Methodist Bishops Stress Commitment to Unity at Controversial Conference

Seven United Methodist bishops from across the United States discussed issues surrounding leadership, dialogue, homosexuality and other topics at a controversial conference hosted by a group that advocates change in the denomination’s ban on ordaining gay priest and blessing same-sex unions.

During the 8th National Reconciling Convocation event held Sept. 2-5 by the Reconciling Ministries Network, the bishops emphasized their intention to work for unity in the church, according to a report by the United Methodist News Service (UMNS).

"We are here (at this event) because we are truly committed to working together," said Bishop John Schol of the Washington (D.C.) Area, as reported by UMNS.

More than 550 people attended the controversial church caucus event at Lake Junaluska, N.C., a United Methodist facility operated by the church’s conservative Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Some Christian and United Methodist organizations had objected to Reconciling Ministries' use of the Lake Junaluska facility because of the group's position on homosexuality.

The Reconciling Ministries Network is currently the largest unofficial United Methodist advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. Its mission statement states that the unofficial United Methodist caucus “exists to enable full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities" in the life of the church.

According to UMNS, those attending the gathering were met at the lake's entrances by heavy security and protesters. However, Buddy Young, director of residential services for Lake Junaluska, reported that the controversy surrounding the conference did not create security problems.

During a panel discussion, the bishops were asked how they should deal with divisions in their own ranks.

"How do we stay together despite the divisions in our church?” asked Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck, who led the panel discussion.

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

In response, Melvin Talbert, retired bishop and executive director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, said, "There's room for both reconciling and transforming congregations.

“We have to consistently say that," Talbert said, according to UMNS.

While conservative Christians point out that the practices of homosexuality is a sin, and believe that gays can be transformed through the grace of Christ, “reconciling” congregations emphasize only their commitment to the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons in the church.

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.