Africa Initiative, an unofficial advocacy group in The United Methodist Church in Africa, is calling on United Methodists to pray and fast as part of the preparation leading to the special session of General Conference Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
“We need wisdom and discernment for all delegates as they prepare to cast important votes for the future life and ministries of the global United Methodist Church,” the Africa Initiative said in a statement.
The weeklong spiritual engagement is set for Jan. 28 to Feb. 3.
Speaking to United Methodist News Service, the Rev. Jerry P. Kulah, general coordinator for the Africa Initiative, said The United Methodist Church is distracted from its missions and ministries by the human sexuality discussion and the only thing needed now is prayer and fasting for our beloved church.
“The church is hurting right now because of the human sexuality that seems to pull us apart as a united entity,” he said.
For decades, The United Methodist Church has faced conflict over how the denomination should minister with LGBTQ individuals. The 2016 General Conference authorized the bishops to form a Commission on a Way Forward to envision changes in law and structure that might help preserve unity.
Three plans for the church’s future emerged from the Commission on a Way Forward’s work: the One Church, Traditional and Connectional Conference plans. Several others, including The Modified Traditional Plan and Simple Plan, also have been submitted.
Earlier this month, the Committee on Reference decided all 48 petitions in the Commission on a Way Forward report are “in harmony” with the Council of Bishops’ call for the legislative gathering. Thirty additional petitions were cleared for General Conference 2019.
Although the Africa Initiative statement did not directly endorse a specific plan, the group originally declared support for the Traditional Plan during its annual gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, in August.
The new statement on prayer and fasting references the Modified Traditional Plan, noting it supports “a firm commitment by the global church to upholding the Holy Scripture as the undiluted Word of God, trustworthy for our belief and practice without compromising any part of it.”
The One Church Plan, the statement said, rejects parts of the Holy Scriptures that teach that homosexuality is sin.
The Africa Initiative’s statement further said all 864 delegates going to the special General Conference, as well as all members of the global United Methodist Church, are standing at the crossroads in the life of the church.
“The decision to be made through delegates’ votes holds the potential of keeping The United Methodist Church ‘united’ or ‘divided’ into factional denominations,” the statement said.
The Rev. John Pena of the Nigeria Conference said the call for prayer by the leadership of the Africa Initiative is in the right direction.
“Let us approach the special General Conference prayerfully,” he stressed.
The Africa Initiative statement encouraged United Methodists to pray for safe travels, good health and wisdom for delegates, among other prayer points.
“This monumental decision to be made by delegates demands a season of fasting and praying by the church of Jesus Christ before it can be made. We desire God’s perfect will in this matter,” the statement read.
The Africa Initiative is a movement of African clergy and laity leaders of the three United Methodist central conferences in Africa.
Since its formation, the group has been providing leadership training for United Methodist church leaders on the continent on issues of global concerns to the general church. The movement has brought together delegates for pre-conference gatherings at the past two General Conferences.
Swen is a communicator in Liberia. Sam Hodges, UMNS writer in Dallas, contributed to this report.