Happy Birthday! !
The Global Methodist Church is a One-Year-Old Toddler!
On March 3, 2022, the United Methodist Commission on General Conference announced the third postponement of the 2020 General Conference with rationale that has become widely questioned. (UM General Conference Postponed a Third Time Press Release)
In response, on the same day, it was announced that the Global Methodist Church would launch on May 1, 2022.
A new baby in the Wesleyan Methodist family was on the way!
So, how is the little tyke getting along…and what does that mean for Methodists in Northern Illinois?
As part of the Global Methodist Church “pregnancy reveal announcement”, the Rev. Keith Boyette, then president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and currently Transitional Connectional Officer of the GMC, included the following:
“Many United Methodists have grown impatient with a denomination clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level,” said Boyette. “Theologically conservative local churches and annual conferences want to be free of divisive and destructive debates, and to have the freedom to move forward together. We are confident many existing congregations will join the new Global Methodist Church in waves over the next few years, and new church plants will sprout up as faithful members exit the UM Church and coalesce into new congregations.” (WCA Endorses Launch of the Global Methodist Church March 2022).
The Global Methodist Church arrived precisely on its due date: May 1, 2022.
Now, whether we may have become parents by birth or adoption, the early months of a newborn in the family are fraught with both exhilaration and anxiety. During the pregnancy or the adoption/foster parenting application and approval process, expectant parents read all about early childhood, check out websites on best parenting practices, and consult friends, neighbors, family members…actually, anybody who provides good advice based on personal experience. The result? By the time the baby arrives, whether by birth, adoption, or foster care placement, the new parents are certain they know everything they need to know about raising a child, right?
Lynda and I have welcomed children into our family by both adoption and birth. Of all the tips and tricks of parenting wisdom we solicited or received unsolicited nonetheless, perhaps the only advice we received which has unequivocally stood the test of time and experience is this:
“With the patter of little feet, a thousand words we’ve had to eat.”
That is to say, parenting is a lot like turning handsprings or eating with chopsticks: It seems pretty straightforward until you try it yourself.
Here’s an update as the Global Methodist Church marks its first birthday?
Let me suggest three indicators of a healthy ecclesiastic tyke.
By the Numbers
At the one-year check up for a toddler a fair amount of the health assessment is based on numbers: percentile rankings for height and weight, normal motor development, visual and auditory acuity, etc. All of this is particularly important when there have been some challenges with the pregnancy and birth of the child.
The Global Methodist Church was initially expected to develop from the proposed Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation to be adopted in some form at the 2020 General Conference. It would be, so we thought, an amicable separation; a parting of the ways, an Abraham and Lot replay, a contemporary instance of Paul and Barnabas setting off on different but complementary paths. A divorce, yes, but we’d still be friends.
But that is not how things developed.
With three postponements of the General Conference, the widely supported Protocol lost the backing of its progressive and centrist signatories. It became clear the only way to become part of the Global Methodist Church would be through the decisions of individual United Methodists in local congregations within the various annual conferences and with the assistance or the resistance of their pastors. The future of the Global Methodist Church would not be in the hands of the 862 (+/-) delegates to the General Conference. Instead, every United Methodist, every UM pastor, every UM congregation would have the choice of denominational home placed squarely before them. Even more, the default choice, the choice made when a congregation or pastor chose not to choose, would be to remain within the United Methodist denomination. And the possibility of disaffiliating would close at the end of 2023. The ticking clock has added apprehension and anxiety to an already challenging process.
Even more, there have been the vagaries of various annual conferences interpreting and administering the now famous disciplinary Paragraph 2553. Two years of apportionments? What are “unfunded pension liabilities”? Paying a portion of the property value as part of the “exit fees”? Don’t forget the ongoing lawsuits and counter-suits. To say it has been a “hot mess” is a major understatement. It has not been and is not Methodism’s “best self”.
Now that we are rounding the bend toward the end of the “disaffiliation window” that closes on December 31 of this year, we have the various annual conferences in the USA voting on the congregations that have completed the disaffiliation process in their area. (The situation for UM congregations in other countries will be taken up in a subsequent piece in a few weeks).
What are the current results?
Honestly, it is hard to keep up with the numbers of those in the disaffiliation pipeline, those who have been approved by annual conference vote to disaffiliate, and those who will be voted upon at the “special disaffiliation sessions” of various annual conferences across the US that will continue until December.
Those who tally up the numbers expect about 5,500 congregations in the USA to have disaffiliated by the end of 2023. (Disaffiliations Expected to Top 5,000). That represents a bit more than 18% of all UM congregations in the US. Most of those disaffiliating congregations are becoming part of the Global Methodist Church. If we compare numbers of congregations in the GMC to established denominations like the Episcopal Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Church or our Methodist cousins the Wesleyan Church or the Free Methodist Church, the GMC is having a very healthy start.
And yet, there is a lot more involved in launching a denomination than having congregations simply change the name on the church sign out front. The Global Methodist Church is committed to a very lean administrative structure. The GMC has a strong commitment to local churches as the primary means through which the Christian mission is accomplished. The result, of course, is that the “lean administrative structure” has been swamped with congregations and pastors transitioning to the GMC. This has meant extensive networking of volunteer groups to assist with everything from vetting pastors and congregations to become part of the GMC as well as matters of property insurance, health care plans and pensions for pastors, how the appointment process works for congregations seeking pastors, and on and on.
Folks who have been working so diligently at the local church level to meet the requirements and deadlines of disaffiliation from the UMC still have a lot of unanswered questions as they move into their new denominational home.
I’ve found two reminders to be helpful for many who are experiencing these growing pains:
- Right now, the Global Methodist Church is in a “provisional stage” of development. There has been no Convening General Conference of the GMC, and there won’t be one until sometime in 2024. (See? Target dates and locations are under consideration, but the final details have yet to be decided). The GMC is currently guided by a “Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline” (click here to read it or download a PDF of the TBDoD.) The GMC will move beyond the transitional period when the convening General Conference meets and adopts the foundational documents for the denomination.
- A common phrase among local, regional, national, and international leaders of the Global Methodist Church during this developmental stage is, “We’re building the bridge as we cross it.” It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you wait to cross the bridge until somebody else completes it? I’ll spend some more time on this in a piece for next week, but that building the bridge while walking on it reminds us that sometimes when heading toward a vision we know the goal, the mission, the future…we just don’t know all the facts, processes, and details involved in getting there. BUT we trust that we will learn them together along the way.
Besides, in a Zoom team meeting not long ago, someone used that phrase (“were building the bridge as we cross it”) as if it was an adequate excuse for the inadequate follow up on a short-term organizational goal. One of the team members countered with a different perspective. She said, “Our family business is road construction, including bridge building. And in many cases that is exactly how to do in fact build a bridge. You build it as you go.”
Planning to be part of the Global Methodist Church? Welcome to Bridge Building in Jesus’ Name!
How about Northern Illinois?
I have friends and colleagues throughout the US who are watching the “disaffiliation dance” in the various annual conferences of United Methodism. Some of them ask me, “What about the Northern Illinois Annual Conference?” I generally respond by saying, “We are least among the tribes of Judah.” (If you are unfamiliar with this phrase from the Bible, listen to the Scripture readings in worship next Advent. If you can’t wait that long, go to Micah 5:2).
At the Northern Illinois Annual Conference Session (June 6-8), there are ten congregations recommended for disaffiliation approval. This means they have completed the disaffiliation process administered by the Northern Illinois Annual Conference leaders and are expected to fulfill the financial requirements by June 30th. Now ten congregations, compared to the hundreds that are disaffiliating in other parts of the US, seems like northern Illinois might be skipped over in the organization of the Global Methodist Church, right?
There will be a lot more to share about this in the next several weeks, but here is some background information. Illinois is included with Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the Great Lakes Provisional Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church. (See? There’s that “provisional” word again.) The Bishop over the Great Lakes PAC is Bishop Mark Webb, a former UMC Bishop for the Upper New York Conference. The “President Pro Tempore” of the Great Lakes PAC is Rev. Dr. Scott Pattison, a GMC Elder who is also Senior Pastor of Connexion GMC in Kokomo, Indiana.
By the end of the year there are expected to be over 200 GMC congregations in the Great Lakes Annual Conference. Approval is expected from the Transitional Leadership Council (See? There’s that “transitional” word again) for the Great Lakes PAC to begin “officially” this summer. There will be more to share about this, too, in several weeks.
Right now, however, if you want to get some of the early info related to northern Illinois and the rest of the Great Lakes PAC, go to https://greatlakesgmc.org/. I’ll have more info on GMC developments in northern Illinois soon. Stay tuned!