By Walter B. Fenton
“We’re looking forward to making connections with other local Global Methodist churches in our area and around the world,” said Ms. Joy Austin, a member of Aldersgate Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee. Austin, the chairwoman of the church’s staff-parish relations committee, recently joined 95 percent of her fellow members in voting to align with the GM Church. “We’re Methodists, so we believe it’s essential to be connected with other local Methodist churches who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and are committed to sharing the gospel and biblical teachings with people from all walks of life!”
Currently, a group of clergy and laity in Mississippi and western Tennessee are busy working to connect Aldersgate Methodist Church with other local churches in a regional body called a provisional annual conference. The conference system is at the heart of Methodism, harkening back to its origins in the first half of the 18th century. John Wesley and his companions gathered for times of “holy conferencing,” where they engaged in collective discernment and decision-making for the sake of their nascent movement and its mission. Nearly all Methodist denominations that trace their roots to Wesley continue to use the conference system to connect local churches together for the sake of worship, prayer, discernment, and rededication to their mission statements.
“We have a great team of clergy and laity who are helping us move towards the formation of a provisional annual conference in our region,” said Ms. Lee Ann Williamson, the leader of the Mississippi – West Tennessee Transitional Conference Advisory Team. “Our goal is to hold a convening annual conference later this year or early next. And that will be a great day for Global Methodist churches in the Mississippi – West Tennessee area. We long for connection as we unite to fulfill the GM Church’s mission!”
Within a year, the Global Methodist Church has witnessed the formation of eight provisional annual conferences in the U.S. and one each in Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Philippines. The North Alabama Provisional Annual Conference and the Alabama-Emerald Coast Provisional Annual Conference are the newest, commencing operations in May. The conferences are called “provisional” during the GM Church’s formational season prior to its convening General Conference. At that conference, scheduled for the fall of 2024, delegates from the provisional annual conferences around the world will gather to worship, pray, celebrate the adoption of a constitution for the new church, and to organize further for the fulfillment of its mission.
Over the next two months, hundreds of local churches plan to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church in the U.S., and many are planning to join the Global Methodist Church. In addition to the existing provisional annual conferences, GM Church leaders believe at least four or five additional conferences will be launched before the end of the year.
The GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council has outlined the parameters for what it believes a healthy and vital provisional annual conference should look like. Typically, it requires a minimum of 120 local churches to band together before it will authorize the creation of a conference. Also, transitional conference advisory teams (TCAT) must submit extensive documentation demonstrating that a proposed conference is organized according to the denomination’s Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, and that it will be able to serve and resource the local churches within its geographical boundaries. Clergy and lay members of transitional conferences advisory teams spend anywhere from four to six months laying the groundwork for the formation of a provisional annual conference.
“It took us several months from the formation of our Mid-Texas TCAT to the celebration of our convening annual conference,” said Rev. Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, the president pro tem of the Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference and a member of the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council. “Thankfully, many former UM local churches in our region had already been approved for disaffiliation and joined the GM Church by the fall of 2022. That allowed us to celebrate our convening conference in early 2023. It’s a much bigger challenge for TCATs that are attempting to integrate former UM local churches from wider geographical regions, especially when many of those local churches are facing major obstacles as they to try disaffiliate from the UM Church and make their way to the GM Church. We are praying for them, and eager to welcome them when arrive!”
Launched just one year ago, the GM Church has already welcomed over 2,000 local churches into the new denomination. Helping all of them get connected to other local churches is one the denomination’s highest priorities in its transitional season.
“I count it a great privilege to work alongside laypeople and clergy who are forming our provisional annual conferences,” said GM Church Bishop Scott Jones. “I’ve also had the joy of being present at several of our convening annual conference sessions. These gatherings have been the most Spirit-filled, inspirational, worshipful official Methodist meetings I have ever attended.”
You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.