On the Postponement of General Conference
By Pastor Tom Anderson
The Commission on General Conference has canceled this year’s General Conference. The next General Conference won’t happen until 2024. The commission was deeply divided. They gave as the reasons the unavailability of vaccines and/or visas for overseas delegates. These excuses don’t stand up to careful scrutiny. It’s not unreasonable to believe this decision was motivated by political concerns within the church. Nevertheless, the decision has been made and we must all live with it.
What does this mean for the coming separation of the denomination? The “Protocol for Reconciliation by Grace through Separation” was carefully negotiated two years ago and received near unanimous support from all United Methodist leaders. It needed only the approval of the General Conference and now this won’t happen for another 2 years. By that time the Protocol will be 4 years old. Some of the original negotiators have died.. A lot of things can happen in another 2 years and so the hope for a resolution to denominational conflict through the Protocol is in steep decline. Patience in many parts of the denomination has run out.
In response the leaders of the Global Methodist Church have announced their intention to launch the new denomination on May 1 of this year. Churches, clergy and some whole Annual Conferences will be withdrawing from the United Methodist Church this year in order to unite with the Global Methodist Church. There are at least 4 legal pathways to accomplish this–all of which are complicated:
Paragraph 2553 Disaffiliation. This is the route for congregations who wish to become completely independent. At least 9 Michigan churches have already done this in the last two years. It’s expensive as it requires payment of the church’s share of the unfunded clergy pension liability. This pathway will sunset in 2023.
Paragraph 2548.2 Withdrawal to Unite with another Methodist denomination. This is an existing provision of the Book of Discipline allowing churches to leave the United Methodist Church for the express purpose of uniting with the Global Methodist Church (or other denomination). It’s language is ambiguous yet it seems the most likely path most departing churches would choose.
Close the church and then reopen as a new church within the Global Methodist Church. This requires a great deal of permission granting from various agencies within the annual conference which could be lengthy. It also assumes the Annual Conference will be willing to sell or give the building to the new congregation. There’s a lot to be uncertain about here.
Test the trust clause of the United Methodist Church by taking it to court. State laws on this vary around the country and such a process could be lengthy, expensive and disappointing. On all accounts this method is the least desirable.
In the coming months we will no doubt see all of these options being exercised around the country. It will make for a very confusing time. The Council of Bishops met recently to discuss the best ways to allow the separation to proceed under the current Book of Discipline. The Council has yet to show much unity on this issue.
The Global Methodist Church has established a 17 member Transitional Leadership Team which includes two retired Bishops, Robert Hayes and Mike Lowry. A Transitional Book of Discipline has been developed to guide the new denomination for the first two years. Many have been eagerly awaiting the birth of this new church as an opportunity to renew the Methodist Movement for the 21st century. You can learn more at www.globalmethodist.org.
What would be the advantages for a congregation joining the Global Methodist Church? There are five immediate and dramatic features that stand out:
The church will retain the gospel teaching on marriage along with the historic, Biblical beliefs that are currently in place in the United Methodist Church. United Methodist leaders are poised to eliminate some and alter others of these beliefs as soon as separation is complete.
Churches will gain the title to their own property for the first time. This is not possible in the United Methodist Church as the Annual Conference holds title to all local properties. The Global Methodist Church gives congregations enormous control over their mission and future.
Churches will gain leadership in the recruitment and hiring of their pastor. This is not possible in the United Methodist Church as the Bishop holds all authority in the placement of pastors.
Apportionments or “Ministry Shares” will be lowered to less than half of what the United Methodist Church currently levies on its congregations.
Churches will have a 100 page Book of Discipline as opposed to the 900 page United Methodist Book of Discipline. Layers of bureaucracy, rules, mandates, paperwork and structures will be eliminated. There will be a resulting freedom to innovate new ministry models locally and globally which are simply not possible under the antiquated and top-heavy structure of the current United Methodist Church.
Many questions remain. Much more conversation needs to happen among the people still called United Methodist. Yet, the Spirit is stirring in the midst of this chaos and God is about to do a new thing! With faith and daring let us grab onto renewal, revitalization and revival of the Methodist movement. Join me in prayer and fasting towards accomplishing God’s purpose among us. In the meantime, Let us never stop our efforts to reach new people for Christ in our community and to love our neighbors no matter who they are.