Reflections on the First Commission Meeting

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

I approached my first meeting as a member of the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward for the Church with trepidation, if not fear and trembling. The commission has an enormous and consequential task ahead of it — find a way forward to resolving the impasse between progressives and traditionalists over the church’s stance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It was somewhat gratifying that nearly every other commissioner at the meeting shared the same sense of the overwhelming challenge we face, yet remained open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to find that elusive path between the proverbial rock and hard place.

That sober yet hopeful attitude characterized our first meeting last month in Atlanta, Georgia.

The commission is capably by the commission’s moderators: Bishops Ken Carter, Sandra Steiner-Ball, and David Yemba, along with their staff resource person Gil Rendle. They crafted a productive agenda that did not waste time. While the schedule allowed for some “get-acquainted” activities by commissioners, it quickly moved into work mode, as we discussed the outcomes we want to see from our work and began to sketch out what we will need to learn in order to achieve those outcomes. Small-group processes enabled us to both hear everyone’s voice and get to know each other more deeply a few at a time. The moderators adjusted the agenda and topics to address the needs and desires of the commission. Their goal really is to serve the commission and help our work to be effective.

With members from four continents, several ethnic groups, and a wide range of ages, theological perspectives, and multiple sexual orientations, the commission is indeed the most diverse body assembled in the church, other than General Conference itself. That is an appropriate reality, considering that our denomination experiences diverse realities, such as precipitous decline in parts of the United States and rapid growth in parts of The Philippines and Africa.

It will be a challenge for such a diverse group to come to agreement on a resolution of our crisis that allows us to move forward as a church. Strongly held, diametrically opposite views on essential matters will make consensus difficult. So far, the group is approaching the disagreements with goodwill and a desire to understand. As personal emotional investment comes to the surface, that goodwill will be tested, and the commission will continue to need the church’s prayers for a constructive relationship in the group that can lead to resolution. At the same time, from the beginning the commissioners have acknowledged our need to settle on an approach that can pass General Conference. Members’ idealism will need to be tempered by pragmatism.

One commissioner recently wrote, “The Commission is not exploring ‘whether’ LGBTQ persons will be fully-included in the life of The UMC, but ‘how’” we include them. Yet allowing same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals in some parts of The United Methodist Church would violate the consciences of many traditionalists and be unacceptable. A variety of different approaches will be on the table. These are the kind of pragmatic realities that the commission will be wrestling with.

The commission is just beginning its work and has a lot of ground to cover, as we examine such things as the theological foundations of our unity and identity as global United Methodists and discover how other denominations have navigated the same challenge we face. While these issues take the forefront of our attention, we are also mindful of the worsening decline of membership and worship attendance in United Methodism in the U.S. and our need to provide a way for the revitalization of our church in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We face a tall challenge, and only the grace of God and the prayers of our church will enable us to work our way to a successful outcome.

Comments

  1. One commissioner says that fully including LGBTQ will be accomplished and the actual question is how do we do that. That position already nails one foot to the floor. For those who disagree with that it does not bode well.

  2. Bob Brooke says:

    Though respectful of the commission and its intended outcome, it would be more than a challenge to put together a resolution which will pass the General Conference to move the UMC forward as a unified church. It would be a miracle!

  3. Walter Fenton’s analysis (The UM Blame Game), speaks with some trepidation about others call for pragmatic solutions for the current situation, however in this above article there is a sense of call toward the “pragmatic”. I am wondering if you might have any thoughts on the call for being pragmatic being held in tension with our core convictions? Specifically, do you have any reflections from the commission that the pragmatic might take president in the work or will core convictions be the guiding factor? Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for the work of the commission. I continue to pray God’s Holy Spirit will lead us to follow the desires of Jesus rather than our own desires. Peace

  4. Linda Branch says:

    Please let the house Divided fall. Leadership should know that the issues pertaining to marriage and sexuality can not be compromised. God Bless and I am praying for a “New Thing”

  5. Tom,
    Thank you for faithfully representing us in this difficult place. We are praying for you and all involved.

  6. Mick Kazmerski says:

    I find myself struggling to find wear I belong either with my church of the last 57 years or the church of my youth! The issues of gay marriage and the murder of the unborn causes me to question my personal loyalty to what I still consider my church,

  7. Carla and Bob Skidmore says:

    Tom, you are sincere in your beliefs, and we fully realize that you will never change your mind. You have every right to your beliefs, as do we.
    Yes, there is a way forward, and if someone finds that attending a church that is pastored by someone who is LBGTQA or I, then they can attend a church where there is a heterosexual pastor. Most areas have other UMCs within driving distance, or if that area has no UMC, I am sure that there are other more conservative churches from which one can pick a church where they feel at home.
    Frankly, we want an intelligent, well spoken minister who does not “proof text” the Bible or preach as if he/she believes that the Bible is “history.” we do not care about their sexual orientation or gender indemnity. Frankly, most of us do not discuss our intimate acts with our partners or spouses with others, unless it is with a therapist or perhaps a physician.
    As for the cleric in my church performing a wedding for a same gender couple, why should that affect us, or our marriage, of 58 years?
    Many rules or beliefs from “Scripture” believed 2000+ years ago are no longer valid, such as seizures being caused by demons, or the Sun orbiting the Earth, the man’s sperm being all that was necessary for a woman to conceive, they did not recognize, until the 1800s that a woman’s egg was also necessary.
    Jesus really did not say anything regarding homosexuality.
    Why can’t the UMC be a “Big Tent” Methodism. Allow liberal churches to have the clergy that fit their congregations, and if congregations are comfortable with full inclusion of our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers this should not be an issue. There are bigger issues, such as inequality, homelessness, food insecurity, domestic abuse, corporate greed and a tax code that only benefits the top 1%.

  8. Elizabeth Hay says:

    It doesn’t matter what the “UMC” conference, bishops, pastors or congregations want. It is what “God” wants and demands. Sin is sin! Being LGBT is a sin. It’s in God’s Holy Book, you know the one called the Bible.

    Then read your Book of Discipline!! Apparently several of you just read words, and dont have any comprehension of what you are reading.

    Sure, you can revise your “discipline ” to suit your needs, but you can’t revise God’s Holy Word.

    Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing on the UMC today. Taking 18 months or two years to decide if marrying two humans of the same sex is a sin? Ordaining practicing homosexual pastors? My God is so ashamed, and if you think He is happy with you, then READ the Bible.

    We hated to leave our church, as many others have left theirs.

    Forget about the $$ you receive and the friends that will oppose you if you do what is right and get back to following Gods Word.

  9. Thanks for this update, Tom! Our prayers are with you…

  10. David Thompson says:

    It has been distressing to see how much we have lost as Christians. Our lack of backbone, our inability to stand up for what is right and biblical, our desire to “get along”, and our desire for unity have not served us well. Most other denominations have already totally folded and become progressive in governance and in practice, allowing almost anything in the bedroom or pulpit. It is NOT biblical to have women ministers, condone LGBTQwerty practices, same-sex marriages, or abortions. I don’t judge those who advocate this, although they judge me and smear me with labels and name-calling while I hold to my beliefs. For the health of our Church, and specifically Methodism, I think we need to maintain the integrity of our beliefs. Otherwise, we will continue the death-spiral that most churches today are experiencing.

    The United States is seeing a growth in crime, a lack of morality, and enormous social problems. This is directly related to the growth of secularism and a reduction in those who love and fear God. This nation needs a beacon of hope and morality, not another denomination of whimpering apologists.

    May God bless the leadership of this Church and provide them with guidance through this challenge. May the United Methodist Church be that beacon of hope and Christianity.

  11. Thanks for serving, Tom…Praying for God to speak clearly to the Commission through prayer and study.

  12. Pastor Glen says:

    I wish I could feel good about this commission but I think when we have to debate and discuss what scripture says when it is already 100% clear, we are past being in trouble.

  13. Bernita Liberatore says:

    In the beginning God created this beautiful world. He created Adam first, but decided to create a helpmate for him because HE said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” He did not create another male, but created Eve as the being that was perfect for Adam. We should not question who God thought to be best for him, He looked at all he had created and said “it is good.” We humans have questioned God’s wisdom about creation, just as we question every man made law. Let what God made us stand, but do question what we have become by our own sinful nature. I pray that the commission will be led by the Devine Holy Spirit & that United Methodist members will have their hearts strangely warmed to seek God’s way Of creation . “United we stand, but divided we fall.”

  14. Jim Fox, West Michigan Conference (ret) says:

    Tom,
    We pray for you and the Commission members. Yours is a daunting task. I’ve often found that when I pray, ‘ What would Jesus do, say, etc.’ I don’t always get a clear answer. Things get bogged down, and I often end up with my own training, opinions, or the opinions of others. But when I pray Jesus, what would you do? Jesus, what do you feel, etc., my answer often comes as I listen in the Spirit. I realize you’ve found that true or I wouldn’t be writing to you. But if your Commission is not listening to HIM, all your work is in vain. My prayer is now, and will be, that your whole Commission will begin praying JWWYD (instead of WWJD). I will pray to that end. God bless you in this difficult challenge.
    In Jesus Love,
    jim fox

  15. Martha Berry says:

    , “The Commission is not exploring ‘whether’ LGBTQ persons will be fully-included in the life of The UMC, but ‘how’” we include them”. This statement worries me. It is a question of obeying the BOD or not obeying the BOD. LGBT persons are certainly allowed and invited to join us in worship. BUT they are NOT to be allowed to be ordained nor commissioned at any time or any place or under any circumstances. There should be no equivocation on that question . There should be no question of “how”. And the persons who are already ordained (falsely) should be defrocked and made just a member, not allowed to hold any office as per the BOD.

  16. William Frazier says:

    I have a terribly conflicted problem. I am an EUB / United Methodist and have been in the church regularly since I was two weeks old. I was opposed to the EUB/UMC merger because I could see the church leaving me in the future, even though I did not want to leave the church. I taught Sunday school for over 45 years, as a Lay Speaker over the same time and held almost every leadership position in the church. I struggled through all the fads; SS literature,(Archibald) that I and so many others refused to use,Situational ethics where there are no absolutes and many others. Now we have a buffet theology, pick what you like and ignore the rest. I still love my local church and church family and at least now, I am still attending. My financial contributions go directly to mission projects, Red Bird Mission School, Stop Hunger Now and our African Missionary. Pilot. I do not contribute to the General Fund. My dilemma is I know that statistically I am still counted as attending church regularly and my funds indicate giving to the church as those I were happy with my church. I have little faith that the Bishops Commission can find a solution to our division, and so my church is leavin me.

  17. Ed Pilkington says:

    None of the above speaks about the intrinsic and central reality of the Scriptures to this matter and what they say about your course of action, what God wants you to be and become. You either believe the commands of the Bible are true as the living word of God for all time or that it is a fluid document God meant to be aways changing to meet personal desires and needs and that truth is not for always, I.e. Lying is permissible if it serves your way. The items below that I copied from your letter speak strongly about a group who wants what ‘they’ want NOT what God wants.

    “as we discussed the outcomes WE want to see from OUR work and began to sketch out what WE will need to learn IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THOSE OUTCOMES.

    The moderators adjusted the agenda and topics to address the NEEDS AND DESIRES OF THE COMMISSION. Their goal really is to serve the commission and help our work to be effective.

    At the same time, from the beginning the commissioners have acknowledged our need to settle on an approach that can pass General Conference. Members’ idealism will need to be tempered by pragmatism.”

    I question if you even use the Book called the Bible because you never mention it. I left the United Methodist Church as a lay leader 40 years ago, after I surrendered to the LORDSHIP of Jesus Christ, because they did not read or teach the bible as the inspired word of God. No wonder you are awash in confusion and rancor. You who ignore the teachings of the scriptures speak of the Holy Spirit but do not exhibit his fruit. Your goal should be to serve the needs of Christ.

  18. Elmo "Bo" Gabbert, M.D. says:

    MERCY LORD —- PLEASE HELP US AND GIVE US A SENSITIVITY TO SEE AND ACT ON YOUR HELP!

  19. Conservative Christians in the UM denomination have to be strong and courageous. There’s no pathway to water down God’s biblical principles and values. The only churches that are growing and flourishing in my entire county are the ones that are truly Bible-based churches and most of them are independent. The others are with denominations that have strong Bible-based beliefs. My UM church has lost about half of its members because the Discipline has been violated. The rest of us who have stayed are hoping the Discipline will be enforced and are active in maintaining a Bible-based church.

  20. Jay F Lucas says:

    The issue of sexuality in the Church today, and how best to deal with it, is already practically dealt with in scripture. Also, the discipline of our denomination is clear as to what our stance should be, if indeed we adhere to John Wesley’s view on scriptural holiness. Our denomination has been focused on this issue since general conferences before 1968. One would have thought that by this time it would have agreed upon a stance that affirms scriptural holiness, and the writings of our own discipline. I fear that if we ignore what God says in His written word and decide to do things “our way” we will be doomed to have a failed view of what true holiness is, and the authority God exercises over his creation.

  21. Tom Blair says:

    Rev. Lambrencht,
    I pray you are well. As a Lay Supply Speaker for the Danville District, Virginia. UMC, I am a scripture based speaker. I have had the opportunity to speak at many churches. My favorite Gospel is the Gospel of John. All of my messages tell us what Jesus Christ can do for us in our lives. I find though in today’s progressive world that i many of my messages are not heard by some. If it is not about social injustice, political correctness, or progressiveness in the Methodist Church it falls on deaf ears.
    God Bless
    Tom Blair

  22. Rev LYLE hinkle says:

    I am praying for you to be used by God to accomplish His will in this awesome task. Keep faith!

  23. Phyllis J. Johnson says:

    I am simply a person who loves the Lord and reads His Word. My husband is a CLM and I have served as Sunday School teacher in the past. I greatly appreciate the work of Good News. Honestly, this is the only way I am educated to this situation. I typically hear nothing from my local churches (we are moving so have had the opportunity to attend several different churches in Texas and Virginia for multiple months) although if asked the pastor will discuss the topic and acknowledge the Committee’s role. Here is my concern. While Rev. Thomas Lambrecht correctly identifies that challenges such as the “theological foundations of our unity and identity” are at the forefront, he then mentions “we are also mindful of the worsening decline of membership and worship attendance in United Methodism in the U.S. and our need to provide a way for the revitalization of our church”. From my perspective the Committee should have no concern at this time for the decline in membership. Are we to become a church of people pleasers to maintain our membership and budgets or a church that upholds the Word of God regardless of the membership outcome? Are we God’s remnant at this time in the world? If so, what is our responsibility to His truth as found in His Word? The Word tells us to love God first and then others as ourselves. Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is not what do we believe in but do we have the courage to act on our beliefs. Once we determine that, the Committee can struggle with how to grow our membership for the purpose of making disciples for Jesus Christ. Considering how we live in a world that increasingly goes against God’s plan as found in His Word. Why can’t love and truth co-exist? How do we love the ones who judge us as unloving?

  24. Donald R French, Sr says:

    What is your opinion and definition of a successful outcome?

  25. Bettie Corn says:

    I seem to remember that offshoots from the Methodist Church ( I.e. Christian, Nazerene) were started because of disagreements in theology. John Wesley was suppose to have stated if you disagree with the Methodist Church, that’s fine, just start your own church. This memory is probably muddled a little, but was this the way it happened? If so, why can’t those who disagree with the Discipline of the United Methodist Church, just start their own denomination instead of trying to destroy the Methodist Church. When this disagreement started over those forty years ago, I wanted to leave the Methodist church. Instead, I remember reading an article from the Good News to stay and fight. I’m still here and praying, but like so many, if the morals of the church change, I will leave. The center of our Bible basically says to trust God, not man. (Psalm 118:8) This is what upsets me so much, so many of these ‘men’ think they are smarter than God.

  26. monte swatzell says:

    Found your report interesting but a long way to go, apparently. I am a member of FUMC of Cleburne, Texasnd speak only for myself as I haven’t pol;led ouir membership about their thoughts on this subject. I do feel that the state of homosexualirty is abnormal and those of such natuire whether inborn or accepted oer gained by pusual should be reg.arded as abnormal from God’s original plan. I am against them being spokesmen, bishops or teachers in the church but am glad for them to worship within those bounds. Muy observations point out that many are more interested in recognition and posirion than in equality. My wife and I are not interested in methodism becoming as many denominations have, a blend of various beliefs not in conjunction with the Bible nor the Methodist current disciplione. Monte Swatzell,DVM,ret

  27. Bob Walter says:

    Isn’t it informative That the two sides are described as “progressives and traditionalists” rather than “those who believe the Bible and those who choose to adapt the Bible to their own interpretation.” And being proud that there are “members from four continents, several ethnic groups, and a wide range of ages, theological perspectives, and multiple sexual orientations, the commission is indeed the most diverse body assembled in the church, other than General Conference itself. “, as if classifying people into groups is good or necessary when the Bible says “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Or implying that the reality and truth of the gospel is different for people with different desires and backgrounds. And what is the most upsetting is the whole story is set in episcopal babble and only in one vague reference, “as we examine such things as the theological foundations of our unity,” makes any reference to the scripture which is the only thing that should be examined and relied upon to come to a prompt and scripturally sound decision.

    The questions are simple. As shown by repeated outcomes from numerous General Conferences, wherein the people of he UMC have determined how the scripture leads them, including their clergy, to behave, there are rules. The rules are being deliberately broken. There are prescribed consequences to such disobedience in the Discipline. And the COB and commission on the way forward appear to be deliberately dragging their feet when all they need to decide is how quickly to fire the perpetrators and instigators of this shameful, decades long blemish on the UMC clergy and COB.

  28. Geoff Lightsey says:

    Was there anything about how we are to view and understand the Bible? That may not be the purpose of this group but it is the underlying issue. I’m curious if there is any focus on the Bible or if the focus is on unity above all else.

  29. Rev. Dale Shunk says:

    Thanks for the Commission report and your wise words. The Christ followers of Wilmore UMC have been and will continue to pray for you and the entire work of the Commission for God’s will to be done.

  30. Vaughan Hayden says:

    I am interested in the phrase “fully-included”. Isn’t that where the impasse has been. If he already assume the full inclusion then the battle so to speak is over. No need to worry about how but about who. Who will still be a part of this thing called The United Methodist Church. And why bother to include the word United at all?

  31. Gifford Tompkins says:

    As an orthodox Christian and a United Methodist, I am hopeful that your commission can navigate the divide that faces our denomination. If biblical orthodoxy and traditional values cannot be upheld then there must be a peaceful divide that allows orthodox Christians to remain Methodists. An acceptance of cultural norms as “Christian” will not allow traditionalists to remain within the denomination.

  32. Bob Walter says:

    Rev. Lambrecht, I submitted a response to this message yesterday in which I was critical of the use of bishop speak, praise for diversity that was apparently an overall basis for deccision, and the almost complete reliance on everything other than the scripture as guidance. I went back and reviewed an article you wrote for UMNews in 2014. In that article you made every point that I used in rebutting your recent article, only you used better language skills than I posses. What changed you from one of the heroes to one of the villains? If your “fairness” in your recent article is well intentioned, recall that the primary message in the Bible about being “fair” is Solomon offering to split the baby; a completely fair decision. Completely fair to both the good and the evil.

  33. Jim Russell says:

    Agree the LGBTQ persons should be included in the UMC and loved and ministered to so they may see their
    sinful ways according to scripture, and help them to be redeemed by God’s grace is my prayer.

  34. What does this statement mean for the United Methodist Church, “The Commission is not exploring ‘whether’ LGBTQ persons will be fully-included in the life of The UMC, but ‘how’” we include them.”? Is it inevitable that the United Methodist Church will openly appoint LGBTQ persons to be pastors of local congregations? Does the “Way Forward” leave any room to have a traditional understanding of “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”?

  35. Glen Smalley says:

    I will pray for the Commission , but the liberal wing will not be satisfied with anything short of full support by all of the Methodist Church. The survival of the Methodist Church is in your hands, but turning your back to God given Biblical directives on this matter will incur God’s wrath and the death of the Methodist Denomination. Better to be firm and prune the dead branches now than to allow the diseased limbs to kill the whole vine! They have knowingly and brazenly defied God and the church. They are daring you to punish them. Ignoring this sullen/defiant child will produce only more bad behavior! However, these are adults, not children. They know the rules and so does the commission. Option A) follow God and His Bible and cast out the offenders Or B) compromise and watch the Bible believing majority leave.

  36. Clinton Grant says:

    I am most disappointed in the willingness of several ordained ministers to violate the oath they took and go against the Church discipline. Even more disappointing are those same ministers denying The Word of God. It is Not just a different interpretation, it is flat out denial that The Bible is inspired by God.. They use rationalization or fallacy of reasoning to change what God says into what they want it to say to satisfy their worldly, perhaps sexual desires.

  37. Richard Facemyer says:

    “Members’ idealism will need to be tempered by pragmatism…..”

    Boy, what a loaded statement. I can be pragmatic about many issues. I wonder how Jesus would have reacted to this statement….Maybe Paul and the Gospel writers did, in fact, have to deal some issues of pragmatism versus idealism at the Jerusalem Council, although I would not want to compare the issues at our table to the issues at the Jerusalem Council table.

    Biblical or Gospel Idealism needs to be tempered by pragmatism. Does not have a good sound to it.

  38. For all who do not wish to follow God’s simple commandments to love, they will face law, this is the unfortunate conflict of the heart of man from which much evil comes. Desire to follow God, desire to allow the Spirit to be your guide, for the flesh wars against the Spirit. If I can suggest one thing it is this get down on your knees and realise that God is sovereign, and, don’t get up from that position ever.

  39. Kathy Peacock says:

    Thank you for the opportunity!

    As a member of the United Methodist Church and also of Christian faith, The Bible states it is a sin for people of the same sex to marry as well as cohabitate. Also, this includes our clergy marrying people of the same sex as well as the clergy admitting they are engaging, married or unmarried, with same sex partner.

    Why are we stalling to make any decision if this is our belief…..which it is! No matter where our United Methodist live in the world, the Bible is our guide, our law. The longer we delay the answers, the more embarrassing it becomes for the United Methodist Church and prospective members. If our clergy and members do not follow our discipline from the Bible, they ask that they please leave our church, or………..present members will be leaving the church.

  40. Tom Pruett says:

    Unfortunately the memberships in all altruistic organizations is also on the decline and being discussed seriously by many such as Rotary and Lions. These organizations and many others show a lack of younger people coming in to replace the older ones. It is a silent testimony of a society that has embraced a philosophy of “It’s all about me”. Their concern is what can I get from: my government, my employer, my church, my organization and all those around me. Lost is “What can I do for others?” This solidifies the position taken by Christians toward their individual churches and their denominations. They no longer seek to share the love of Jesus with others, but only receive what might satisfy their immediate needs. There is no easy solution since these people work from a totally different mindset. Businesses are finding this painfully true as they attempt to employ these people. Tom Pruett

  41. Alice Nicol says:

    If a person feels called to serve God, I don’t think it matters what race, color, sex or sexual orientation they are. I can’t, in good conscience, continue to be a member of the UMC, (Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors) if our church is unable to allow LGBTQ people to serve. I know there are others that feel just as strongly the other way. Although unfortunate, it seems that the only way to resolve this issue is to let the two factions go their own ways. Then both can get on with serving the Lord in the way they best see fit and this long standing, divisive issue can be put to rest.

  42. Sally Wiens says:

    It seems so simple to me….God loves…and accepts…everyone. That’s every one. Why can’t all United Methodists? I applaud you all….don’t waste time…get to the nitty gritty and figure it out so we might have a chance at making a difference less than four years from now!

  43. Carthel Pruitt says:

    We are praying for the UMC every day. May God give the Commission wisdom and knowledge.seeking Jesus for His will and way forward, to keep our faith and Church centered In Jesus Christ and the inspired Scriptures.

    Today, we face a constitutional crisis in our Nation. The far left want our constitution to be flexible to today’s society. The right believe that staying with the original meaning of our constitution, created by our forefathers, is a strong reasons why our Nation has been strong, free and prosperous.

    The United Methodist Church has the same crisis with regard to the Scriptures. The far left want the Scriptures to be flexible to the society, instead of society being transformed by the Scriptures. Think about this: If the Left are get their way, the Bible is meaningless. Those on the right want to see us live by the inspired Scriptures. The Bible is very clear on God’s love for all of us and His expectations about how we live, including our morality.

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