By Walter B. Fenton
November 15, 2023
“At the beginning of this year, I never imagined I’d be in the role I am today,” said the Rev. Jordan McFall, the President Pro Tem of the Heartland Provisional Annual Conference in the Global Methodist Church. “It’s been a bracing reminder that as God says in Isaiah, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’ But it is a great privilege to serve alongside a connection of Global Methodist members from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the southern plains of Nebraska to the Red River who are passionate about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their words, their hands, and their hearts!”
McFall, just 36, is one of two dozen leaders elected to lead a regional body of Global Methodist local churches seeking to be connected to one another. Thousands of local churches in the United States have joined the new denomination over the past year, and leaders like McFall have stepped forward to help them find a home in the GM Church.
“It’s not easy for a congregation to find its way to the Global Methodist Church,” said Ms. Cara Nicklas, Chairwoman of the new denomination’s Transitional Leadership Council. “The congregation has to really want to join us!”
Nicklas was reflecting on the dramatic growth of the GM Church in 2023, despite the challenges local churches face in joining it. She noted that nearly all the congregations that have joined in the past 20 months are former United Methodist local churches or remnants from those churches. They have formed discernment teams that led their congregations through difficult conversations about disaffiliating. Then two-thirds of its members voted for disaffiliation (or not), with many knowing a successful outcome would result in the payment of large exit fees to the UM Church. Or, if the vote failed, even by a few ballots, members had to accept the loss of the church’s property and assets. And finally, the congregations spent additional weeks or months making the decision to affiliate with the GM Church.
“So yes, what has transpired in just 20 months is a testament to the convictions and the tenacity of GM Church members,” said Nicklas. “The Church now has over 4,000 local churches operating in 17 provisional annual conferences, two provisional districts, and in other regions that are well on their way to provisional conference or district status. What I have learned is that Global Methodist members have no time for self-pity; they want to move forward and focus on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.”
The GM Church commenced operations on May 1, 2022, with 24 local churches in Bulgaria. The former UM congregations voted en masse at their UM annual conference to leave the denomination and join the GM Church.
“It was a little lonely at first,” said the Rev. Dr. Daniel Topalski, now the President Pro Tem of the GM Church’s Bulgaria Provisional Annual Conference and a member of the denomination’s Transitional Leadership Council. “But we knew many more local churches and provisional annual conferences would join us. Every Monday, for the past year and a half, the TLC has approved local church applications to the GMC. At first it was a trickle of local churches applying, but then the trickle turned into a stream, and then the stream into a river.”
With Bishop Mark J. Webb presiding, the Bulgarian congregations gathered for their convening annual conference in May of this year. Their conference followed those held in the Mid-Texas, the West Plains, and the East Texas Provisional Annual Conferences in late January and early February of 2023. Combined, the gatherings recognized the formation of annual conferences connecting nearly a thousand new GM local churches and celebrated the ordinations of hundreds of deacons and elders into the new Church.
In the meantime, local churches and other provisional annual conferences around the world were preparing to join them. In July, Bishop Scott J. Jones presided at the Covenant Philippines Convening Annual Conference in Manila, Philippines. And since that gathering, nine additional regions in the United States have held convening annual conferences (South Georgia, North Alabama, Alabama-Emerald Coast, MidSouth, North Carolina, Allegheny West, Great Lakes, Heartland, and the Upper Midwest). Also, the Slovakia Provisional District launched in 2022 and the South Carolina Provisional District celebrated the commencement of operations at an August gathering this year.
“We are exceedingly grateful for all the time and sacrifice that so many GMC members have given to move the Church forward this year,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the denomination’s Chief Connectional Officer. “And we’re looking forward to 2024 when the Florida, the Korean-American, the Mississippi-West Tennessee, and the Northeast Provisional Annual Conferences will each hold their convening gatherings. We’ll also see provisional districts in Virginia and the Western States District commence operations.”
While growth in the U.S. has soared, GM Church leaders remain hopeful that thousands of local UM churches in Africa will join the denomination in 2024. To date, congregations in African countries have been denied the opportunity to exercise the disaffiliation pathway that so many local churches in the U.S. have used to exit the UM Church.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, that had local UM churches in Africa and in a minority of annual conferences in the U.S. had fair and amicable ways to exit the UM Church, thousands of other local churches would have joined the GM Church this year,” said Boyette. “But what we are discovering is that one way or another people find their way to the GM Church, despite the obstacles put in their way.”
Currently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Provisional Annual Conference and the Kenya-Ethiopia Annual Conference are the only operational GM Church conferences in Africa, but in December they will be joined by the South Africa Provisional Annual Conference. Early next year, additional provisional annual conferences will commence operations in three areas of Africa. And depending on developments at the UM Church’s 2024 General Conference, GM Church leaders believe another half dozen or more GM Church provisional annual conferences will take root there before the end of next year.
Also in 2024, GM Church leaders are planning for the launch of provisional annual conferences in Mexico and Panama, and a second conference in the Philippines, to be named the Mega Manila Philippines Provisional Annual Conference. Discussions are underway with additional regions in Asia, Latin America, and Europe.
“When we gather in San Jose, Costa Rica, in September 2024, for the GM Church Convening General Conference, we will have much to give thanks for,” said Boyette. “It is a joy to see what can happen when faithful, like-minded, and warm-hearted Methodists unite around the great core confessions of the Christian faith. The GM Church is a forward-looking body of believes eager to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed!”
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.