Annual Conference 2008

Annual Conference 2008

To Be the Cup Overflowing with Joy

    Many notable things happened at the 2008 Annual     Conference, including dynamic worship services, a     variety of legislation, and decisions regarding the budget     and the ministries of our conference.

Click here to read the Summary of this year's
Annual Conference session by Larry Hygh, Communications Director of our Cal-Pac Conference.

But the most discussed issue at the University    
of Redlands campus
this year was the recent California Supreme Court decision to ensure
the civil right of all Californians to marry the
person of their choice. Read more below....

Bishop Swenson and Eunice Lliye at
AC 2008, before Eunice returns to Nigeria

The Spirit Moves and We Follow…

An unexpected journey in the California-Pacific Annual Conference
by M. Theresa Basile
(Former) Communications Director
MFSA, California-Pacific Chapter

Extraordinary things happened at the California-Pacific Annual Conference session in June 2008. Many may have heard about the landmark resolutions that were passed, but just as remarkable was the process that led us to those and how it came about.  

This saga begins with a proposition that was passed in California in recent years, becoming a law that banned same-gender marriages in our state. Then the California Supreme Court ruled in May 2008 that that law was unconstitutional, because it violated the civil right of all to marry the person of one's choice, the criteria of gender or sexual orientation not being valid reasons for the state to restrict that right. The court specifically cited as a precedent the state Supreme Court ruling in 1948 regarding interracial marriage.

Some would say the church should not be driven by what is happening in the secular world, and, therefore, the court's ruling should have no bearing on the church's position on same-gender marriage. But who is to say that the spirit of God does not move in other institutions besides denominational religion? Might not the spirit also be working in our judges just as much as the clergy and laity in our churches, nudging us forward on the long arc of history that Martin Luther King, Jr. said 'always curves toward justice'?

Be that as it may, when our conference session began on the University of Redlands campus in the third week of June, that court ruling and the resulting flood of marriages being joyfully celebrated across the state were on everyone's mind.  Then came a motion from the floor, during a plenary session on the second day: that we who were gathered for this conference would spend a significant amount of time during this week to discuss the response of our pastors and our congregations to the new opportunity for same-gender couples to be married in California.

Consider the months of work that goes into planning our annual conferences, the pain-staking allocation of minutes for each goal and task to be accomplished, for worship, reports, presentations, bible studies, performances, small group discussions, and of course, for legislation (not to mention a little bit of sleep and food). It is a minor miracle if that carefully planned schedule can even be kept, if all that was envisioned can be accomplished before it's time to go home.  And here was a request that possibly hours of time should be carved from the schedule for an unforeseen need of the body!

But a need it clearly was - for the vote on that motion was nearly unanimous, not something we often see for what could be a controversial request. Which put the ball squarely in the court of our presiding Bishop, Mary Ann Swenson, and the team of leaders who plan and steer us through the tightly packed schedule of conferencing. 

We are blessed with some remarkable servant-leaders in our conference, including our Bishop, and Tonya Harris the current chair of the committee that plans Annual Conference (and who also has the thankless task of keeping the conference on schedule for five days and nights), and Scott Imler, the chairperson of the Response Committee on Welcoming, who serves with such dignity and generosity of heart, and Mary Elizabeth Moore, who on more than one occasion has led our conference through spirit-filled processes of sharing, listening and discernment when we were faced with difficult and important decisions.

Thankfully, our bishop and others making these decisions about the conference schedule responded bravely and positively, acknowledging that the need for this subject to be explored while we were together was undeniable. Accordingly, they asked for assistance in planning how it would happen.

That request first came to leaders of the Cal-Pac MFSA chapter, who were pivotal to the planning that developed, together with other clergy and lay leadership, such as the aforementioned Scott Imler and Mary Elizabeth Moore. The same evening that this unexpected request was made on the plenary floor, a three-part plan was outlined, with one crucial underlying premise: that all sides must be heard as we journeyed together through 'the process' (as it came to be called for the remainder of the conference). The ad hoc planning committee that met long and late at night concluded that, ideally, two hours would be needed to fulfill that discernment process. "Ideally" being the key word - they considered it virtually impossible that such an amount of time could actually be found in the little over 2 days remaining.  But 'it couldn't hurt to ask'  - clearly they would have to accept whatever time could actually be squeezed from the schedule.

Incredibly our conference spent at least 2 hours on the three stages of  'the process.' First, in a plenary session, where we heard personal sharings by a variety of individuals - lay members, elders, gay, straight, supportive of and opposed to same-gender marriage, laying before us their heartfelt expressions of how this issue touched their lives. Some people in the congregation that day said that they were brought to tears by those outpourings of questioning and belief, pain and love.
Click here for more photos and some excerpts from these statements.

The next morning, conference members divided into their Wesley groups, which were extended 35 minutes beyond the original schedule, so
they would have the opportunity for more detailed discussions and also could write and submit their personal thoughts. Later that day, another full session of the body where we
heard the views that many had written in their groups, read to us alternately by our Bishop
and Scott Imler, with an equal number of the
pro and con viewpoints being chosen.

Finally, having previously focused not on legislation but on diverse faith-sharing in two different settings, we convened for a special legislative session, where we voted on three resolutions that dealt with same-gender marriage,
although they had not been submitted or numbered consecutively, and normally would have arisen in different plenary sessions. This was done to clarify for conference members the distinctions between each resolution and also to allow us to consider them all while this subject was before us.

The results were groundbreaking for our denomination, and, not surprisingly, they have made headlines across the country - though it would be safe to say that no one involved beforehand was expecting such revolutionary tidings to come from our conference this summer.  

As of  June 2008, our California-Pacific Conference now resolves "that we recognize the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples;" and it further resolves that "while we recognize that we are governed by the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, we support those pastors who conscientiously respond to the needs of their parishes by celebrating same-gender marriages, and we envision compassion and understanding in any resulting disciplinary actions."

Our conference also resolves to "support same-gender couples who enter into the marriage covenant and encourage both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families."

And finally, our response to a ballot initiative coming up in November 2008 in California, Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution in another attempt to ban same-gender marriage: the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church "opposes the California Marriage Protection Amendment" and further "we call upon the laity and clergy of our churches in the California-Pacific Annual Conference to answer the call of General Conference by providing a witness against heterosexism and any discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in so doing, to be actively involved in protecting the civil rights of all Californians as they pertain to the right to civil marriage...."  

You can read and download the full texts of these resolutions below.

Clearly God was the engineer on this unforeseen journey we took in June in Redlands, California - without divine intervention it could never have come to such an inspiring destination. We went into the process with three purposes: to open ourselves to God's spirit, to open ourselves to one another with compassion and respect, and to discern how we might faithfully respond to God and the people in our communities in this time.  As a result, it seems we have moved a step or two closer to God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. We trust that the spirit will continue to work its way in the world and our church in surprising and powerful ways.

Here are the three resolutions described in the article above:

the first in this list was drawn from a very similar
resolution passed by the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference,

and the next two resolutions were written
by leaders in MFSA's Cal-Pac Chapter.

Use these links to read the resolutions or to download them:

Affirmation of Marriage Equality in California

Pastoral Response to Legality of Same-Gender Marriage in California

Protecting Marriage Equality in California

Download all three resolutions together

We have included here a Letter of Guidance regarding these matters
from the Bishop's Cabinet and the Conference Leadership Team
(not to be confused with Cal-Pac MFSA's Leadership Team).

Letter of Guidance

You will also find here a PRESS RELEASE regarding the
resolution "Protecting Marriage Equality in California"

"Major Denomination in California Opposes Prop 8 -
the Marriage Protection Amendment"

UMNS Article about the New England Jurisdiction
standing in solidarity with our California Clergy:
New England Jurisdiction affirms California clergy
on same-gender marriages

Visitors to the website:


Website Builder