The Future of the United Methodist Church and Centenary
Dear Centenary Family,
Many of you have probably heard that over the past several months, some United Methodist churches have begun and/or completed the process of disaffiliating from our denomination. Tomorrow morning, for instance, there will be a virtual called session of the Virginia Annual Conference to vote on the disaffiliation of 34 congregations in Virginia who have completed the extensive process of discernment in their local churches and are seeking the Conference's approval of their decision.
As you hear of these developments in the media or by word of mouth, I want you to be aware of where we stand. Our firm commitment as a congregation, and my firm commitment as a pastor, is to remain part of the United Methodist Church.
I've heard the question raised about whether congregations have to vote on this. The answer is "No, congregations do not have to vote." The only time congregations have to vote on this is if they have decided that they want to leave the United Methodist Church. Churches that move in that direction spend an enormous amount of time and energy discussing their decision. For a congregation to seek Conference approval for disaffiliation, they have to have a 2/3 majority agree to disaffiliate. They also have to reach a financial settlement with the Annual Conference to pay their share of unfunded pension liabilities and apportionments. Several of the churches on the list for disaffiliation for tomorrow's called session of the Annual Conference will be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet their obligations before disaffiliation.
There are other misconceptions about what it means to remain in the United Methodist Church, some purposely spread by those eager to depart. In the new United Methodist Church, congregations and clergy will be allowed to decide their own approach and practice around the issue of same-sex marriage. No one position or practice will be mandated.
The United Methodist Church will certainly be impacted by the loss of congregations and members through disaffiliation. In numerical terms, the remaining UMC will still be one of the strongest denominations in the U.S. The latest estimates I have seen are that somewhere around 2,000 congregations, out of about 38,000, will leave the denomination. There are other costs, though. There is the emotional and spiritual cost of the unbecoming, and in my opinion, unnecessary, fracturing of the Body of Christ. There are many stories of congregations who vote to disaffiliate and either do not reach the 2/3 majority threshold or just barely meet it. This creates a great deal of pain and anguish in congregations that are so divided.
Here at Centenary, we do not plan to spend a great deal of time or energy following the almost daily developments as congregations disaffiliate. We want our focus and energy to be on our current ministry. We want to refocus our energy on reaching new people, exploring new forms of mission in our city and beyond, helping people grow in faith and utilize their gifts for ministry and mission. We want to explore starting new ministries and increasing our impact on the city. My prayer is that you and I together can be part of that movement forward. We also feel like we can play a vital role in the new United Methodist Church as we continue our connectional relationships for mission and ministry that have meant so much to us throughout our history.
Below is a link to an interview with Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, the newly appointed bishop of the Virginia Annual Conference. She explains very well her thoughts and feelings on where we are as the United Methodist Church at this time and her vision for the Virginia Annual Conference. It's about 30 minutes long, but I think it is well worth your time. I hope you'll take time to watch it. And if you have questions you'd like to discuss, I hope you will let me know. If you'd like to gather with others who have interest in further discussion on these matters, also let me know and we'll try to make arrangements for those opportunities.
The journey of being faithful in these times is challenging. But I'm grateful to be able to have companions like you all as we move into God's future for us.