topics during a forum at a controversial church caucus event.

The bishops emphasized their intention to work for unity in the church. During a panel discussion, they were asked how they should deal with divisions in their own ranks.

“In this (most recent) class of bishops, we will be bishops of the whole church,” said Bishop John Schol of the Washington (D.C.) Area. “We are here (at this event) because we are truly committed to working together….”

“(It’s important) to be part of a group to move the church forward and commit … to model how we live in community,” said Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck, who led the panel discussion.

More than 550 people attended “Hearts On Fire,” the 8th National Reconciling Convocation event, held Sept. 2-5 by the Reconciling Ministries Network. The unofficial United Methodist caucus is, according to its own mission statement, “a national grass-roots organization that exists to enable full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the life of the church.

Some Christian and United Methodist organizations had objected to Reconciling Ministries’ use of the Lake Junaluska facility, “a United Methodist retreat and conference center” because of the group’s position on homosexuality. Those attending the gathering were met at the lake’s entrances by heavy security and protesters, including the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Bilha Alegria

A collection of stoles, given by clergy in protest of the United Methodist Church’s exclusion of "self-avowed practicing" gays from the ministry, lines the hallway at the “Hearts On Fire” convocation.
Bishops participating in a Sept. 3 plenary were Minerva Carcaño, leader of the church’s Phoenix Area; Sally Dyck, Minnesota Area; Scott Jones, Kansas Area; Susan Morrison, Albany (N.Y.) Area; John Schol, Washington Area; Melvin Talbert, retired bishop and executive director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal; and Richard Wilke, retired.

Wilke kicked off the first segment of the plenary by exploring the Jerusalem Conference, described in Acts 15, as a model for Christian discernment and dialogue. He stated that, according to Scripture, controversy has always been a part of the church.

He held mock dialogues with Peter, Paul and Luke as if they were contemporaries, and asked how they might deal with today’s controversies in the church, including the homosexuality issue. With each voice rendered, Wilke uncovered the points of view of the early church personalities that mirrored the voices in the church today. He pointed out the infighting among Paul, James, Barnabas, Peter and Luke concerned law vs. its application, hypocrisy, Christian action and direction of the church.

A second segment of the plenary featured bishops on stage for questions and answers. Dyck, moderator, asked if the bishops had words of hope concerning the controversy.

“Don’t let anyone take your church away,” Talbert said. “It’s your church, too.”

Jones, Morrison and Carcaño said the controversy was a generational issue that time would solve.

“How do we stay together despite the divisions in our church?” Dyck asked.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dawn Hand

United Methodist bishops from across the United States participate in a panel discussion.
Schol responded by saying, “One of our biggest fears is conflict. … Affirm that there’s going to be conflict … and we can work through it.”

Dyck followed up on that question by asking, “How do we pastor and relate to those we serve?”

Talbert responded: “There’s room for both reconciling and transforming congregations. We have to consistently say that.” Transforming Congregations is another church caucus that believes the practice of homosexuality is a sin and that gays can be “transformed” through the grace of Christ.

Dyck next asked about the prophetic role of the bishops in all matters that occur in the church.

“The prophetic role in this day and age is to remind us who we are. … It’s all about Christ,” Jones said.

Morrison took another angle: “I’m a child of the ‘60s in a 1940s job. I thought (it might be possible) to dialogue in a leadership role.”

A listening post followed the panel discussion.

The controversy surrounding the conference did not create security problems, according to Buddy Young, director of residential services for Lake Junaluska. Security was enforced for the Labor Day weekend. “We had cooperation from the Sheriff's Department and state police and extra security officers from our force. We did our best to maintain the traffic coming in and out of the Lake and throughout the weekend, and we had absolutely no problems.”

*Rippin is editor of the United Methodist Church’s North Carolina Christian Advocate newspaper. Cintia Furtado, communications specialist with the church’s Southeastern Jurisdiction, contributed information from Lake Junaluska staff.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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