Local Methodists Not United on Future

By LORETTA FULTON

The United Methodist Church is united no more.

A number of local congregations have voted to disaffiliate with the UMC and join the new Global Methodist Church. That trend is expected to continue in Abilene and across the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, a regional jurisdiction. For those who have voted to disaffiliate, the change takes effect Jan. 1, 2023. Other effective dates for future votes are July 1, 2023, and Jan. 1, 2024. After that, congregations that didn’t vote will remain in the United Methodist Church. 

A special meeting of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference will be held in Lubbock Dec. 3 to approve all the disaffiliations that occur before then. 

Wylie UMC, one of the larger congregations in Abilene, voted Sept. 27 to disaffiliate and join the Global Methodist Church, which launched May 1 as a new denomination for Methodists with conservative views. For many Methodist ministers, including Wylie’s Jeff Hatcher, leaving the church he knows well is painful.

“From the cradle, I’ve been Methodist,” Hatcher said. “So there is a piece of me that grieves what’s lost there, but I am excited about the future.”

Jeff Hatcher

On the flip side, Dot Lea, pastor of St. James UMC, was delighted that her congregation voted to remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church, where her roots are deep. St. James may be one of a small handful of Methodist congregations in Abilene that vote to remain United Methodist. If so, churches like St. James that remain United Methodist may become a haven for for dissenters. Lea wouldn’t speculate on whether the few remaining UMC congregations might gain members but said her church welcomes all.

“I pray all will feel welcome to worship with us and continue to serve in the many missions and programs established at St. James for our greater community of Abilene and Taylor County,” she said. 

Dot Lea

Congregations that have voted so far include:

  • First UMC voted Aug. 11 to disaffiliate and join the Global Methodist Church.
  • Wylie UMC voted Sept. 27 to disaffiliate and join the Global Methodist Church.
  • St. James UMC voted Oct. 4 to remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
  • Elmwood West UMC voted to disaffiliate.
  • St. Paul UMC will vote Oct. 16.
  • Aldersgate UMC held a disaffiliation information meeting Oct. 3 and has scheduled a Global Methodist Church information session for Oct. 20. A vote is expected in 2023. 

The majority of congregations in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference are expected to eventually disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. Earlier this year, the Northwest Texas conference and the South Georgia Annual Conference were set to consider resolutions at their annual gatherings to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church but were overruled by the church’s Judicial Council on May 10. Only individual congregations, not the entire conference, can vote to disaffiliate, according to the ruling.

UMC symbol

Before individual congregations can leave, they must pay 100 percent of their shared ministry or apportionment to the Northwest Texas Annual Conference. The due date is Nov. 15, 2022. Also, a copy of archival materials and records must be returned to the conference office, where they will be stored in the archives section of the Conference Service Center in Lubbock. Original records will be kept at individual churches. 

Anyone who wants to get information from the records stored in Lubbock can contact the conference archivist, Cindy Martin, said Jeff Fisher, who was appointed to the newly created position of Conference Director of Transitional Ministries effective April 18, 2022. 

Besides local congregations, Abilene and Taylor County are home to several United Methodist-related institutions including McMurry University, United Methodist Service Center and Food Pantry on North First Street, and Camp Butman in western Taylor County. So far, the impact of churches leaving the United Methodist fold appears to be minimal. Sandra Harper, president of McMurry University, answered questions about the effect in a Q&A with Spirit of Abilene in June. 

“The McMurry University Trustees have been monitoring the situation in the United Methodist Church and its possible impact on McMurry for at least the last three years,” she said. “We are hopeful that the impact on funding and enrollment at McMurry regarding the split will be minimal.”  

Sandra Harper

Click here to read the entire Q&A with Sandra Harper, president of McMurry University.

Ricky Carroll is executive director of the service center and food pantry and also is a member of Elmwood West UMC, which has voted to disaffiliate. He believes that the congregations that support the center will continue to do so even if they vote to leave the United Methodist Church. 

“We’re hopeful it will not affect us in any form or fashion,” he said.

Even with 97 percent of the Elmwood West congregation voting to leave the United Methodist Church, Carroll feels strongly that members will continue to support the service center.

“They’re not going to disown us,” he said.

Symbol of the new Global Methodist Church

Wylie UMC, with a 99 percent vote to disaffiliate, will continue to support the service center and Camp Butman, the pastor, Hatcher, said. The church sends campers to Camp Butman and supports the service center and food pantry. A lot of the camping sessions are led by members of Wylie Methodist.

“I anticipate that will continue,” Hatcher said. 

McMurry, Hatcher noted, gets funding through apportionments that local congregations pay. Locally, apportionments are paid to the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, which in turn sends money to the larger United Methodist Church. After Jan. 1, congregations that disaffiliate will support ministries through the Global Methodist Church, which doesn’t include McMurry. 

Disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church is not an easy process. The Northwest Annual Conference held 11 information sessions across the conference, including one on May 26 at St. Paul UMC. In that session, Jeff Fisher, who was appointed to the newly created position of Conference Director of Transitional Ministries effective April 18, 2022, explained the process. 

  1. A two-week period of prayer and fasting by church leaders
  2. A churchwide period of discernment and discussion, including departure dates if that path is chosen 
  3. Churchwide period of prayer and fasting
  4. A vote by the congregation (not pastors). A two-third’s vote of “professing members present” will determine the congregation’s future. “Professing member” means taking an intentional step, such as public profession of faith, to be a member. 

Click here to read article about the May 26 meeting at St. Paul. 
Click here for a link to the Transition Pathways section of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference website. The section has detailed information about the United Methodist Church, the Global Methodist Church, and the process of disaffiliation. 
Click here to read Associated Press article about what’s happening nationally.

Both Scott Seymour, pastor of First UMC, and Jeff Hatcher, pastor of Wylie UMC, said the turmoil in the church isn’t just about human sexuality issues, although that is what most people hear about. 

“It’s much more than that,” Hatcher said.

Like other denominations, the United Methodist Church has  long struggled with the issues of same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals. Bishops governing the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, Hatcher said, always have been faithful to the doctrine of the church, which denies same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ ordination. But, he said, there are “some real problems” with the larger denomination. Seymour, at First UMC, agreed.

Roxy and Scott Seymour

“The main issues concern the inerrancy and preeminence of the Bible,” Seymour said, “and the question Jesus himself asked, ‘Who do you say I am?’ We believe the Bible is free from error in matters of faith as well as those of science. The Bible is the infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches and is the final authority.” 

Seymour added that he and his members who voted to disaffiliate believe that the LGBTQ+ lifestyle is incompatible with the Christian lifestyle. However, he said, all are welcome at his church, regardless of lifestyle choices.
“The question is will you turn to Jesus Christ and seek to live a life pleasing to him,” Seymour said. “We will help you if you are willing.”

When Jeff Hatcher and Dot Lea tell about their congregations, it’s hard to pick up on differences. They both preach the same message of love. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

“We’re going to keep loving people,” Hatcher said, “no matter who we’re affiliated with.”

Lea said much the same thing.

“Our goal remains to make disciples for the transformation of the world,” she said. “To love God and learn to be loved by God; to love one another and learn to be loved by one another as God guides us.”

Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene

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