Grace and peace to you all!
2020 was a year none of us will forget any time soon for sure.
As a church, It began with our UMC denomination on the precipice of splitting along theological and ideological lines within the year; only to have that problem replaced by a global pandemic.
Here are some articles from January 2020 to refresh your memory of how the year began for United Methodists:
Here locally, we began 2020 invested in a dynamic ministry in our community as we were regularly ministering to upwards of 100 children and families every Wednesday night. We were also involved in real conversations about bringing our churches together into one unified ministry. COVID-19 displaced both of these as our primary focus for much of the year. Fortunately, we are able to return to these efforts, and are making plans to do so even now.
Two weeks ago now, on Sunday January 31st, our merger team held an informational meeting after each of our worship services. They presented a short video explaining their work to date and then spent time fielding questions from those gathered. You can watch the video here.
One question that came up during the Q&A session revealed something outside the "merger issues" that our churches need to address. This is, where does our church stand in regards to our denomination's eventual separation.
I realize, reading this, you may not even be aware of what I'm talking about. Let me briefly explain. This talk of division is happening because there is a wide range of opinion about the role of and interpretation of the Bible in the life of the Church. Simply put, United Methodism is a 'Big Tent'.
One side of the UMC 'tent' holds that scripture, understood contextually, leads us to love people - first and foremost. They hold that our understandings of scripture have historically changed when culture causes us to reconsider how we practice our faith. They may point to slavery as a prime way the church came to change it's theological view of a culturally acceptable practice. This "side" extends this to their believing that loving all people should lead us to offer same-sex weddings and appoint non-celibate gay clergy.
The other side believes these practices to be contrary to the teachings of Scripture and that human sexuality is a gift from God to be enjoyed within the context of marriage between one man and one woman. For this side, loving people requires an honest conversation about the practices which the Bible describes as sin.
These opposing sides are labeled these as Progressive, for the former, and Traditional, for the latter. Over the years it has become clear that each side is convinced that "their side is right" and any hope of changing hearts or minds has long faded.
The question is asked; why can't our church believe what we want and another church believe what they want? The short answer is, as UM's our denominational structure makes that difficult. Each of our churches share ministry, not just locally, in our community, but across our state, our region, even around the world. The United Methodist Church is a Connection. Through our appointment system for clergy, our apportionment system for funding the church, and our leadership structure of bishops and agencies, we share everything. In our current structure, every church in our denomination functionally supports the ministries, clergy, and systems of our denomination; even if it has real and deep convictions against how they function or the positions they support.
If you need a better understanding of the issues leading us to, and the impact of, the Separation Protocol - albeit from a traditional perspective - a good presentation can be viewed in the video below. Youtube link
I don't speak for your church, but I do want to help your churches discern how we should live out our faith regarding this issue. This is my charge as an ordained elder of the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference appointed to serve our community. I am in touch with your administrative and ministry leaders in your church, and I am asking them to join me for a season of prayer, fasting, and study as they prepare to lead your church through this season of change in our denomination. I encourage you to be in prayer for them. Over the coming weeks, you can expect to see and hear discussion about your church's process for discernment.
Finally, for the professing members of the church, when you joined the church, you pledged your prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness. I want to encourage each of you, that if you feel your voice is not being heard, please reach out to me. You can be assured that I will make sure that you have an opportunity to be a part of this conversation.