Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Disaffiliation Blues

As the Crossroads District Superintendent for the Oklahoma Conference, I have been a part of the conversation on churches disaffiliating and what those policies should include.  It is pretty cut and dry until you start plugging actual churches and names into the equation.  That's when it begins to be difficult.

I've found that as I continue to encounter videos, blogs, podcasts, emails and social media posts, that my energy level has begun to drag.  It sometimes feels like I'm putting more time into the people that don't want to be a part of our future over the people who are committed to working together in our denomination.

To be clear, I'm an evangelist for Jesus Christ through The United Methodist Church.  This is a part of the vow all United Methodists make when we become members of a local United Methodist church.  As an Elder in our denomination, a part of what I've been ordained to is the ordering of our church.  So, I'm not neutral when it comes to disaffiliation.  I try, however, to be fair and allow churches to follow the process that our Book of Discipline and our conference Board of Trustees have laid out for those seeking to leave.

Some have asked how I can do both at the same time?  It feels like walking a tightrope.  While I seek to share the Good News through The United Methodist Church, a part of our witness is that we are committed to being ecumenical or working together with other Christian bodies.  Within the Book of Discipline, paragraph 105 lines out "Our Theological Task."  This is where we find our commitment to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as envisioned by Outler (Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason).  I find this an especially inciteful quote from this paragraph as it relates to our current situation:

"United Methodists as a diverse people continue to strive for consensus in understanding the gospel. In our diversity, we are held together by a shared inheritance and a common desire to participate in the creative and redemptive activity of God.  Our task is to articulate our vision in a way that will draw us together as a people in mission."

And the last piece of "Our Theological Task" is the section on our "Ecumenical Commitment."  As a part of prevenient or preceding grace, we understand that God is at work throughout Christendom and not just through our denomination or local church.  It is within this greater acknowledgement that we accept Christian baptism from other denominations as valid.  Those within the Global Methodist Church will likely sit with us in the future at the World Methodist Conference.

It is with this understanding that we are seeking to be gracious but at the same time, I admit that I find it difficult for a congregation to leave us if there are some within it who wish to stay.  

There are some churches whose pastors and members largely align and seek to remain United Methodist (although there are likely some pockets of dissent).  There are also some churches whose pastors and members agree that they have a better future outside of our current covenant.  These too usually have some that are finding it difficult that their church is leaving their denomination.  Some of the emails we've received bear witness to this pain quite expressively.  

But I think the most troublesome are the churches which seem to be fairly split where half may want to stay, and half want to go.  Most churches in this category would not be viable if they were to lose half of their congregation.  To have presentations on leaving the denomination in these churches seems to be a recipe for this church to lose its effectiveness and witness to their part of the world no matter which denomination they end up in.

For the most part, it seems that pastors who are wishing to go are leading the charge in these particular congregations.  To be fair, they are seeking to take their church with them because they need a place to land.  Because of the newness of the Global Methodist Church, there are not a lot of openings for positions at this time and they would like to continue to be paid in order to live.  But just as I have been transparent in my seeking to stay, I would hope that these pastors would inform their congregations that they are now recruiting toward the GMC in the presentations they are making.

When our denomination is vilified in order to make it easier to recruit to something new, this strikes at the core of our ecumenical commitment.  I would guess that the official doctrine of the GMC would allow that full salvation in Jesus Christ may be found through the witness of the UMC.  If this is the case, it may be that those seeking to influence their congregations to leave may need to reevaluate their tactics and message.  

These are painful words to express.  I want to work with colleagues that want to work with me.  When we find that this is no longer the case among some of our clergy and laity, these realizations may come with people that you've been friends with for decades.  Grief takes energy and it may cause you to withdraw.  But we are an Easter people.  We know that resurrection is real, and we have this expectation for our church as well.  

So, if you are experiencing the disaffiliation blues, know that you are not alone!  We will get through this together.  The resurrection is better experienced in community.  I believe that our present suffering and conflict will pass.  When the dust settles, and we look around and see that we are left with people that all want to work together, we may finally set aside the distraction of disaffiliation and find that even in our diversity, we are drawn "together as a people in mission."

To me, that sounds like church.  May all of us be receptive to the Holy Spirit working among us during this difficult time so that each one of us is sowing seeds of life!

Photo by mav via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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