Rev. Duane Carlisle Reflects on the North Central Jurisdiction of the UMC Special Session
In 2019, our annual conference members elected the Indiana lay and clergy delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference in 2020. I was honored to be chosen as a part of that group. As we all know, General Conference did not take place in 2020, but has been rescheduled twice—first to 2021, and then to 2022. And because of the ongoing global pandemic, the 2022 date is now in doubt due to the challenges of vaccines reaching all parts of the globe where we have United Methodist siblings.
Because so much administrative work in the United Methodist Church relies on the business that is accomplished with our regular quadrennial meetings, many questions loom large across the United Methodist system. For example, in our North Central Jurisdiction, questions about episcopal elections to select new bishops are at the top of the list. Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference and Bishop Bruce Ough of Minnesota and the Dakotas Conferences have retired. Their episcopal areas are being covered by Bishop John Hopkins who has come out of retirement on an interim basis for Northern Illinois. Bishop David Bard of Michigan and Bishop Laurie Haller of Iowa have taken on additional episcopal areas by sharing Minnesota and the Dakotas respectively. Because of the need to deliberate questions like these, the Bishops of the North Central Jurisdiction called a special session to discuss administrative concerns. The special session took place on November 10 and 11 by ZOOM.
While the delegations were gathered, the bishops wanted to use that moment to ask them to bring their ideas about how the church can be move forward in mission and ministry despite the business that cannot be accomplished until a General Conference takes place.
What came out of our meeting was a document called a “Covenant to Build Beloved Community” and it passed by an 81% approval rate (135-32.) The document reflected upon our deepest concerns which include racial injustice, climate change, denominational strife, and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. The covenant affirmed our aspirations to speak to these difficult issues by naming them as a response to our baptismal vows. This theological grounding was deeply meaningful to the 250 delegates and alternates attending.
The “Covenant to Build Beloved Community” can be read here.
I was so pleased with the work the delegates to the NCJ special session accomplished in only two short days. It brings me great hope. One key reason for the successful passage of the covenant was time that was set aside for small groups to have conversations that built trust and encouraged the sharing of each person’s dreams. In doing so each person could name the kind of church they heard God calling us to be. It brought me joy to finally have the chance to work with my sibling delegates, to articulate our aspirations, and to distill those many ideas into one shared statement of purpose. I felt privileged to join others from across our jurisdiction as we affirmed our commitments to love, peace, justice, and inclusion by remembering that all these undertakings flow out of our baptismal covenant with God and each other.
I believe that what was borne in those two days will offer United Methodists across our connection a vision for ministry and a place where everyone can see their own unique gifts and callings reflected in its affirmations. I think about the young people connected to my church who are deeply committed to intersectional justice. They want the church to be a place that engages with them in the work of justice, is a spiritual home that nurtures their faith, and accepts them as they are in all their beautiful self-expressions and diversities. What the NCJ has accomplished is evidence that the United Methodist Church can be that place of radical love with a resolute posture leaning into justice and care for creation.
I spoke with a colleague on the morning of the session’s second day. We had not yet reached the final form of the covenant, but I was guardedly hopeful because we were on our way to making a bold and courageous statement. I told my friend that I hoped we would come away from the session with a vision we could bring to our local churches, knowing that when we work together with purpose, we have the power to name a common dream. We did just that. For me, the work of the NCJ special session is a gift to our congregations to help them vision together in their communities. My prayer is that all United Methodist churches in Indiana will use the “Covenant to Build Beloved Community” to help us live more intentionally into God's realm of peace, justice, and joy.
Bishop Trimble offering a blessing over the 2020 General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference Delegates and alternates at the end of the 2019 Indiana Annual Conference.
The Bishops of the North Central Jurisdiction present at the NCJ Special Session.
Left to right, Bishops Julius Trimble, Hee-Soo Jung, Laurie Haller, David Bard, Tracey Malone, Gregory Palmer, John Hopkins
The NCJ Special Session taking place over ZOOM. Pictured on the screen behind the bishops is the writing team for the covenant that distilled the ideas brought by the delegate small groups and created the language of the “Covenant to Build Beloved Community.”