The United Methodist Church will be launching a "Praying Our Way Forward" initiative on New Year's Day with 75 weeks of focused prayer before the revision of Book of Discipline on the topic of human sexuality.
"We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord... Our president shared the deep pain we feel. We have all prayed for months and continue to do so. We seek, in this kairos moment, a way forward for profound unity on human sexuality and other matters," said a statement issued by UMC Bishops, addressed to fellow clergy members and laity.
"The aim of 'Praying Our Way Forward' is to ask and listen for God's leadership at this critical time in the life of our church," said Bishop Al Gwinn, who co-chairs the initiative.
In the past, several media reports have suggested that members are divided over the issue of same-sex marriage. The issue was also discussed in the 2016 quadrennial General Conference in Portland about eight months ago, but the decision on gay marriage's legitimacy was then subjected to further discussions by specialized committees and panels.
The UMC currently does not formally accept homosexuality and deems it incompatible with the Christian faith. The church sources its position on sexuality from the denomination's Book of Discipline which says that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
The church had been praying for the last six months as well, and the January initiative is a second phase of prayers which will also have a broader commitment to plead for the restoration of the church and its global mission.
In 2016, some 5,000 people joined a special website (umcprays.org) dedicated to prayers to intercede for the General Conference. Members from around the world offered their spiritual support to the church through this website.
The website, formerly called 60daysofprayer.org, has listed the annual conferences of different regions on calendar and each conference will intentionally pray for the worldwide UMC mission for one week.