After years of heated debate, conservatives quietly part ways with The United Methodist Church
(RNS) – It was a “very special Sunday,” Reverend JJ Mannschreck told his congregation during the traditional service streamed online from Flushing United Methodist Church in Flushing, Michigan.
The congregation shared prayer requests and celebrated what the pastor called “God’s victories” – namely the church’s community garden, which his young people planned to prepare for spring later in the day.
United Women of Faith of Flushing held a baby shower between services for Mannschreck’s fourth and youngest son, Asher.
And – what made it special – a member of the church’s preaching team gave his first sermon, on Moses and forgiveness, as part of the current series of sermons called “There and Back”, a reference to JRR Tolkien’s classic novel “The Hobbit”. ”
What no one mentioned was that Sunday (May 1) was also the launch of the World Methodist Church, a new theologically conservative denomination that is splitting from the United Methodist Church that Mannschreck plans to join. .
After decades of spiteful debates over LGBTQ United Methodist ordination and marriage, a special General Conference session of The United Methodist Church, and three postponements of a vote to officially split the denomination, the schism has finally come.” without fanfare, but full of hope, faith and perseverance.
That’s how Reverend Keith Boyette, president of the World Methodist Church’s Transitional Leadership Council, described the launch of the new denomination in a statement posted days earlier on his website.
RELATED: Vote postponed again, some United Methodists say they have quit. Now what?
Sunday’s launch, Boyette told Religion News Service last week, “was most definitely driven by practicality and the fact that the postponement of General Conference has caused many people to say they’re tired of waiting and weary that the conflict will not be addressed and resolved by the United Methodist Church.”
Delegates have debated issues of sexuality at every quadrennial General Conference meeting of The United Methodist Church since 1972, when language was first added to the denomination’s Book of Discipline saying that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.
This debate came to a head in 2016, when the bishops announced a special session of the General Conference devoted to this topic.
Delegates to the 2019 Special Session ended up approving something called the Traditional Plan, which strengthened enforcement of the language in the denomination’s standing against the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ members.
United Methodist Progressives have pledged to disregard the results of the special session. The Conservatives, frustrated by the continued debate, threatened to leave anyway. Finally, a group representing all of the different theological viewpoints within the denomination brokered an agreement to create a separate “traditionalist” Methodist denomination that would receive $25 million over the next four years.
Delegates to the 2020 General Conference — which brings together delegates from around the world — were ready to vote on this proposal, called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, when COVID-19 swept the world, canceling their meeting not once, but three times. Currently, it is set for 2024.
The third postponement earlier this year was the last straw for members of the World Methodist Church’s Transition Leadership Council, which was already laying the groundwork for a new denomination. The board immediately announced that it would launch the new name on May 1.
The date was prompted for practical reasons, according to Boyette: If clergy, churches, and regional annual conferences want to join the World Methodist Church, it must first exist.
United Methodist conferences in the United States hold their annual meetings in May and June, he said. Over the next few weeks, some may be considering avenues to allow churches to walk away with their properties. Others can vote for the entire conference to disaffiliate.
Already, the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference has voted to leave the United Methodist Church and join the World Methodist Church.
At least one retired bishop — Bishop Mike Lowry, a member of the Transitional Leadership Council — has presented his credentials to The United Methodist Church for the fledgling denomination.
Boyette said the Transitional Leadership Council doesn’t know how many more will follow this summer. He didn’t have numbers Monday on how many clergy, churches or conferences had joined the denomination with the launch, but he believes hundreds of churches across the United States have already started the process of disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church, and most will land in the World Methodist Church.
Some can wait to see what the General Conference of The United Methodist Church decides in 2024.
Until the World Methodist Church holds its calling conference, the Transitional Leadership Council will conduct clergy background checks and review information submitted by those hoping to join the new denomination to ensure that they align with The World Methodist Church and its Doctrines and Discipline Transition Book. .
The Wesleyan Covenant Association — a group of conservative individuals and churches within The United Methodist Church which Boyette also leads — will consider legislation regarding “the future of the WCA and its leaders,” during its world meeting this weekend, he said.
He will also contribute more than $1 million to the World Methodist Church from the Next Methodism Fund he established when the protocol was announced, according to Boyette.
Progress towards a new denomination is bittersweet.
“I don’t think anyone is dancing for joy that we are in this place of Methodism. I think there’s a sadness that we’ve come to this and we’re back in this season,” Boyette said.
The bishops echoed that sentiment at last week’s spring meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
“Although I still wish that we could all stay in this church, I am clear that some cannot. I mourn and regret that more than words can express, but I have no interest in serving a chamber of d ‘echo,’ said Bishop Cynthia Fierro-Harvey, outgoing chair of the council.
“I’m a big tent church person who believes that every voice is important to the whole, sometimes as boring as that can be – that every part of the body is important to the whole. I also realize that it may be time to bless and send our sisters and brothers who cannot stay in the big tent,” she said.
By Sunday, the World Methodist Church had passed all the necessary steps to be a legal entity, according to its leaders.
And Mannschreck, the pastor of Flushing United Methodist Church, told RNS he was ready to get to work.
He plans to transfer his credentials to the new name – but not right away. His congregation will also discuss and vote to join the Methodist World Church.
The conversation about sexuality is important, Mannschreck said, but he’s done with it. His congregation – a church he described as “on the way to nothing” between farmland and Flint that includes young and old, urban and rural, progressive and conservative – is also over.
That may be the main problem, but it’s not the only one for many who are considering leaving The United Methodist Church for the Methodist World Church, according to the pastor, who describes himself as a “traditionalist.” .
He recalls when The United Methodist Church launched its Imagine No Malaria campaign in the 2000s, pledging to raise $75 million to fight the disease in Africa. He was then excited about the difference a worldwide denomination could make.
He’s feeling that momentum again, he said.
“I’m really excited to get back to work, to have had this conversation and to have made these votes. I’m very excited to move on to the next thing,” he said.
The Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church will meet in June and Mannschreck will likely attend for the last time.
He will be seated next to his father – Reverend Jack Mannschreck of Waterford Central United Methodist Church in Waterford, Michigan – who, unlike his son, plans to remain in the denomination he has served for the past 38 years.
They will sit next to each other again on Thanksgiving, the two pastors stressed.
As contentious as debates over sexuality and other issues have become in The United Methodist Church, they will not divide the Mannschreck family.
The elder Mannschreck said that when he considers Jesus’ words “judge not lest you be judged” and the fact that he never served a church that did not have homosexuals, he sides on the side of full inclusion for LGBTQ United Methodists.
“I think exclusion is probably contrary to Christian teachings when you think about how inclusive Christ was,” he said.
He doesn’t know how much different everyday life will really be for Methodist churches — united and worldwide — after the schism.
Reverend Jack Mannschreck and his son will continue to love Jesus, he said. They will both continue to love each other. And they both hope that their churches can now move beyond resentment and debate.
“My best hope is that we will be stronger denominations together – but we really need to get back to work on issues that should define us, like the grace of God,” he said.
RELATED: United Methodist bishops open spring meeting with message of unity amid schism