Definitions and Frequently Asked Questions
What is a General Conference?
The United Methodist Church (UMC) began in 1968 as a result of a merger between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Our governing body is called the General Conference and it meets every four years. Think of it like the State of Kentucky legislature which meets to make changes through a legislative process.
Delegates from across the world come together for two weeks to worship, fellowship, and consider legislation which often includes adopting changes to the Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline is our statement of beliefs as well as the description of how the UMC agrees to organize itself for its disciple-making mission.
What is a Jurisdictional Conference?
In the USA, the United Methodist Church is divided into five areas known as jurisdictions: Northeastern, Southeastern, North Central, South Central and Western. These provide some program and leadership training events to support the annual conferences. Every four years the jurisdictional conferences meet to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies.
We, at First United Methodist Church of Lexington, are members of the Southeastern Jurisdiction which is headquartered in Lake Junaluska, NC.
What is the Kentucky Annual Conference?
The Kentucky Annual Conference, or sometimes referred to as the KAC or Annual Conference, is the collection of United Methodist churches that cover most, but not all of Kentucky, Our Bishop, Leonard Fairley, and the rest of the Conference office staff are located in Crestwood, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville. As our name implies, the Kentucky Annual Conference meets every year to worship, fellowship, set a budget, set clergy appointments, along with commissioning and ordaining clergy.
Again, we at First United Methodist Church of Lexington are part of the Kentucky Annual Conference under the supervision of Bishop Leonard Fairley. This year’s Annual Conference will be held at the Owensboro Convention Center from June 6-8, 2022.
What is a District?
The Kentucky Annual Conference is divided into nine geographic areas known as districts. These districts provide leadership, training and support for the local churches in them. Districts are led by a District Superintendent who works to oversee the local church ministry and acts as a liaison between the Annual Conference and local churches. We at First United Methodist Church of Lexington are part of the Lexington District under the supervision of our District Superintendent Iosmar Alvarez.
What is the Bishop’s Cabinet?
The Bishop and District Superintendents (DS) make up the appointive cabinet who oversee the work of the churches in the Kentucky Annual Conference. One of their most important duties is to make clergy appointments annually in consultation with the local congregation and clergy members. With the addition of a few other key Annual Conference leaders they become the Bishop’s Extended Cabinet.
So, what is the issue we face as a denomination?
The Sparknotes version is this:
- The church disagrees about the practice of same-sex sex. The Book of Discipline prohibits clergy from performing same-sex marriages, churches from hosting same-sex weddings, and clergy who are in a same-sex marriage from holding UMC clergy credentials or otherwise serving in a clergy capacity within the UMC.
- The Book of Discipline states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
- Progressive United Methodists have taken a stand against the Book of Discipline’s statement on the practice of homosexuality and have officiated same-sex marriages and ordained gay and lesbian clergy who are sexually active. The progressive arm of the church has also elected Bishop Karen Oliveto, a married lesbian who is currently serving the Western Jurisdiction.
- The progressives desire a fully affirming denomination (ability to marry same-sex couples and ordain gay and lesbian persons who are sexually active) and a change in the Book of Discipline statement on homosexuality (see #2 above).
- The conservative arm of the UMC desires the church to abide by what has been the UMC’s 50+ year historic stance on human sexuality (see #2 above).
- As a result, the UMC is currently living as a split denomination around issues of human sexuality without any apparent means of finding common ground from which to move forward as one denomination.
This is a gross oversimplification of our current state but hopefully gets at the core of our denominational issue in a way that can lead us into deeper discussion and learning.
So, can a gay or lesbian person be clergy in the UMC?
Gay and lesbian persons are, and have been since the inception of the UMC over 50 years ago, an integral part of our congregations, staff, and clergy leadership.
Wait, didn’t I just read that gay and lesbian persons are not allowed to serve as clergy? Here is the deal. As our Book of Discipline currently reads, a gay or lesbian person is able to be ordained as a clergyperson and serve in whatever capacity as long as they are celibate. All of the language in our Book of Discipline refers to same sex sexual activity and NOT orientation.
What about gay and lesbian persons becoming members of the church?
Gay and lesbian lay persons are welcome to attend, participate, serve, and become members of the UMC and our local expression at First United Methodist Church of Lexington.
What is the Global Methodist Church?
The Global Methodist Church (GMC) will be a newly formed conservative Wesleyan denomination as of May 1, 2022. The GMC congregations will agree to a traditional view of human sexuality and therefore marriage and ordination will follow suit. United Methodist Churches wishing to transfer to the new denomination will need to work through their Annual Conference. Each Annual Conference will determine what is necessary for a church to leave in good standing.
We at First United Methodist Church of Lexington previously stated that we will not be entertaining this option but rather allow the General Conference process to play out in 2024.
Just because the UMC as a denomination hasn’t solved our differences, is it possible that a congregation can at the local church level?
While this is a matter of debate, we hold hope that a congregation such as First United Methodist Church of Lexington might think critically and creatively about our theological disagreements in a way that does not prevent remaining in communion with one another. In addition, we have flexibility that a large denomination does not have. Also, we do not have to be in a hurry or on a timeline.
One final thought, while disagreement about human sexuality may dominate the public debate, the decision will have implications on a number of issues including polity, sacraments, and clergy appointments that will need to be carefully considered. This will not be a simple decision of agreeing or disagreeing with one statement in our current Book of Disciplne concerning homosexuality. It is a far deeper decision which we will lean into over the next two years.
If you have any questions, concerns, or feedback, the Pastoral Leadership Team would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact Todd, Carol, Chad, Taylor, or Jennifer here.
Why aren't we voting?
The short answer is because we do not have to.
After the 2022 General Conference was postponed until 2024, the Administrative Council stated that First UMC would wait until General Conference in 2024 to make any decisions about staying or leaving the UMC. As a result, we have set forth a discernment process and subsequently been working through it. Voting is only required if a church decides to leave the UMC through the Book of Discipline’s paragraph 2553 which we will not be doing. Therefore, we have not needed to vote.