When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. [Isaiah 43:2 NIV]
"What exactly is going on in the United Methodist Church?" This question has been resounding through our church in the past months. Some of you may not even know that something is going on. And some of you are fully aware and want to know what St. Andrew’s UMC is planning to do.
For the past few decades, our denomination has had some major disagreements on issues—the focal point being the issue of human sexuality. Should same-sex marriages be allowed in the UMC and should practicing homosexuals be allowed to become ordained? Over the past years, much has been done among all involved to try to come to an amicable agreement, but to no avail. So, in 2019, the General Conference, the legislative branch of the UMC, drafted the Protocol of Separation that would allow churches to disaffiliate or leave the UMC on this issue. The assumption being that the continuing UMC will strike any language about homosexuality from its Book of Discipline. The Protocol was to be voted on at the 2020 General Conference. But then you know what happened in 2020. The pandemic took center stage and so, the General Conference was postponed until 2022, and then 2024, and until then we are in limbo.
But are things really in limbo? Yes. In a way, we are in a waiting game. But back in May, a group known as the Global Methodist Church who desires to leave the continuing UMC because of differing beliefs, was organized and launched. They are a more conservative denomination, who desires to uphold the traditional standards currently in the Book of Discipline on human sexuality.
In an effort to be transparent with our congregation and provide unbiased info on the new developments, we had announced that a task force had been set up to address this situation and held a Q&A session with our District Superintendent Emily Hotho in June.
A few things have transpired since then and we want to take a moment to provide answers to basic questions to help our church community understand what is currently taking place. Please know that we are just scratching the surface in addressing this complex state of affairs.
First let's answer the question, "can a church just leave the UMC and join the GMC?" The answer is they are allowed “a gracious exit” if they follow a defined procedure. You see, the UMC is a connectional denomination, not a congregational denomination. One aspect of the UMC, that was established by John Wesley and is used by other denominations, is the “trust clause.” A church community does not own the church and its property, but is owned by the United Methodist Church overall. This was put into place so that a group of people within a church could not decide they wanted to leave the church and then take everything with them after the United Methodist Church had invested so much of their time and resources in founding and nurturing the church. In other words, the trust clause states that the congregation can leave, but they cannot take the building with them.
Nevertheless, a process to leave the UMC was approved at the 2019 Conference (known as Paragraph 2553) so that churches could disaffiliate and not be bound by the trust clause, i.e., they could take the building and resources with them. In a nutshell, this involves paying their financial obligations, such as a share of the assessed value of the property, mission shares, and any unfunded pension liability.
Recently we were made aware that there was a lawsuit of about 100 churches against the Florida Conference of the UMC to challenge the stipulations established for disaffiliated. The Florida Conference published a Q&A regarding this lawsuit. We are sharing the Q&A with you to help answer some questions you may have (click HERE).
Are there churches that have disaffiliated?
Yes, there were 13 churches in the Florida Conference that were approved for disaffiliation. The decision to disaffiliate must be approved by a 2/3rd majority of its members at a called Church Conference. To clarify, a church does not need to vote to stay in the UMC, only to disaffiliate. However, if a church disaffiliates, that does not mean that they will join the Global Methodist Church. They may decide to become an independent church.
Where does this leave St. Andrew’s?
As stated back in June, the leaders of this church have decided to wait to see what happens at the 2024 General Conference. Things may change at that conference. Let me rephrase that … things most likely, WILL change at that conference, in my opinion. So, it will be premature to make any plans now. In the meantime, we have put together a task force of lay people, headed by our Church Council chair Alan Chastain, who will research and investigate thoroughly the circumstances to discern a clear picture of the situation, as well as dispel myths that have been floating around. They are also available to answer any questions you may have. You can submit your questions by clicking HERE. In the future, they will continue to communicate on a regular basis any information or clarifications that would help us at St. Andrew’s to understand more clearly what is before us.
Where does St. Andrew’s stand on these prevailing issues?
St. Andrew’s will continue to be the beacon of light at the corner of Bloomingdale and Bryan, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It will still lead people to know God and experience His grace through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by reaching people with love, creating Christian community, and serving others as followers of Christ. St. Andrew’s will do whatever it takes to continue its mission into the community and the world. This will not change. In this season of uncertainty, this community will know that God is with them. Even when we passed through the tumultuous waters of the pandemic, the rough rivers of a challenging economy, the myriad of changes, we were assured that we would not be swept away. As long as we are constant in prayer and look to our Heavenly Father, we can walk through the fires and not be set ablaze, as the prophet Isaiah wrote. With God’s help, we will endure and thrive.