Today I want to share “part three” in a series of updates I have offered to our congregation regarding the future of the United Methodist Church dating back to January of 2020. Recent news merits this third update, but I believe the context of what has occurred since the beginning of 2020 is helpful in understanding where we are today.
In part one of this series I wrote about the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation which was a plan put forth by a group of key leaders representing the entire theological spectrum within The United Methodist Church. The stated intent of their shared work was to,
Multiply the Methodist mission in the world by restructuring the Church through respectful and dignified separation.
In defining their principles, the leaders who negotiated the Protocol began with this statement,
Whereas, The United Methodist Church and its members—after careful reflection, discussion and prayer—have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice;
At that time the expectation was that this proposal would be brought before the General Conference gathering scheduled for May of 2020.*
One additional note of importance related to the Protocol is that in order to achieve the stated goals of reconciliation and graceful separation, the January proposal spoke about an “imagined” new ‘traditional’ denomination. This meant that the success of what was at the heart of the Protocol required that this imagined denomination become a reality.
*For those who may not know, the General Conference which is a gathering of delegates from all across the world that meets every four years is the only body that can formally adopt any potential changes to the general rules of our church which are found in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.
I shared part two of this series in March of 2020 after a group of bishops, clergy, and laity from around the world gathered in Atlanta to begin the work of framing out the basic structure of this new denomination. At the conclusion of that event, a document was released entitled “Reimagining the Passion of a Global Methodist Movement.” A Transitional Leadership Council was also formed to continue the work of establishing what was named during that gathering in Atlanta as The Global Methodist Church.
I was invited to participate in this gathering and added my signature to the document that was released. To read more about why I chose to participate in this initial gathering, I would encourage you to read the full update here.
I shared part two on my blog on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 with the intention of referencing that update in the email I usually send out to our congregation on Friday. However, that Friday morning was when my life and our life together was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fast forwarding to where we are today, May 4th, 2022, the General Conference gathering originally scheduled for May of 2020 has still not been able to convene.
Originally rescheduled for late summer in 2022, after exhaustive work and fervent prayer by the Commission charged with the planning of General Conference, concerns regarding the ability for delegates to acquire travel visas from all around the world and safely gather during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic compelled the Commission to delay the next General Conference until May of 2024.
With the announcement of this additional postponement of the General Conference, the Global Methodist Church announced that it would officially launch on May 1st, 2022.
Where are we today?
To understand the implications of these most recent announcements, it’s important to understand the hope leading into the General Conference planned for May of 2020. The best way to understand the Protocol is as a set of recommendations made to the General Conference regarding specific steps and suggested changes to our general rules to provide clear and uniform direction for all churches within The United Methodist Church to move towards the stated goal of “grace through separation.”
The General Conference is the only body that could take such action. That being said, in order to fully understand the “governance” structure of our church, it is important to know that anything approved at General Conference would have ultimately served as the guide for Annual Conferences in the legal process involved in a separation.
In The United Methodist Church, it is the Annual Conference that is the main “legal” body of the church. Any change in status or affiliation for a local church or for a clergy person happens at the level of the Annual Conference.
In other words, our legal affiliation is not to The United Methodist Church generally, but specifically to the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This means that at this point, any process involved in churches disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church for the sake of affiliating with the Global Methodist Church will happen according to the process outlined by our Book of Discipline and at the level of the Annual Conference.
What will that look like in the Central Texas Conference?
Our Episcopal leader, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., has put in place a timeline and process for churches within the Central Texas Conference seeking disaffiliation in 2022.
- First, the leadership council of the local church must notify their District Superintendent in writing by June 1st of their intent to enter into a time of discerning the question of disaffiliation.
- Second, prior to September 17th, the leadership council of the local church must hold a duly called Church Conference with the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote of professing church members present in favor of disaffiliation to move forward.
- Finally, those churches who have had a Church Conference and affirmed disaffiliation will be presented for approval at a special called session of the Annual Conference set for September 17th, 2022.
To read the full update from Bishop Saenz, please visit this link.
What does this mean for First Methodist Mansfield?
On Monday, April 25th, our Executive Lay Leadership Team – the main leadership body for our church – gathered to process this most recent information and direction provided by our Bishop.
There are two things I want to specifically note for you here.
- While this has not been a primary focus of concern for our entire congregation, this is a conversation our leadership has been following and discerning together since January of 2020.
- As your Senior Pastor, I do not have the authority to decide on the affiliation of our local church.
Any decision about the future of our congregation will be made by our congregation.
My role and responsibility is to inform and advise the congregation and leaders regarding what will lead to the most faithful and fruitful future of this congregation. Having served here for 17 years, I do believe I have come to know very closely the heart and theology of this church, and in my work beyond the local church, I have also had the opportunity to understand who you are in relation to the wider denomination.
Both of these have informed the recommendation I shared with our Executive Lay Leadership Team that a future affiliation with the Global Methodist Church would be the best fit for this congregation.*
However, what I believe is of equal significance to the question of where we go is the concern of how we get there.
With this additional interest in mind, I recommended to our leaders that we not seek to take this step prior to the called Annual Conference on September 17th.
Instead, my recommendation was that we prepare to enter into an extended time of education and dialogue this September with the expectation of bringing this before our church body for a Church Conference in mid to late fall of 2022.
After sharing that recommendation and allowing time for our leadership to process that together, our Executive Lay Leadership Team voted unanimously to affirm the recommendation that we not take immediate action, but instead move forward more carefully and deliberately by spending intentional time this fall ensuring that our congregation feels fully informed and prepared for any potential decision about our future affiliation.
*While I have not gone into detail in this update, during our time of dialogue this fall, I will share with our entire congregation the reasoning for the recommendation I have shared with our lay leadership. If you would like to learn more about the doctrine of the Global Methodist Church, I would encourage you to visit this link. I would recommend part one titled “doctrine” and part two titled “social witness” in particular.
What can we do in the meantime?
First, let me assure you that we will be diligent in keeping you well informed as we move forward. Please note that each congregation within the United Methodist Church will be processing this in different ways and at their own pace.
I can confidently say that if you invest a great deal of energy searching the latest news on social media or other online platforms, it will only increase your confusion and the overall anxiety within our congregation.
I want to ask that you not do that and instead trust that I am available for any questions you might have and that we will keep you appropriately informed.
Take a deep breath. There is no reason to panic or be afraid. There is no reason to doubt our future. Remember, Jesus is Lord! The church belongs to Jesus. We are only temporary stewards of this great treasure.
Faithfulness is success. Nothing more, nothing less.
That is what has been the defining mark of this church for generations. Obedience is what has fueled the great work of this church since it was established in 1885.
Finally, let me say again that I am fully persuaded that there is a movement of God happening in the life of this congregation unlike any other I have ever experienced in my time serving here. In the words of Nehemiah, “we are doing a great work,” and cannot afford to be distracted from what has always been and always will be the main thing which is,
Making and Maturing Disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love others and serve the world.
I want to encourage you to join me in being guided entirely by these words from the Apostle Paul.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4:4-8
*If you have any further questions or would like to visit further about this update, I will be holding a Town Hall on May 22nd at 3pm in our main sanctuary. All are welcome to attend.