A letter from Bishop Sandra to the people of the West Virginia Conference

By Sandra Steiner Ball

Dear Friends of the West Virginia Conference,

Yesterday, Friday, January 3, news and social media were filled with stories about the splitting of The United Methodist Church. Has the church split? No.

On Friday, an independent mediation team – comprised of eight bishops and eight representatives from advocacy groups – announced a proposal for the separation of The United Methodist Church that it intends to introduce to the 2020 General Conference. I received and read this proposal with the rest of the world yesterday morning.

While there were some bishops involved in this mediation process, this proposal does not come from the Council of Bishops but is the property of the independent mediation team. The proposal entitled, “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” is one of several proposals that have been prepared for consideration by the General Conference. 

It is important to remember that the General Conference is the only body that can speak for the denomination and make changes to The Book of Discipline. At this point, no decisions have been made and none will be made until the General Conference meets May 5-15 in Minneapolis. The Protocol itself says it was developed in service to the General Conference delegates who will decide on its adoption or amendment.

Other plans and legislation have already been submitted and will be considered. Significant questions remain to be answered about what is contained in this and other plans. The Judicial Council will need to rule on constitutionality. The feasibility of its financial provisions must also be evaluated.

On a personal note, I must admit my spirit and heart are grieved by the current conversations around splitting or separating. There is no doubt that we shine Christ’s light brighter, stronger, and more powerfully when we work together. It grieves my heart to think that we would give up on finding a way to move together – and yet I realize that we have forgotten or maybe never learned how to speak and work with one another in the midst of disagreement without attacking or putting down the neighbor who is different from ourselves – and that has resulted in great harm and damage to many of God’s children.

I grieve the harm that has been experienced. And so, I grieve, but I do so not without hope. God is greater than all this. Christ’s light will continue to shine. God’s spirit will continue to move in transforming ways and I pray that The United Methodist Church will allow itself to be transformed.

So what now? Please join me in praying for our West Virginia Delegates and all delegates to the General Conference. These delegates have been elected to make decisions about the future mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church.

Pray for the movement of God’s Spirit among them that they may hear God’s voice and discern God’s preferred future for The United Methodist Church. Additionally, let’s keep focused on walking with Jesus – praying and seeking for God’s Will in each of our lives – individually and as a church; and let us not forget the mission to which Christ has called us – it is a life-saving mission of making disciples, shining Christ’s light, being messengers of Grace, and bringing God’s hope, healing and life to a very conflicted world. 

Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball

Read the complete text of the Protocol here.