Clarity on Upcoming Declaratory Decision from Judicial Council

Dear Mississippi Annual Conference, 
In a couple of weeks, the Judicial Council will act on a request for a declaratory decision from the South Central Jurisdiction in response to the Western Jurisdiction's election of Karen Oliveto as a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Throughout our general church and within the Mississippi Annual Conference, there is great interest, disagreement and anxiety about the anticipated decision of the Judicial Council.

I, the extended cabinet and many others across Mississippi and around the world, have been in daily prayer for each of you as you have continued to faithfully live into your commitment to Christ and His church both locally and globally. I and the cabinet have been supported by your prayers as we have sought to hold our conference together in unity with tender love and kindness and be faithful in the carrying out of our administrative duties. I ask that each of us allow the Holy Spirit to help us remain a non-anxious presence as we face this immediate decision together. 

I offer to you the following points that I believe will bring clarity to the impending Judicial Council decision. I am aware it is not an exhaustive list. 

  • There are several authorized bodies in The United Methodist Church that express the will of our denomination. The General Conference speaks for the church. The Council of Bishops exercises oversight and support of the church’s mission. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality and legality of actions taken by individuals or constituted entities of the church, in this instance, the action taken by a jurisdictional conference. At times these bodies collaborate, and at other times this work is done independently. The Judicial Council will express its own perspective and give its own rationale for its decision.
  • The Judicial Council’s actions are always specific to particular circumstances. Due to the fact that their decision will be about a specific request from one jurisdiction regarding the action of another jurisdiction, their decision will not change The United Methodist Book of Discipline.
  • The Council of Bishops has expressed a commitment to the unity of the church and the flourishing of its mission. I commit myself to working toward our unity with honesty and integrity. One of the instruments of this unity is the Commission on a Way Forward, which is accountable to the Council of Bishops, and through the council, to the General Conference. We believe the Holy Spirit is operating through the commission’s and council’s leadership and conferencing. The conciliar work of the commission happens concurrently with other legal, legislative and supervisory processes. However, we urge the entire church to stay focused on the commission’s work as our best opportunity to determine God’s leading for the church. We believe the God who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6) and we need to hold this course.
  • Many people have asked me, “What can I do to support you, Bishop, and the commission?” My answer has always been to pray – pray unceasingly, intentionally and earnestly. I quickly add, “Pray that God will empty you of all your pre-conceived solutions and preferences so that the Holy Spirit can rush in and fill you with new possibilities, new hope, new life.” God has honored such prayers in the past because room is created for the Spirit to instruct and guide. I believe God can and will do it again!

I also want to inform you that I am working with a team composed of the appointive cabinet and conference leadership: David Stotts, treasurer and director of finance and administration/conference benefits officer; Brent Wilson, chair of the council on finance and administration; Clifford Ammons, chancellor; Vickie White, director of connectional ministries and communications and Rickey Haynes, chair of trustees. We are also utilizing the assistance of some general church agencies as we address this issue. I will release a statement as soon as possible after the Judicial Council decision so you will know my position and thoughts. 
I count it a joy to continue to serve as the bishop of the Mississippi Episcopal Area and count on your support. "The best of all God is with us!" 
Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.