A View From the Pew: How We Got Here
I was baptized in the Methodist church but spent the last half of my growing-up years in another denomination. My family had moved to a town where the Methodist church was seen more as a social club, and the church did not emphasize God and His Word. When Brad and I moved here, we found FMC. Brad felt grounded with the liturgy and creeds, and both of us were drawn by the evangelical spirit and teaching from God’s Word. We raised our family here, and in many ways, you are the community that raised us.
About ten years ago, I started attending the annual meeting of our local conference as a lay delegate. I was a vote to help make sure the voice of our church was heard, in addition to many other voices from churches different from us. Unfortunately, our differences came to be described in political terms – progressive, centrist, and traditional or conservative. The tenor of the Annual Conference was shifting to an increasingly more aggressive social agenda. This social agenda sought to redefine the meaning of being a Christian and the purpose of the UMC. Long-held theological understandings of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Authority of Scripture, and Mission were being challenged.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) Organizes
After several decades of studying other separations in church history and other denominational schisms, a group of faithful, traditional Methodists met in October of 2016 in Chicago and formed the WCA. Our own church was a site for several of their Global Gatherings and some of our members joined the WCA. It had become obvious that our organizational strengths could not hold our denomination together amidst deep theological differences. The WCA organized into tasks forces to begin the process of developing a new expression of Methodism preserving the strengths of Methodist theology and addressing the lack of accountability that had caused our theological crisis. Some of the brightest minds in Methodism volunteered to develop a new Book of Doctrine and Discipline for a new church that was eventually named The Global Methodist Church.
2019 Called General Conference
At the worldwide, called 2019 General Conference, the delegates voted to approve the Traditional Plan and many Progressives were upset. As a result, Paragraph 2553 became effective, setting up a disaffiliation process which provided an exit path for those churches who could not be faithful to the the Traditional understanding of the church’s doctrinal standards. Paragraph 2553 was written to “time-out” at the end of 2023.
At the 2019 Annual Conference, tensions were high. Now more than ever, it seemed that we were trying to keep the UMC from tampering with who we were as a local church rather than being able to find ways the UMC could grow and strengthen our church. After the conflict at the 2019 General Conference, there were Annual Conferences, pastors, and local churches who refused to uphold the Book of Discipline. There was a sense among all the groups that the division has become too great. So, the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was written as an attempt to gracefully divide the UMC into two denominations. It had the support of Traditionalists and Progressives and was to be addressed at the 2020 General Conference. Then COVID hit and General Conference was postponed to 2021 and then 2022, and now it is postponed to 2024.
A brief aside: Why do we have to jump through all these hoops? And, why now?
In the UMC, all of our property is held “in trust” by the UMC and not owned by the local church. Wesley initiated the Trust Clause to insure that all Methodist Churches upheld its doctrinal standards. We, the actual people of the church, can leave or do whatever, but we, the local church, can’t separate from the denomination and take any of our property with us without special permission. That special permission is what Paragraph 2553 provides for this small window of time. Our building and other property are not the most important thing, but it would be hard for us to leave our property and stay intact as a church. If we want to leave the denomination, keeping the property would be preferred.
Some churches have simply decided to leave the UMC and take their property without the special permission provided in Paragraph 2553. That option is possible, but it does leave the church open for a potentially protracted lawsuit.
Hundreds of churches and pastors have already voted to leave the UMC in Texas alone; most of those are Traditionalists. With fewer Traditionalists in the UMC, there is every reason to expect the UMC will become more progressive and move even farther from the scriptures. As recently-retired UMC Bishop Scott Jones from the Houston area said, the question is, “how far and how fast will they go?” The Conference has been fair with us and has tried to provide pastors that align with our church’s beliefs. As the UMC becomes more progressive and traditional-minded pastors leave the UMC, such pastors will be harder to find.
What happened to the graceful separation of the Protocol? Why the rush?
In early 2022, some Progressives and Centrists withdrew their support of the Protocol. People who follow votes at General Conference began to question whether or not the Protocol had any chance of passing as more Traditional churches left the UMC. Then, General Conference was postponed a third time to 2024. Consequently, the Global Methodist Church launched as an option for Traditional churches choosing to leave the UMC. Waiting for the Protocol to be voted on had become pointless. (There are other denominational options, but some of them frankly don’t want hundreds of former UMC churches suddenly joining them.)
Our local conference provided some of their initial rules for exiting through Paragraph 2553. Some initial rules seemed to make the exit with Paragraph 2553 expensive and potentially dangerous for our pastors. There were many unanswered questions. We watched and waited.
As we waited, some of the rules were softened and clarified, and some of the exiting costs defined by our conference were reduced. We started discussing this as a viable option for FMC. Home meetings were held to discuss the possibility of our church leaving the UMC.
The bishop of our conference retired at the end of 2022. After our new bishop was named in early November, the deadline for a vote for disaffiliation was changed by our conference to February 12, 2023, so they could address disaffiliating churches in a called Annual Conference in March. So, to take advantage of this window of opportunity provided by Paragraph 2553, we need to vote to do so. After that, we will need to determine what (if any) denomination we want to affiliate with, and finalize all the necessary paperwork, insurance, and a long list of other details all before April 1, 2023.
Do you still have questions or would you like to talk? We can meet over coffee or get a small group together. Please feel free to reach out to me or some of the other people on this list.