The Christmas Covenant: Our Gift of Hope

January 1st, 2020
This article is featured in the The Future of Methodism (Feb/Mar/Apr 2020) issue of Circuit Rider

Several Central Conference delegates to the 2020 General Conference have proposed a covenant to seek a new unity for The United Methodist Church and invite other delegations to endorse the covenant.

“A Christmas Covenant: Our Gift of Hope” includes a preamble, values statement, and outline to their petitions, which will be offered for passage by an annual conference session in February under an additional name: #LoveEveryoneBorn. The Christmas Covenant, created in collaboration with United Methodists holding membership in central conferences around the world, reminds United Methodists that we are united in mission and accept diversity with love. Regarding the name, Rev. Jonathan Ulanday of the East Mindanao Philippines Annual Conference notes that “the Christmas Conference of 1784 gave birth to the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. Our prayer is that this Christmas Covenant could be a rallying point for a renewed and revived United Methodist Church around the world.” 

“It is noteworthy that this effort comes from leaders in our central conferences,” states the Rev. Jonathan Ulanday, General Conference clergy delegate from the East Mindanao Philippines Annual Conference. “This changes the narrative that central conferences, especially in Africa and the Philippines, would just agree with what the American church decides to do. This covenant is our humble gift of hope and love to our global denomination as we seek to find a way to faithfully engage in mission together.”

The Christmas Covenant seeks to turn back the tide of division and dissolution. From the Covenant:

“Distracting from and detrimental to ... our common mission are calls to dissolve or dismember The United Methodist Church, to liquidate its assets and distribute them to the highest bidder. Such plans are harmful to the Body of Christ through whom people of faith seek to connect and live in gracious relationships. Pitting one part of Christ’s Body against another also harms our witness to a world awash in violence and injustice. Our constitution’s preamble states clearly that the church’s 'very dividedness is a hindrance to its mission.' Therefore, we are in firm agreement with the bishops of both Africa and the Philippines, who in separate resolutions, have declared their strong opposition to dissolution."

"Our Purpose Is Love" by David N. Field. Order here:

Drawing inspiration from African, European and Filipino values and concepts, the Christmas Covenant includes a series of proposals to reshape United Methodism to be in gracious relationships with one another to better fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ, including:

  • Suspension of all actions furthering any dissolution or separation plans and liquidation and distribution of the assets of The United Methodist Church;
  • Formation of a U.S. Regional Conference;
  • Renaming Central Conferences to Regional Conferences;
  • Establishing legislative equality for central and jurisdictional conferences.

The Rev. Hilde Marie Movafagh of the Norway Annual Conference reflects that “I have not given up on the United Methodist Church. Splitting up will hurt our church for a long time and will set back our global mission. We cannot afford that. We are stronger together in the midst of diversity. In the current conflict, I think it is better to stay together, but decentralize authority to embrace our diversity and do mission differently in different contexts.”

The Rev. Dr. Betty Masau of the North Katanga Annual Conference, DR Congo imparts that, “Valuing and sharing the image of God in each and every person is the key to unity of the church. Recognizing the uniqueness and gifts of contextual diversity through our interconnections strengthens our relationships and being in mission together.” Olive Beltran, Vice-President of the Philippines National UMW Society for Christian Service in the North Central Philippines Annual Conference agrees, reminding us "We are one body in Jesus Christ and created in the image of God. As UMC members, we have the freedom to serve God in our own excellent ways regardless of differences in missional context.”

The delegates sought feedback from other delegations and will make the petitions publicly available after they are passed this February by an annual conference session that has done the necessary discernment. While the petitions deadline has passed for individuals to submit legislation to General Conference, annual conference sessions have a later date by which they can submit legislation.

Those who wish to support the Christmas Covenant may sign using this link.

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