A baby was born who turned the world on its head. Lives are changed by Jesus, who opens our eyes to God’s transforming love and justice. We celebrate his birth extravagantly, because we understand that his life, death and resurrection are awesome in their creative power—maybe even awe-ful in their disruptive power. They show us that life is not in vain, that the most violent powers of sin and death cannot snuff out the hope that burns in our hearts, even at times like a small, flickering flame.
The story of Jesus turns us inside out as we sing, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I pray that your very personal hopes and fears are met by Jesus in the New Year.
This week, United Methodists will carry our very public hopes and fears from 2018 into 2019 as the year turns. A special session of General Conference in February will seek a way forward out of decades of strife over whether and how the Church will welcome and include, or reject and exclude, people based upon their sexual identities and orientations.
What are the hopes that delegates will bring to the Conference?
Full Inclusion. The Simple Plan would remove of restrictive language in the Book of Discipline to enact full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the Church. Sexual identity and orientation would not be a standard for ordination. Same sex weddings would be allowed. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation]
Obedience to scripture and discipline. The Traditional Plan reaffirms the traditional teaching that marriage between one man and one woman is the norm. “Self-avowed practicing homosexuals” would be prohibited from ordination and same-sex weddings would be prohibited, with stricter enforcement of each. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation]
A new definition of Connection. The Connectional Conference Plan is the most complicated of the three proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward providing for three overlapping conferences which share some services but have more theological autonomy. Of the major plans, if provides the most space for theological differences but probably has the least support due to the number, and difficulty, of the changes proposed. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation]
Room for contextual adaptation. The One Church Plan offers less legislated uniformity and allows clergy, local churches and annual conferences to set standards and practices appropriate to their ministry context and exercise of conscience. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation] I have publicly joined other bishops and leaders of the Western Jurisdiction in support of the One Church Plan. [Press Release]
Depending on the outcome of the Special General Conference, our United Methodist Church could enter into a season of wrenching schism, with some churches leaving whatever the new form is that emerges, or we could experience a tectonic shift as differing standards are set in conferences and churches across the denomination.
There’s a lot at stake. Feelings run high. Opinions about what scripture says, and how determinative it should be, run deep. At times there is more heat than light in the conversations.
This week we will celebrate Epiphany, which means the manifestation of God to gentiles—people outside the Jewish community of faith. Matthew tells the story of Magi whose astrological faith traditions led them to follow a star to Jesus. It teaches us that people don’t have to think or believe alike to recognize God’s transforming presence in the world. It shines as a bright star in the night sky. It shines on the just and the unjust. It is universally accessible to all.
So, if God’s revelation is visible and accessible to people of many faith perspectives. And United Methodist Christians are led on their journeys with Jesus to very different understandings of human sexuality and standards for participation in the Church, then how are any of us to find our way through the complex and contradictory proposals under consideration?
Here’s what I’m going to do, and what I invite you to do with me.
As a way of searching our own hearts and inviting God to speak to us for what lies ahead. On or around New Year’s Eve, take a quiet time apart to experience John Wesley’s Watch Night Covenant Service. First, prayerfully read through the service (Click here to review and download) and write your reflections and personal commitments and prayers. Then, alone or with others, pray through the service. This is a time-honored new year’s practice of Methodists—a time of reflection, humility, re-dedication. Brian McLaren, author of We Make the Road by Walking, describes it as one of the treasures of the Church.
If you aren’t already participating in the year-long study of We Make the Road by Walking, January 1 is a great time to jump in. Go to greaternw.org/crossover/ to learn how. Especially subscribe to the “CrossOver to Life” blog by following the link on that page.
From now through February, pray for the Special General Conference. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be present to bless and guide our Church for a future of faithfulness and fruitfulness.
Follow the events of the General Conference at http://greaternw.org/gc2019/. As the time grows closer, up to date coverage will be posted here.
What we know for certain is that on February 27, we will have neighbors to love and to welcome, and we must be prepared to carry our ministries forward no matter what.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us to-day. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
Elaine JW Stanovsky serves as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
…the heavens and the earth shake.
But the LORD is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people.
Joel 3: 16
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Alaska just north of Anchorage Friday morning. We know what a terrifying and destructive force is unleashed when the earth groans and stretches.
I’ve been in touch with Alaska Conference Superintendent Rev. Carlo Rapanut who shares these details:
Initial reports say there is no major damage to any of our churches or parsonages, but power is still down in many locations and there is lot of damage to roads and bridges. We thank God that tsunami warnings in Seward and Homer have been lifted.
Please hold us all in your prayers. We will keep you posted as updates and needs arise.
When disaster strikes, United Methodists respond. While it is too early to know the work that will be needed, be assured that we will be there. Our United Methodist churches in Girdwood, Homer and Wasilla have opened their sanctuaries for who might need to evacuate. St. John is standing by as needed. So, let us be inspired by their good example! Until then, I join Superintendent Carlo in asking you to:
PRAY for the people affected by this earthquake, and for those responding to its impact
And GIVE this Sunday or another Sunday in December through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to the U.S. Disaster Response fund (#901670). 100% of your gift will be used for relief and recovery work with no administrative overhead. You can give online at www.umcor.org/donate.
Our conference emergency response team coordinators (listed below) have already been in contact with each other as early assessments come in. We’ll continue to benefit from their dedication and expertise as plans form to offer the love of Christ to those in need in the coming days and months. As needs surface, and plans develop, we’ll share them with you.
Let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
– 1 John 3:18b (The Message)
To: Rev. Tom Lambrecht, member of the Commission on a Way Forward
From: Elaine Stanovsky, bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church
My heart is not at war. I am not using clergy and staff appointments to undermine the unity of the Church or the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. My heart was at peace when I appointed Rev. Kathleen Weber to my cabinet. It was at peace when I approved hiring Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell by the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. These are two deeply faithful, highly qualified, effective leaders, well suited for the ministry contexts they are called to serve. They were not chosen for their sexual orientation. I did not disqualify them because they are honest about their relationships.
I’ll admit that I felt defensive when I read your article, “Northwest United Methodist Defiance.”[i] “Poke in the eye,” “overt defiance,” “callous disregard,” “double-barreled assault,” “escalation,” “in your face repudiation.” Why do you think you know my heart? We never had a conversation.
So, I returned to the The Anatomy of Peace,[ii] recommended by the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops as a way to disarming ourselves for the difficult conversations the Church needs to have. I re-read the section called, “From War to Peace,” and practiced the steps for “getting out of the box” of self-justification and blaming:
Look for the signs of self-justification and blaming. This was easy for me. You took two of my actions out of context, weaponized them with aggressive rhetoric, and lobbed them into the last meeting of the Commission. You misrepresented my motives. You never asked me what I believe, why I believe what I believe or why I lead the way I lead. And you didn’t even have the courtesy to send me your article. I first saw it when a friend forwarded it to me as an email distributed on March 16, 2018, three days before it was available publicly as a blog on the Good News Magazine You aren’t practicing the practices that the Commission recommends.
Find an out–of-the box place. There was a time when a colleague lashed out at me in a meeting, accusing me of racism. I broke into tears and retreated from the meeting and the accusation. A friend sought me out, listened to my pain and invited me to be the whole and well person he knew that I could be. My heart returned to peace and I was able to approach the person I had offended, and begin a long slow journey to healing.
Ponder the situation anew. What are this person’s challenges, trials, burdens and pains? How am I adding to them? Wow! I only know you as a guy who attacks from a safe distance rather than picking up the phone. Can I cultivate curiosity about what pain you bear? How are your opinions and actions shaped by your love of Jesus?
Act upon what I have discovered; do what I think I should do. I think I should not strike back. I should respond with curiosity. Yet, I think I should not remain silent. I invite you to play fair. I invite you to disarm. Despite deep misgivings, I will give you the benefit of my doubt – that you might want our United Methodist Church to be strong into the future and faithful to God’s leading as much as I do. I hope and pray this is true. If it is true, and we are willing, God can teach each of us to love the other as we love ourselves. I invite you to talk with me before you write about me. I invite you to send me a copy of anything you write about me before you send it to your email distribution list or post it on the internet. I will commit to abiding by the same standard in the future.
You are meeting with the Commission on a Way Forward as I write. I pray for you, Tom, and for the work of the Commission. I pray for the future of our church, that we will find a way to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ, even as we continue to seek to understand the fullness of God’s intention for humankind. I hope that, as a member of the Commission, you are leading us in the way the Commission said it would at the beginning. Do you remember?
The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. – Commission on a Way Forward: About Us
We need a Church that aspires to this vision: one church, a variety of expressions; one body, many parts. In the Northwest we’re cultivating this spirit, in support of the Commission’s work, as we send 50 trained leaders across the area to facilitate Table Talks about the Way Forward between now and June, and dedicate 4 ½ hours during our Annual Conference sessions to The Anatomy of Peace and small group conversations. God is at work when two or three gather. I’m expecting miracles.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Today is marked by HEARTS and ASHES. Valentine’s Day celebrates the union of two people by love. Ash Wednesday leads us into the 40-day journey with Jesus through death to resurrection with a reminder that we are one with the stuff of the earth – dirt, ash.
Charles Wesley wrote that:
Love, like death, hath all destroyed, Rendered all distinctions void; Names and sects and parties fall; Thou, O Christ, art all in all.[I]
Both love and death erase boundaries that separate us from one another. Receiving ashes smudged on a forehead, or a hand, is a humbling of self and a reminder that we live because God breathes life into dust. We are at once nothing, and one-with-everything.
This is the mystic mystery of living as creatures in relationship with the Creator. We are undeniably distinct individuals at the same time that we participate in a deep and inescapable unity with all of creation.
So, I celebrate both.
First, I receive ashes, which keep me from thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think (Romans 12:3) and to find my common humanity with all I meet. Second, I receive roses and a poem from my life partner, Clint, who draws me out of myself in so many ways and enters my solitude when I have retreated.
May you know your precious, existential uniqueness this day. And may you humbly receive the gift of shared life with others. Both are God’s gracious gifts.
The United Methodist Church continues its search for unity despite differences that threaten to divide us. Please read the following letter from Bishop Bruce Ough (CLICK HERE), President of the Council of Bishops of our Church, and pray for our church as we continue to seek unity that is deeper than our differences. Hear these hopeful words of John Wesley:
Many are we now, and one, we who Jesus have put on; there is neither bond nor free, male nor female, Lord, in thee.
May we all “put on” Jesus again, and anew, this holy season.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater Northwest Area
[i] “Christ, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” by Charles Wesley, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, #550.
Dear United Methodist friends in the Pacific Northwest,
Top of 2018 to you! I pray that God will lead us on a good path this year, that
and showers joy
into the world through our lives, our ministries and our churches.
Last June, the Annual Conference voted to reduce by one the number of districts in the Pacific Northwest. We are in the process of living into this re-assignment of churches to districts. I want to let you know how the process is unfolding, and what to expect in the months ahead.
Officially, but invisibly, churches were ALREADY assigned to the new MISSIONAL districts as of January 1, 2018 to avoid confusing mid-year budgetary and administrative changes. I say “invisibly,” because local churches won’t notice much, if any change – NOT YET!
We are emphasizing that districts are MISSIONAL because every church is called to reach beyond itself to engage its community in life-giving, world-transforming ways. Districts help established congregations to think beyond themselves and to innovate in ways that create new places for new people with the potential to transform lives, communities, and even the world.
The district superintendent you had in 2017 will continue to supervise your pastor and consult with your congregation until Annual Conference in June. If you have a pastoral change, the district superintendent you’ve had in the past will introduce your new pastor and work with you through the transition.
During the first half of 2018 district superintendents will work with elected leaders to create and implement an organization and identify officers for the new missional districts. By July 1, 2018 all organizational units and officers should be aligned to the new missional district boundaries. Also on July 1 pastors and churches will begin to identify with their new missional district assignment and to its district superintendent.
During Annual Conference we will have opportunity to mark the shift and meet as colleagues and friends within our new district affiliations.
In the fall someone asked me, what does “Crest” in Crest to Coast refer to?
The Pacific Crest Trail runs from the US border with Mexico in the south, north along the backbone of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges and across the US border into Canada. The “crest” is the crest of the mountains. On one side of the crest rivers run to the east. On the other side of the crest rivers run to the west. The Crest to Coast district runs from the Cascade Crest to the Pacific Coast.
My question is, who’s gonna organize the Crest to Coast relay to inaugurate the new district?
If you have questions or concerns during this transition, the district superintendents are prepared to respond.
Change comes with challenges. There will undoubtedly be some unexpected bumps and grinds. I pray that each of you will help us make this transition as smooth as possible. With your good will (and humor) and God’s grace, we’ll make it.
The purpose of the annual conference is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by equipping its local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church; all to the glory of God.[i]
Making disciples of Jesus Christ can be a tough mission in the midst of generational change, religious pluralism, and political polarization. The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference is trying to be good stewards of the resources we have and put all our energy into ministries that change lives and the world to reflect God’s vision of abundant life. Last June the Conference acted to reduce the number of districts from 6 to 5, even as we are learning new ways to strengthen ministry both through existing congregations and by starting new ministries.
The reduction in districts will occur on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. The new districts will become reality on January 1, 2018 but you won’t notice much change until July 1, 2018. At that time we will add the word “Missional” to the name of each district, as a reminder that churches exist not only to support their members, but also to engage their context. Every church, fellowship and ministry is on a mission frontier, where people hunger and thirst for spiritual community.
Your district superintendent, and district programming will continue as they are now through the end of June, 2018, to coincide with the pastoral appointment year. Current district superintendents will continue in place through June, 2018, and they will continue to relate to churches and clergy in their present districts through the 2017-2018 appointment season. Beginning July 1, 2018, there will be one fewer district superintendent and churches and clergy will align to the new districts.
The assignment of churches to districts creates a new urban SeaTac Missional District, with the intention of developing specific initiatives for missional engagement in these growing urban areas, with their extreme economic disparities. Across the conference your staff is committed to both helping existing churches to engage their communities in new and life-giving ways, and to cultivating bold, new ministries that create new places for new people to become disciples of Jesus.
During 2018 churches will be aligned in districts as follows:
Click here to view a dynamic Google map of the new missional districts. An embedded version of this can be found at the bottom of this page.
Between January and June district superintendents will work with current leadership of groups like UMW, district lay leaders, district boards of church location and building, and disaster coordinators to adapt to the new district alignment. District superintendents are prepared to help you find answers to your questions.
God is saying, “Behold, I am doing a new thing…. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19). We’re trying to do a new thing with God. I hope you will bring your patience and creativity to this time of transition.
Greater Northwest United Methodists and people of compassion everywhere,
LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOURHEART, SOUL, STRENGTH AND MIND,
AND YOURNEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
DO THIS AND YOU SHALL LIVE. ~ Luke 10: 27
Hurricane Harvey is devastating Texas and Louisiana, stretching all systems of relief and recovery beyond their limits. We’ve watched as tiny babies, venerable elders, and people of every condition of life have had their lives swept away by the floods. Local United Methodists surrounding the affected area are already providing shelter, food and comfort to people in distress. They need us to support their work with “love made liquid” through prayer and offerings. And we’ll be sending Early Response Teams (ERT) from the Greater Northwest Area as early as October.
I am calling every church, fellowship group, Sunday School class, choir, coffee klatch, walking, or yoga group in the Greater Northwest Area (Oregon-Idaho, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska Conferences) to love God and neighbor in the following ways:
Pray for the people affected by the flood and those who work tirelessly to respond, and
Receive a special offering for HURRICANE HARVEY FLOOD beginning this Sunday, and each Sunday in September. And when you donate, invite someone outside your group to donate, too. Donations will support United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) US Disaster Response fund* and travel costs for Early Response Teams from the Greater Northwest Area that will go to Texas and Louisiana.
Miracles happen when people share what they have. Thank you.
Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky sent a letter on Monday to Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski thanking her for her recent vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Referencing the United Methodist belief that health care be understood as a basic human right as found in our Social Principles, the bishop encouraged the senator to continue to work with other members of Congress “to find a solution to the very complex problem of providing health care … for all the citizens in our United States.”