St. Paul to Remain United Methodist

By LORETTA FULTON

St. Paul United Methodist Church is remaining united.

The congregation voted Sunday, Oct. 16, by a margin of 80 percent to 20 percent to remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church, rather than disaffiliate and either align with a conservative denomination or go independent. The new pastor of St. Paul, Benji Van Fleet, saw the vote as affirming.

“The results of the vote reaffirmed that St. Paul UMC sees theological diversity and unity as an asset to a Christian congregation,” he said, “especially one that wants to reach all sorts of people with the Gospel of Christ.”

Benji Van Fleet

Even though he was pleased with the 80 percent affirmative vote, Van Fleet vowed to ensure that the 20 percent who voted to disaffiliate remain engaged with St. Paul. 

“I think 20 percent is a substantial part of the congregation,” he said, “and the larger majority must take steps to ensure that the minority remains included in the leadership of St. Paul.”

The only other congregation in Abilene to vote so far to remain with the UMC is St. James, which voted Oct. 4. Local congregations that have voted to disaffiliate from the UMC are Wylie, Elmwood West, and First Methodist. Aldersgate will vote in 2023.

Click here to read a previous detailed article, “Local Methodists Not United on Future”

Churches in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church have until January 2024 to decide whether to remain with the UMC or to disaffiliate and join the new Global Methodist Church or go independent. 

The Global Methodist Church launched May 1 as a new denomination for Methodists with conserative views. Sticking points are same-sex marriages, ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals, and theological differences. The majority of congregations in the conservative Northwest Texas Annual Conference are expected to eventually disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. 

The United Methodist structure requires a minimum of 50 congregations in order to form an annual conference, Van Fleet said. The Northwest Texas conference is part of a larger governing region called the South Central Jurisdiction that consists of several states. If fewer than 50 Northwest Texas congregations remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church, as anticipated, then they will be connected with other congregations in the South Central Jurisdiction.

“It is the work of the SCJ to determine the best structure and boundaries for congregations in this region, and thankfully we have a time-tested method for that process,” Van Fleet said. “The result of that process will be a new expression of United Methodism and include an emergence of new United Methodist congregations in the Big Country, Permian Basin, Caprock, and Panhandle areas over the years ahead.”

Van Fleet said he believes God is doing a new thing in Northwest Texas and expressed hope and enthusiasm for the future.

“St. Paul has positioned itself as a congregation of stability during this time of transition,” he said, “and remains committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ who are making a difference in our congregation, our community, and our world.”

Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene

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