We’ve just been handed something very special: a “brand spanking new” New Year. The first few days, even weeks, of January are sort of shocking.

Most of us can’t believe another year has flown by.

In some ways, January is an exciting month, because it is a transitional month—a month of beginnings. In fact, the name of this month has associations with the concepts of beginnings, doorways, openings, gateways and transitions.

There’s little doubt that the name derives from the Roman god Janus, although not everyone agrees that the month was so-named because of its aptness as the first month of the year.

Janus is usually depicted as having two faces, one looking to the past and one to the future.

As we stand at this new starting line, some of us find ourselves doing just that… looking in two directions. Some of us look back over our shoulders to the year that has just ended. If you are like me, you have received Christmas letters from family and friends who offer their year in review. They often list all of their highlights, joys, and accomplishments during the past twelve months. Some will offer the valleys, as well, that have been traveled—a tough diagnosis, loss of a job, the death of a loved one. As in most of our lives, last year held a mixed bag of highs and lows. The morning talk shows are offering the year in review.

We also find ourselves standing on our tippy-toes hoping to get a glimpse of what is yet to come. Some know there will be celebrations—weddings, graduations, the birth of a baby, a new job. The dates have been circled on our calendars for months as we eagerly cross off each passing day in eager anticipation of the event.

I, however, can’t help but stand at the start of a New Year (I know it sounds pessimistic, or maybe I’m just being a realist) and wonder about those unexpected things that will come into our lives, you know, that mixed bag of not just the highs, but those valleys and lows that come like a thief in the night.

This year, I can’t help but wonder what the United Methodist Church will look like after February. As you know, a special General Conference has been called to deal with… well, basically to deal with homosexuality. At our last General Conference (2016), The United Methodist Church almost walked to the brink of schism and amicable separation. “United Methodists departed from Portland technically united, but actually deeply divided,” said the Rev. Don Messer. He is the executive director of the Center for Health and Hope, the former Center for Church and Global AIDS.

“The typing mistake that… we have all made will have become a reality,” he said. “We will be ‘Untied Methodists’ rather than United Methodists.”

As a result of General Conference 2016, a Commission on a Way Forward was developed in hopes of bringing a solution to this special called General Conference that will keep the body of Christ known as United Methodist… just that… united.

Pages 6, 7 & 8 of this newsletter contain a chart that was prepared by Dave Nuchols, a member of the Way Forward Commission. This summary is a succinct statement of the three proposals that will be before the February 23-26 General Conference in St. Louis. The red text in the chart are the elements of each plan that have been deemed unconstitutional by the Judicial Council and would require significant rewriting of the Book of Discipline to meet constitutional support. (Advocates of these plans will most likely present edited versions to the General Conference in an attempt to comply with the Judicial Council.)

The One Church Plan is being recommended to the General Conference by the Council of Bishops. This plan seeks to maintain the unity of the denomination and give freedom and flexibility for local congregations to provide ministry to the LGBTQ community and their families.

Some feel schism is inevitable. Others are hope-filled that the United Methodist Church will remain strong in its unity.

Whatever is in store for us personally in 2019, or whatever is in store for the United Methodist Church this year, one thing is certain: God, as always, is in control. God’s will shall ultimately prevail!

As we travel 2019 together, let us take each other’s hand, as well as the hand of God, and give thanks that God is always with us and pray that God will guide and direct us as to where God wants us to be. Thanks be to God!

Pastor Russel