By John W. Coleman
Members of the 2018 Eastern PA Annual Conference will consider and vote on 27 resolutions submitted and now posted online. They are being printed for distribution at the four District Conferences on Sunday, May 6, where members will get a preview of matters to come before Annual Conference, June 14-16.
The diverse resolutions range from proposed changes in conference rules and financial policies, to supporting racial-ethnic justice and missional concerns, to advocating against assault weapons and the offensive use of Native American team names and mascots in sports. One calls for creation of a Conference Committee on Domestic Violence, while another urges greater awareness of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, misconduct and misogyny.
Only two resolutions address The United Methodist Church’s “Way Forward,” as it considers, during a Special General Conference in 2019, whether or not to change church laws prohibiting LGBTQ members’ participation in pastoral ministry and marriage within the church. That number is far from the usual spate of resolutions addressing this controversial issue that may lead to denominational reorganization or schism by 2020.
Seeking ‘a fair and gracious exit path’
One resolution asks the Annual Conference to “strongly urge the 2019 General Conference to include in any plan it passes provisions for a fair and gracious exit path for congregations who cannot in good conscience abide by the stance of the church regarding LGBTQ+ ministry…. Such an exit path should allow congregations to leave the denomination with their buildings and assets, assuming their own liabilities, but without demanding burdensome payments to the conference.”
“Can we not bless one another in pursuing the various paths of ministry we believe God is laying before us?” asks the resolution, submitted by the Rev. Joseph DiPaolo, senior pastor of First UMC Lancaster, who is leading the organization of a local chapter of the conservative Wesley Covenant Association.
The other resolution asks the Annual Conference to advocate to the Council of Bishops that “any restructuring of the Church in response to the Commission on the Way Forward must actively seek to redress the legacy of racism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, sexism, and all other systems of oppression.” Titled Agape Love for All and submitted by a group of 15 churches, it further calls for General Conference to “remove all language that diminishes the humanity and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people–and thus, enhance the dignity of us all.”
Canceling churches’ prior-years’ balances
A key pair of resolutions from the Council on Finance & Administration (CFA) proposes cancelling churches’ unpaid “prior-years’ balances” of apportionments and certain other billings, as of the end of 2017. Apportionments are amounts churches pay into three main connectional expense funds: the Connectional Ministries Fund to support conference-wide operations; and the World Service and General Church funds, which undergird denominational administration and programs. “Other billings” include reimbursement to the conference for its payment of pastors’ health care and church vehicle insurance.
Prior-years’ balances that cannot be canceled include money still owed for clergy pensions, health insurance benefits for clergy and lay staff, Workers Compensation, and property and liability insurance.
While one resolution exempts those balances from cancellation in general, another would extend a larger cancellation of balances—including unpaid property and liability insurance—“as an act of justice,” to all black churches. That group includes 29 predominantly black churches that belonged to the former, all-black Delaware Conference, as well as to the former Philadelphia Conference and the current Eastern PA Conference.
While many of the churches have large outstanding balances that would be daunting, if not impossible, to pay off, some attribute part of those balances to the costs that came with occupying large, inner city church buildings left by declining white congregations decades ago. All the black churches would be relieved of responsibility for prior-years’ balances accumulated prior to December 31, 2017, except where the UMC’s Book of Discipline “disallows such action…in paragraph 639.4, concerning Pension Benefits and Health Insurance Benefits arrearages.”
CFA also proposes to repeal several fiscal management procedures approved by the 2012 Annual Conference to help fund the pre-1982 unfunded clergy pension liability—procedures it has found to be unworkable. It promises to continue reducing the pension liability while caring for other needs.
Support for ministries of mercy and justice
Another financial resolution proposes a new special offering to help the conference aid the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico in its long, painstaking recovery from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria. The Rev. Nicholas Camacho, who heads the conference’s Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again campaign, is proposing, with support from Bishop Peggy Johnson and the Cabinet, that churches receive a special love offering on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, the first Sunday of the annual National Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15). Offerings would be sent to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico to support its churches’ recovery efforts that will likely last for many years.
The Committee on Native American Ministries asks the Annual Conference to “demonstrate commitment to continuing the journey begun at the 2016 Act of Repentance and to ‘stand in solidarity with American Indians.’” In one resolution, it seeks “support for the elimination of logos, mascots and names demeaning to Native Americans by schools, colleges, and professional sports teams.” In another, it urges public advocacy to protect sacred Indian sites and reverse recent White House decisions to reduce the size of national monuments on public lands.
A resolution on gun violence asks the conference to affirm the resolve of General Conference 2016 and its Resolution 3428 “Our Call to End Gun Violence” and to support members working to “Demand the Ban” and make deadly assault-style weapons illegal.
Other resolutions propose moving the conference’s health insurance coverage to Wespath’s HealthFlex program, approving changes in equitable compensation for pastors in economically disadvantaged churches, and changes in housing allowances for retired and disabled clergy.
Nine Advance Special projects are proposed for endorsement to solicit second-mile funding from churches. And nine changes are proposed in the Annual Conference rules of order. One church, Avon: Zion UMC, is being recommended for discontinuance.
Members will be asked to approve some selected resolutions for aggregate voting on the Consent Calendar to save time.
North District Conference: Faith Alive UMC, 678 Pine Street, Palmerton, PA.
East District Conference: Lighthouse Fellowship UMC, 137 N. Easton Rd., Glenside, PA.
West District Conference: Salem UMC, 140 North Penn Street, Manheim, PA.
South District Conference: Phoenixville: First UMC 865 S Main Street, Phoenixville, PA19460