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A Message from Pastor Alexa

For years now, pastors have been asked, “what is the future of The United Methodist Church?” My answer has been, most often, “I don’t know.” Which, unfortunately, is representative of the frustration and confusion the conflict in our denomination has wrought. The answer is still, “I don’t know,” but there is some information and context that might give us some insight into what might be up ahead.

An Abbreviated History

In 1972 at The General Conference of The United Methodist Church (the only body that can change The Book of Discipline, law book of our denomination), legislation was proposed to add this line in the Human Sexuality paragraph: “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth.” On the floor of the General Conference, an amendment was made to this proposal. Another sentence was added. “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The initial legislation proposed was meant to recognize dignity of all people, including people in homosexual relationships. Instead, exclusionary language was added.

Since 1972, other parts of The Book of Discipline have used this ‘teaching’ to propose and pass other policies. The Book of Discipline has since prohibited the blessing of same-sex weddings, prohibited the ordination of ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals,’ and more. These offenses are considered ‘chargeable,’ meaning that those who engage in these practices can be disciplined and potentially defrocked by the denomination.

In 2016, Rev. Karen Oliveto, who is openly lesbian, and married to her wife, was consecrated as a Bishop by the Western Jurisdiction. Bishop Oliveto has been serving the Mountain Sky Conference ever since. An openly LGBTQ person holding the highest office in our denomination brought our denomination to an impasse. Conferences and Jurisdictions in the West, as well as around the United States were overtly defying The Book of Discipline on a matter of principle.

Later that year, General Conference was held, and particularly because of the consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the General Conference sought to seek resolution in one way or another about the deep hurt of LGBTQ people in our church, and reckon with the Western Jurisdiction’s outright defiance of The Book of Discipline in the highest level of the church, an action for which many felt betrayed and angered by. The expressed betrayal and anger had to do with both the principle of the action (many folks believe as the Book of Discipline expresses, that LGBTQ people should not be permitted to be ordained, let alone consecrated to the episcopacy) as well as the process (the Western Jurisdiction’s defiance/disregard of The Book of Discipline.

The General Conference of 2016 could not find resolution among themselves, and made a formal request for the Council of Bishops to lead our denomination. A special session of General Conference was scheduled for 2019.

Additionally, in 2016, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) had its official start, with a conference. This group’s expressed purpose was to establish a separate denomination that would split from The United Methodist Church, based on its commitment to a “traditionalist” view on marriage and sexuality, which they call “orthodoxy.” Unexpressed, their other purpose was to continue advocating for traditionalist policies in The United Methodist Church, ‘charging’ clergy for their sexuality as well as for performing same-sex weddings.

2016-2019 The Council of Bishops established the Commission on the Way Forward (COWF). The Commission ultimately presented three paths forward for the denomination:
The One Church Plan, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, would allow but not require United Methodist clergy to perform same-gender weddings where legal, and allow but not require annual conferences to ordain LGBTQ pastors. "The One Church Plan is built on the belief that it is possible to live with more space while we focus on our common mission," the report states.

The Connectional Conference Plan would create "three values-based connectional conferences" in the U.S., and provide for central conferences to align with one of those connectional conferences or become one of their own. According to the report, the "Connectional Conference Plan addresses the reality of the UMC as it is now."

The Traditionalist Plan is mentioned in the report, but details written by "a few members of the Council of Bishops" appear in appendix 3. "The Traditional Model maintains our global United Methodist teaching on human sexuality," the plan states.

COWF considered a traditionalist plan but discontinued work on it because it received "modest support" from both COWF and Council of Bishops. When the bishops later asked COWF to include a Traditionalist Plan, "the time available did not allow for the full conciliar process utilized for the other two plans."

Surprisingly to many, and despite the lack of support or endorsement from the Council of Bishops or the Commission on the Way Forward, General Conference passed The Traditionalist Plan.

For so many, this was a breaking point. For some others, this was a great victory. If it wasn’t clear before, it was now: a split in the denomination was inevitable.

The General Conference was scheduled to gather the following year, in 2020, to work out what a split would look like. However, as you know, 2020 changed our entire world with a global pandemic. General Conference has not met since the very dramatic and harrowing 2019 conference, after rescheduling the slated 2020 conference several times. They will gather, God willing, in 2024.

However, individuals (laity and clergy) and congregations holding traditionalist views, on the whole, have found it intolerable to remain UMC until then. The WCA forged ahead in its creation of a new denomination, which launched earlier this year. This denomination is called The Global Methodist Church.

You may have been hearing the language of ‘splintering’ rather than ‘splitting.’ This is because these congregations are not waiting for an official split declared and defined by the official body of the denomination. Instead, the most traditionalist congregations are “disaffiliating” from The United Methodist Church in droves. This is not happening in our region at near the rate it is happening in several other parts of the country.

There is disaffiliation protocol in place until December 31, 2023, which includes the congregation having to pay their apportionments some number of years out, and coming to other financial agreements around the property held in trust by these congregations. (Read more about the Trust Clause) 

What does this mean for First Olympia?

Spiritually and emotionally, this happening might be a cause and source for grief, betrayal, indifference, or expressions of “good riddance.” With any separation, there are complicated feelings.

Politically (meaning, in the polity/order of our denomination), as a Reconciling Congregation, I wonder whether we might be called to advocate for changing the policy and practical theology of our denomination to a more inclusive one.

Logistically, not much. There have been no expressions of desire for this church to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, so we will not have to purchase our building from the Annual Conference or pay apportionments out several years.

Missionally, we must consider whether or not we can improve our witness to the wider community regarding our dissenting views on the official legislation on Human Sexuality of The United Methodist Church as it currently stands.

So, what might be up ahead?

We still don’t know. We hope that the General Conference will be able to gather in 2024 and make decisions regarding the future. We can expect that some/many congregations around the country will continue to leave The United Methodist Church for the Global Methodist Church, or the Free Methodist Church, or to be an independent congregation. And, we can hope that the faithful witness and collective action of Reconciling Congregations might make waves of change toward inclusion in our denomination and communities.

For more information, click this link to watch a video presentation by our current Bishop Rev Elaine JW Stanovsky which was shared at our co-op laity gathering two weeks ago.

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