By Keith Boyette
April 27, 2022
The Transitional Leadership Council, the body charged with leading the Global Methodist Church until its convening General Conference, grows increasingly excited as it prepares to bring the new church into existence on May 1, 2022.
As we have noted before, thousands of people have contributed to making the launch of the Global Methodist Church possible. They have volunteered to serve on task force teams, giving their time and talent to a host of matters. They have generously and sacrificially given financial resources. And above all, they have fervently prayed for the formation and birth of the new church. So we all look forward to May 1.
New beginning dates are sometimes chosen for dramatic effect, and they often come with big celebrations and splashy announcements. That will not be the case on Sunday, May 1. True to our methodical roots, our date is driven by practical reasons, although we do rejoice that the church will come into existence on a Sunday in the Easter Season, as we continue to celebrate the hope and joy of the Resurrection.
Put simply, we are launching the Global Methodist Church on May 1 because no local church, no annual conference, and no pastor can join it until it actually exists. Since the Transitional Leadership Council announced the name of the new church back in early 2020 and then earlier this year announced its official launch date, inquiries have poured in about joining it. Who can join? How can they join? And of course, when can they join? Choosing some date for the birth of the church was a practical necessity. And there are local churches, an annual conference, and pastors who will be part of the Global Methodist Church from day one.
Also, it is no secret that many theologically conservative local churches and even some annual conferences in the U.S. have, for some time, wanted to part ways with The United Methodist Church. Annual conferences in the U.S. meet in May and June, and during these months some local churches will complete a separation process from the UM denomination. Some have made clear they would like to join the Global Methodist Church, so with its launch on May 1, these congregations will be able to join as soon as possible.
In truth, we do not know how many local churches departing in May or June will join the Global Methodist Church. Some, having lived in a dysfunctional denomination that has been either unable or unwilling to maintain accountability, want nothing to do with another denomination. However, we do anticipate that some churches that opt to go independent initially, will ultimately choose to align with the Global Methodist Church. Others, recognizing the classic Methodist value of connectionalism and our commitment to the core theological and ethical confessions of the Christian faith, will join us. We will gladly welcome them.
We are also aware that a number of UM annual conferences have scheduled or are considering scheduling special sessions later this year to vote on terms for allowing theologically conservative local churches to depart the UM Church amicably, fairly, and expeditiously. We applaud bishops and annual conferences willing to confront the reality and necessity of separation, and who are moving forward accordingly. We continue to hope and work for an amicable separation that will enable all of us to bless and send one another, instead of tearing and rending.
There are also a handful of annual conferences planning special sessions where they will consider resolutions that would allow the entire annual conference to join the Global Methodist Church. And as the year unfolds, local churches and annual conferences in Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and the Philippines will go through the same process. In fact, the movement of theologically conservative local UM churches and annual conferences transitioning to the Global Methodist Church will playout over the next few years.
Regrettably, we are also aware that some UM bishops are doing what they can to obstruct this transition process. They are pushing for terms of separation that are punitive in nature. To be sure, their actions will delay the growth of the Global Methodist Church, but they will only cause more harm to the UM Church. A vibrant and healthy denomination is not built by constraining local churches, laypeople, and clergy who no longer want to remain in it. Creating unreasonable exits fees or threatening litigation over property and assets are not credible ways to build a church bearing witness to Jesus Christ. Several mainline Protestant denominations have already proved the futility of such a strategy.
A confident and forward looking United Methodist Church would be wise to focus on those local churches, laypeople, and clergy who are truly committed to its mission and vision for the future, not on constraining those who want to go elsewhere. Centrist and progressive United Methodists should recognize that essentially locking theological conservatives in with high exit fees or the threat of using the denomination’s trust clause will only perpetuate and even harden divisions. In fact, it is already clear that theologically conservative reform and renewal movements like Africa Initiative, the Confessing Movement, Good News, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association intend to fight on until every theologically conservative congregation in Africa, Europe and Eurasia, the Philippines, and the U.S. is given a fair and affordable pathway out of the UM Church. Unfortunately, the conflict in the UM Church is likely to persist for a number of years inhibiting the denomination from finding the unity it desires.
A better way forward is for UM annual conferences to adopt exit plans that are akin to the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. The genius of the Protocol was not that its terms made everyone happy; they did not. Its genius was that it was a compromise that would have ended a dispute tearing the UM Church apart. Leaders of the UM Church’s Council of Bishops believed that to be true; it was why they signed the Protocol and advocated for it. And leaders of centrist, conservative, and progressive UM advocacy groups did likewise. In early 2020 it was obvious to many United Methodists that the Protocol was headed for approval at the General Conference in May of that year.
The Transitional Leadership Council regrets that its approval has not come to pass and is disappointed that in the intervening years the hard work and goodwill that resulted in the Protocol has diminished. For the sake of the UM Church and yes, the Global Methodist Church, we pray UM leaders will support exit provisions that are in keeping with both the letter and spirit of the Protocol. A number of groups that have supported the Protocol will continue to work for its adoption. But whatever the case, the Global Methodist Church will come into existence, and we are confident local churches, annual conferences, lay people and pastors will find their way to it.
Without fanfare, but full of hope, faith, and perseverance, the Transitional Leadership Council will launch the Global Methodist Church this coming Sunday. May God bless us and lead us as we dedicate ourselves to making disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church. Prior to 2017, he was the founding and lead pastor of Wilderness Community Church in the Virginia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Since 2017, he has served as President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.