By Walter Fenton
March 30, 2022
Late last year the UM Church’s Commission on General Conference publicly shared that it was scheduling three meetings at the end of each of the first three months of 2022 in order to determine whether to move forward with its scheduled August-September 2022 General Conference. Some United Methodists leaders thought the Commission would issue a final decision in late March, allowing as much time as possible to consider the course of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ability of delegates in Africa, Europe-Eurasia, and the Philippines to secure travel visas. However, many knew it could issue another postponement announcement after any of the scheduled meetings.
With that in mind, two important theologically conservative bodies knew they would need to be prepared with an immediate response in the event of a further General Conference postponement: the Transitional Leadership Council (TLC), the body that has been working for two years to prepare for the launch of the Global Methodist Church, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Council, the organization that has provided support for the work of the TLC. After a survey of WCA Regional Chapter leaders, and numerous conversations with theological conservatives around the world, both the TLC and the WCA Global Council separately held multiple meetings. Following extensive prayer and deliberations, both bodies overwhelmingly decided that in the event of a further postponement, the TLC should be prepared to announce the launch of the Global Methodist Church.
So earlier this month, when the Commission again postponed the UM Church’s General Conference – now planned for 2024 – the TLC was ready to announce it would bring the Global Methodist Church into existence on May 1, 2022.
Members of both the TLC and the WCA’s Council cited two main reasons for moving forward with that announcement.
First, a number of clergy and laity wanting to align with the Global Methodist Church (in some annual conferences, a large majority of them) said their local churches could no longer wait for the UM Church to amicably resolve a decades long dispute that has seriously damaged the denomination and undermined ministry in their communities.
And second, since the first announced postponement of General Conference back in April 2020, many theological conservatives sensed that the leading UM bishops, centrists, and progressives who negotiated with traditionalists to formulate the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, were no longer willing to advocate for the amicable plan of division that had originally gained widespread support. In short, TLC members and WCA Council members wondered if bishops, centrists and progressives would join them in advocating for the Protocol at a 2024 General Conference.
Both the TLC and WCA Council members said they would have preferred to see a General Conference approve a fair and amicable plan of separation, but experience had taught them that UM Church leaders and General Conferences have developed a bad habit of failing to resolve a dispute that has vexed the denomination for decades.
So given the UM Church’s postponement of General Conference, the uncertainty of the Protocol’s fate, and the accelerated launch of the Global Methodist Church, what are the ramifications for local churches wanting to align with it, and for the new church as a whole?
Without the Protocol there is now no general plan of separation applicable to all local churches, annual conferences, and to central conferences in other parts of the world. Consequently, circumstances for local churches wanting to exit the UM Church in order to align with the Global Methodist Church will vary from annual conference to annual conference.
It is evident some UM bishops and annual conference leaders recognize it is in both denominations’ interests to agree to amicable and equitable terms of separation; terms that are fair to local congregations wanting to join the Global Methodist Church and that provide for the fulfilling of any reasonable obligations congregations have to their UM annual conferences. In short, some bishops and annual conferences are working in the spirit of the Protocol so local church departures are concluded fairly and expeditiously. In these annual conferences, local churches wanting to align with the Global Methodist Church are likely to do so later this year or early next year.
Unfortunately, there are some indications that other UM bishops and annual conference leaders are proposing separation terms that are onerous to the point of being punitive. Regrettably, local churches in these annual conferences will be faced with difficult decisions that will vary from assuming burdensome exit payments in order to leave the UM Church to possibly walking away from their property and assets in order to start a new local church aligned with the Global Methodist Church.
Whatever the circumstances, TLC members are strongly advising local churches to move forward prayerfully and deliberately, noting there is no need to make an immediate decision. Representatives from both the TLC and WCA are doing all they can to advise and equip local church leaders to make informed decisions about their local church’s future. They are also encouraging laity and clergy to regularly visit the Global Methodist Church’s website where a wealth of information and resources are already available, and more are being added weekly especially via Crossroads its free e-newsletter.
Finally, despite anticipated and unanticipated challenges, theological conservatives are confident the Global Methodist Church will grow and thrive in the years to come. Since the announcement that the church will launch on May 1, TLC members and WCA staff and regional chapter leaders around the world have been overwhelmed with phone calls from local churches seeking guidance for joining the new denomination.
It is obvious thousands of local congregations want to exit a denomination consumed by an internecine dispute, seemingly without end, so they can join a new church solely focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.
The Rev. Walter Fenton serves as the secretary for the Transitional Leadership Council.