People of the United Methodist churches in Indiana,
As I have been listening carefully to the early reactions, I have come to realize that not everyone who reads posts from the INUMC has also read the announcements from the General Conference. I have come to realize that not everyone is aware of the workings of the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church that spans far beyond the borders of the United States. Not everyone has understood that the very complex decision to postpone General Conference was not a decision by your Bishop or Conference leaders in Indiana but was made by a group designated from our denomination with representation from around the world. And this decision was made even more difficult when needing to consider that many delegates from beyond our U.S. borders have significant challenges to obtain access to vaccinations and travel documents and visas caused by the conditions of the pandemic. The decision to postpone General Conference was not made lightly, nor did it exclude voices from across the theological spectrum. And not all would be aware that your Bishop and Conference leaders are also disappointed to hear about yet another postponement of the General Conference, now set for 2024.
So, what now? Some voices will tell you that the UMC is stuck. The news of a General Conference postponement brings a wide range of reactions from disappointment and despair, to anger and fear. And there will be many voices and agendas clambering to be heard in these days that follow this announcement. But I pray that the story of continued strife and division will not prevail in our United Methodist churches in Indiana. First, because the message and promise of Jesus Christ is needed more today than at any time in our lifetimes. People still need hope. People in our communities still need care. Christ still needs our participation to make a difference in the world. We have a purpose that stands strong with or without a meeting of the General Conference. People need Jesus! Being the Church that offers fresh bread of love, fresh bread of hope, fresh bread of life in Jesus remains our call. People desperately need Jesus!
Even so, it’s no secret that there are profound differences in the church about how God is calling us to be in ministry in the world. And while I remain unapologetically United Methodist and committed to the UMC, I am also working to explore and clarify the possibilities that the Book of Discipline makes available in the event that churches request the opportunity to leave the denomination. Some will speak of roadblocks, but it’s important for pastors and congregations to know that your Bishop is preparing to continue to work graciously in the days ahead to open paths that may be available for those who find the thought of waiting until 2024 to be too much to bear. I will lead with respect and compassion for all.
This is my promise. You will hear from your Bishop and Conference leadership on a regular basis. I will continue to cast a vision for unity amidst our diversity and proclaim there is a place for you in the missional movement of the Indiana Conference. I will place no Episcopal impediments upon those who prayerfully discern they must leave the Church. And I believe, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 – NRSV) People of good faith are found in all aspects of our denominational struggles, and our God will use it all in God’s perfect timing.
My prayer for you is that this Lenten season you will draw closer to Jesus and in love with the one who first loved us. And I invite United Methodists from every corner of the state of Indiana to remember that the first call and mission of the Church is to turn to God in prayer. As we begin this first week of worship in the Lenten season and pray for our Church and its mission for Christ, let us keep the people of Ukraine in our prayers.
Let us pray,
For your people who have begun the journey of Lent, allow us to draw closer to you in prayer, in repentance, in reflection, in vulnerability. Lord, have mercy as we pray for peace and safety for all in harm’s way in Ukraine. In times like these, we are reminded you are our rock and refuge, our deliverer. May we never forget that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and your love and mercy have no geographical, national boundaries or borders.
Come, Lord Jesus. Deliver us from our fears and our trauma. As we look to the hills from whence cometh our help, we are grateful for the help that comes from you. Announcements of postponement of a General Conference will not postpone the prayers of intercession on behalf of those who suffer in Ukraine or in the struggles of addiction on our streets and in our neighborhoods. We call on your strength and wisdom when ours is running short. When we turn our worries over to you, God, you are faithful. Take our doubts, take our concerns, take our disappointment and frustration. You are the only One who can turn our mourning into dancing. And you are the One who can make a way where there seems to be no way.
In the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church