As Methodists Consider Split, Local Church Sets Priorities |

In 2019, delegates to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church made a decision that shook the denomination. The conduct of this vote has been postponed for two years due to the pandemic.

But the UMC general conference scheduled for August in Minneapolis sends it back to the top of the agendas of churches around the world, and the congregation of Peter’s first United Methodist Church is preparing for it.

The traditional plan

In a restricted vote in 2019, UMC international delegates stepped up enforcement of bans on “self-proclaimed practicing” gay clergy and same-sex marriages. The bans had been in place for a long time but largely ignored.

The vote exposed the schism between liberal and conservative church members who had largely respected each other until then. The narrow victory for the conservatives was led by delegates from Africa and the Philippines, where the church has more traditional roots. The American Methodists overwhelmingly opposed it.

The decision in Minneapolis is how to divide a denomination of 13 million members with grace, fairness and efficiency.

Mike Jacobson, chairman of the Church leadership team of the Congregation of Peter, said nothing is concrete and their message remains consistent locally: “Everyone is welcome to come to the church, regardless of who. or his sexual orientation. There’s nothing decided yet, and every church has to decide which way it’s going to go. Nothing was finalized.

Value workshops

Ahead of the August conference, some individual Methodist churches, including Peter’s First United Methodist Church, will be holding valuable workshops on January 22.

But the workshops aren’t just aimed at examining how the local congregation thinks about LGBTQ issues, said Mallory Meier, church executive and past president.

“Rather, it’s to help guide our leadership as we make decisions in all areas,” she said. “What ideals, missions, values ​​do the members of our congregation hold in the highest regard? For example, styles of worship, Christian education, missions, outreach, etc.

Pastor Greg Kroger said the workshop would be assisted by third-party facilitator Jennifer Larson, who received special training to lead the meeting. Larson is a lawyer from Sioux Falls and a member of the UMC.

“In short, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about the future of our church,” he said. “This is a workshop to help us articulate what we value most as a congregation. “

Communications director Doreen Gosmire, from the UMC Dakotas Conference in Mitchell, said the workshops provide an opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences of members in general, not just on sexual orientation.

“Through these discernment workshops, we can discuss the values ​​we really believe in and see how they align,” she said.

Meier said the workshops also focus on typical church business, including recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are still trying to recover from COVID, as are many other churches and businesses in the area,” she said. “You know, being closed for a while affected things.”

Kroger, who will retire in June, said there were around 500 church members. Since COVID-19, around 150 are attending in person, with around 100 on Facebook and more live streaming and radio listening.

Meier said the workshops would help determine the general direction of the local congregation.

“If you don’t go to church, then what does it matter how we worship or the direction we take with our ministry to children? The purpose of the values ​​workshop is more clarity, I think, ”Meier said. “It’s to help us talk about it and determine what our values ​​are, beyond the obvious things of Jesus.”

What happens after the workshops? Jacobson said it was not yet clear.

“Who knows what will come out of the world conclave,” said Jacobson. “It’s in the air. So we’re just going to hold back, wait and see.

Exit Strategy Meier said any conversation about a UMC split would take place at a congregation-level charge conference, an annual meeting for members that deals with budgets, salary increases and others. Questions.

What might happen at the August meeting is guessable. There is no firm plan, but there are many ideas globally, including the formation of several sub-denominations responding to conservative and liberal theologies within the UMC.

As part of a potential exit policy, it would cost churches to exit the CMU entirely. With respect to buildings and grounds, all properties of UMC Church are held in trust by the Annual Conference. Also at issue – how to reassign pastors and preserve pensions and benefits, and what about any debt a church carries. Everything is on the table in August.

“The way the Methodist Church operates is a lot like government,” Meier added. “The protocol of reconciliation and grace through separation (the exit plan), this thing is like a bill that will be brought up for consideration and then can be debated and amended at the annual conference before being finally voted. . For me personally, and I know for many other members of our church, we sort of wait and don’t worry too much about potential events because we don’t know what the current legislation is – for lack of a better word – will be when it is finally adopted.

By then, Kroger hopes the leadership team can reach consensus on what the church sees as the three core values ​​of the congregation through the workshops. The values ​​would help create a basis for decision-making and the future development of church ministries, Kroger said.

“The workshop that we are organizing is not linked to the potential decisions that will be taken at the world conference,” he said. “This is something our church leadership team decided to do to help us educate ourselves only for our regular decision making for the church. “

Meier said she didn’t want people confusing the workshop with the conference decision. She said the conference examines the entire denomination on a global scale, while the workshop looks at how members could better serve Christ in the community.

As for the overall perspective, Peter’s congregation has time to see what is going on.

“If I remember correctly – and the language has changed over time – after the annual world conference makes a decision and votes, we have two years as a congregation to decide what we want to do,” Meier said. . “Nothing urgent is happening in August. They don’t want churches to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment. They want people to prayerfully reflect on where they think God is calling them and their congregation in their church. Personally, I’m not too taken with what the language is saying at the moment. “

Jerry B. Hatch