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Boyette Announces Retirement

Por Walter B. Fenton

Rev. Keith Boyette addresses the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Fifth Global Gathering in Montgomery, Alabama, in May 2021. Photo by Katy Patterson.

The Rev. Keith Boyette, the Global Methodist Church’s Chief Connectional Officer, has informed the Transitional Leadership Council he will retire at the adjournment of the new denomination’s convening General Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, September 20 – 26, 2024.

“Keith’s work ethic, his attention to detail, his many gifts as a leader and legal expert, and above all, his abiding faith in God’s grace and unfailing love, made him the servant leader we needed as we launched the GM Church, and continue to move through this challenging transitional season,” said Ms. Cara Nicklas, chairwoman of the the Transitional Leadership Council. “In every way, he has given sacrificially to the Global Methodist Church.”

Boyette, 71, received his call to a ministry after he had already embarked upon a career as an attorney in Richmond, Virginia.

“I was married to my wife Pamela, with three kids, working as a partner at the law firm Hirschler, Fleischer, Weinberg, Cox, and Allen, and very happily serving as a layman alongside sisters and brothers at River Road UM Church in Richmond,” said Boyette. “Then, in a surprising and amazing way, God called me into the ministry. It was a shock to me, Pamela, and my work colleagues, but it was so profound, there was no way of ignoring it. Within five months we packed our belongings, and headed off to Wilmore, Kentucky, where I attended Asbury Theological Seminary. It was a faith testing transition, and it taught us some important lessons.”

Following his graduation, Boyette ventured back to Virginia where he was officially ordained as both a deacon and an elder in The United Methodist Church’s Virginia Annual Conference. He served one appointment before planting a local UM church in Spotsylvania, Virginia, known as Wilderness Community Church. Beginning with only his immediate family as attendees, over the course of 19 years, he led an ever-growing number of members in building a spirit filled congregation.

Clergy colleagues in Virginia and around the country quickly recognized the skills Boyette brought to ministry in the UM Church. He had already been elected a Southeastern Jurisdictional delegate as a layman in 1992, and then, after his ordination, as a General Conference alternate clergy delegate in 2012 and 2016. Given his strong legal background, the delegates to the 2000 General Conference elected him to serve on the UM Church’s Judicial Council, often referred to as its “Supreme Court.” He served on the Council for eight years, four as the body’s secretary, and he wrote some of the panel’s most important opinions during his tenure.

Shortly after the end of his service on the Judicial Council, in 2009 Boyette joined Good News as a member of its board of directors. Established in 1967, Good News has long been recognized as the leading voice advocating for renewal and reform in the UM Church. The board quickly elected him to serve as its chairman. He held the position while he continued to serve as the lead pastor at Wilderness Community Church.

“When Keith became the chair of our board of directors, Good News was in the middle of a challenging transition,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President and Publisher of Good News Magazine. “I had just been hired to follow Rev. Dr. Jim Heidinger, the organization’s widely respected leader for 26 years. During our transition we found ourselves in the middle of the 2008 to 2009 Great Recession. Right along with most local churches and non-profits, we suffered a significant dip in gift revenue, and I was forced to make some difficult decisions. Keith’s steady leadership of the board helped us navigate those challenges. The staff and board worked so well together that Good News eventually emerged from the recession stronger than ever. As Good News’ president, I appreciated Keith’s strong and faithful support as we charted our way forward. I have been amazed at all he has accomplished as he has led the GM Church.”

During Boyette’s tenure as chairman, Good News convened a meeting of leading laity and clergy leaders in the summer of 2016, shortly after the close of yet another UM Church General Conference filled with disruptive protests and bitter debate. An open breach in the denomination was averted with the decision to create a special commission tasked with finding a way to keep the deeply divided Church united or face the necessity of separation. In the light of the special commission, the leading laity and clergy leaders facilitated the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, an organization dedicated to assisting theologically conservative local churches prepare for whatever lay ahead.

“We sensed many United Methodists were looking for an organization like the WCA,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, lead pastor of Reynoldsburg Community Church (Reynoldsburg, Ohio) and the president pro tem of the GM Church’s Allegheny West Provisional Annual Conference. “But we were overwhelmed by the response when we invited laity and clergy to our first gathering in Chicago, Illinois, in the fall of 2016. I was elected to serve as the chairman of the WCA’s Global Council, and it quickly became apparent we needed to hire a full-time leader sooner than we anticipated. One of the best decisions the WCA’s Global Council made was to hire Keith Boyette as its first president.”

With executive assistant Ms. Teresa Marcus, a co-worker and lay leader at Wilderness Community Church, Boyette plunged into organizing the WCA movement in the spring of 2017. In just over 30 months, the organization chartered over 40 regional chapters, had thousands of dues paying members around the world, held three global gatherings, and convened two WCA legislative assemblies as the organization prepared for whatever might happen at the UM Church’s 2019 special General Conference.

To the surprise of many UM Church leaders the special General Conference rejected the Council of Bishop’s favored plan for resolving the bitter conflict confronting the denomination. It instead reaffirmed the Church’s biblically rooted teachings on marriage and its ordination standards. Some UM bishops and leading clergy castigated the will of their own General Conference, but over time they realized any reasonable way forward would require negotiating with theologically conservative leaders to find an amicable, fair, and orderly way to divide the denomination.

Boyette addresses the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Sixth Global Gathering in Avon, Indiana, in May 2022. Photo by Mykal McEldowney/Indy Star.

By early fall of 2019, Boyette and Indiana State Senator Patricia Miller, president of the Confessing Movement, were appointed to serve as members of a mediation team alongside UM centrists, progressives, and leading bishops. With world renown attorney Kenneth Feinberg as their mediator, the 16-member mediation team hammered out the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, a plan to divide the UM Church that the team outlined on January 3, 2020. As president of the WCA and still a practicing attorney, Boyette figured prominently in the negotiations, and joined with UM bishops and centrist and progressive leaders in endorsing the plans passage at the impending May 2020 General Conference.

United Methodist were at first taken aback by the Protocol, having never heard any of its bishops acknowledge that an amicable separation of the UM Church was the necessary and honorable way forward. However, within weeks the plan of separation was met with relief and acceptance. By late January 2020, when many General Conference delegates met in Nashville, Tennessee, for pre-conference information sessions, it was widely believed the Protocol would pass in May, initiating the division of the denomination.

Necessarily, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 General Conference. However, the UM Church’s Commission on General Conference also decided to postpone it in 2021, again in 2022, and then ultimately decided to put it off until 2024, long after large gatherings resumed for other Christian denominations, international non-profit organizations, and major sporting events.

“I am convinced the passage of the Protocol would have spared many UM local churches, annual conferences, and the whole denomination a great deal of grief and heartache,” said Boyette. “Unfortunately, the UM Church proved either unable or unwilling to hold a timely General Conference so delegates could have debated and voted on it. I am confident it would have been approved, since it had the endorsement of leading bishops, centrists, progressives, and traditionalists.”

After the repeated postponements, both the WCA Global Council and the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council believed the time had come – with or without the passage of the Protocol – to launch the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022.

“Keith negotiated for the Protocol in good faith, and then, despite the lack of General Conference action, he made every effort to navigate the separation of the UM Church in the spirit of its amicable and fair terms,” said the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Moore, the WCA’s chairwoman at the time, and the lead pastor at Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. “It has been a privilege to work alongside him over the past several years. I am thankful for his leadership, dedication, and faithfulness to God’s call on his life.”

In retirement, Boyette says he and his wife, an educator who retired three years ago, plan to enjoy visiting their growing family, traveling to new destinations and old ones, and of course attending and participating in the life of Wilderness Community Church, now a local GM Church congregation.

“When I accepted the position with the WCA and then the GMC, I never imagined I’d still be serving in 2024,” said Boyette. “Yet what a great privilege it has been to work alongside so many faithful laypeople and clergy who have worked so hard and risked so much to launch a new Church dedicated to the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. I will continue to fervently pray for, support, and serve in the Global Methodist Church, right alongside all my sisters and brothers in the faith.”

The GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council has formed a search committee for a new position with the title, connectional operations office. It intends to post the position with a job description in the coming days.

“The new position will include aspects of the office Keith filled,” said Nicklas. “but I think the differences will be greater than the similarities. Our times demanded a position with a great deal of power and the latitude to exercise it. The GM Church was blessed to have a humble and faithful servant like Keith to fill that critical role.”

For media inquiries, please send a request to [email protected]. You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.

O Rev. Walter Fenton é o Oficial Adjunto de Ligação Igreja Metodista Global.

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