By Walter B. Fenton
September 13, 2023
With the recent authorizations of a transitional district advisory team (TDAT) in Virginia and one covering nine western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington), the Global Methodist Church is now operating or organizing in all 50 states in the U.S.
Transitional district advisory teams and transitional advisory conferences teams (TCATs) are composed of clergy and laity who work together to create provisional districts and provisional annual conferences that connect GM local churches in their regions. In the U.S., the GM Church now has 12 operating provisional annual conferences and one provisional district. Over the next several months the Church plans to celebrate the launch of four more provisional annual conferences and two provisional districts in the country.
Clergy and Laity in the heart of Texas were among some of the first groups to move from the status of a TCAT to becoming an official provisional annual conference of the GM Church. After several months of organizing, the Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference commenced operations on November 1, 2022, and then in January of this year held its convening annual conference in Waco, Texas
“Creating an annual conference was not something any of us had done before. It was simultaneously exciting, challenging, and frustrating,” said the Rev. Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, the President Pro Tem of the Mid-Texas Conference, and a member of the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council. “Working with the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council we had to figure out everything from onboarding local churches and pastors to properly incorporating the conference in the state of Texas. What helped us move forward was the cooperation we received from The United Methodist Church’s Central Texas Annual Conference. The conference created two opportunities for local churches to disaffiliate under fair and reasonable terms.”
Where UM Church disaffiliation or withdrawal terms were reasonable, TCATs or TDATs were able to gather enough local churches together to help launch provisional conferences or districts. Many of these were initially in the south central and southeastern parts of the U.S. where UM bishops and annual conferences adopted an amicable and orderly process for leaving the denomination.
“I feel bad for sisters and brothers in some other UM Church annual conferences where exiting the denomination is nearly impossible,” said Hidde-Gregory. “The terms are unduly onerous and expensive, particularly in much of the northeastern and western parts of the country. Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise standing-up a GM Church provisional conference or district is taking more time in those areas.”
The GM Church has made it a priority to work with local leaders in the U.S. and around the world to create provisional conferences or districts as soon as possible. Over 3,200 local churches have already joined the fledgling denomination, and Church leaders believe more will do so before the end of the year. They believe it is critical to get local churches connected with other congregations and introduced them to local leaders who can answer questions and help them navigate challenges.
Six of the twelve U.S. provisional annual conferences have held convening conferences, complete with ordination services. Most of the other conferences have held large gatherings with worship and workshops as they plan for their own convening annual conferences. According to local and general GM Church leaders attendance at the conferences and gatherings has been strong and enthusiastic.
“The joy I have witnessed at GM Church convening annual conferences, ordination services, and other gatherings have been among the most Holy Spirit filled events I have ever had the privilege of being a part of in all my years of ministry,” said Bishop Scott J. Jones.
Jones, along, with Bishop Mark J. Webb, are the GM Church’s two active bishops. They currently share the responsibility of presiding at all annual conferences in the U.S. and around the world, and they work closely with provisional annual conference leaders, and the TCATs and TDATs that are in the process of organizing conferences and districts.
“Our DNA as Methodists is connectional,” said Webb. “It has its practical dimensions, but far more importantly it binds us together as the body of Christ. It celebrates and gives life to the way congregations work together to support one another, share resources, and carry out mission and ministry. Despite all the challenges we have faced, I am finding that GM local churches long for authentic connectionalism. They want to be part of an annual conference or a provisional district, so we’re doing all we can to get them connected as soon as possible.”
Undoubtedly, the most challenging region for organizing is in the Western U.S. For decades, the UM Church’s Western Jurisdiction has experienced steady decline, and it is widely regarded as the denomination’s most progressive region. Over the years, many conservative UM members left the denomination taking a toll on the number of traditionalist local churches in the jurisdiction. Many of those remaining are now seeking to disaffiliate from the UM Church but are confronting some of most difficult disaffiliation terms in the denomination.
The Rev. Mark Maddox, Lead Pastor at Journey Global Methodist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Ms. Kathy Cosner at Silverdale Community Church, in Bremerton, Washington, are co-leaders of the 24-member Western States Transitional District Advisory Team. Stretching from Alaska to Arizona, and Utah to Hawaii, the region is easily the largest and most challenging area where the GM Church is currently organizing.
“Creating a GM Church connectional structure in the West poses unique problems,” said Maddox. “But we’re approaching it like climbing one of our great mountains – one step at a time. We have a great team that is realistic about the challenges, but we are also very passionate about seeing the Global Methodist Church flourish in the Western States.”
The team meets regularly by video calls, and it has created various sub-committees to complete the necessary work to stand-up a provisional district. Working closely with Bishop Webb, the team’s first goal is to gather at least 30 local churches so it can seek approval to launch a provisional district. Generally, the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council requires a minimum of 30 local churches to launch a district and 120 to start a provisional annual conference.
“We want to help local churches and small groups meeting in houses get connected as soon possible, so we’re aiming for provisional district status first,” said Cosner. “We all know the challenges we face, but we also know Jesus’s Great Commission. The Western States are wide open for growth, and we intend to help local churches disaffiliate and join the GMC, plant new ones, and just multiply churches from there. We are confident our brothers and sisters around the country will partner with us as we reintroduce a warm-hearted, Wesleyan expression of the Christian faith in the West!”
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.