By Walter B. Fenton
“I am sold out and all in for the Global Methodist Church,” said Ms. Katherine Reiley, a 22-year-old, first year student at Asbury Theological Seminary. Reiley joined over 300 people in Wilmore, Kentucky, on Saturday, April 15, 2023, for a service of Healing and Hope sponsored by leaders of a Global Methodist Church Transitional Conference Advisory Team (TCAT). The team is one of nine TCATs tasked with the formation of provisional annual conferences in the U.S. In less than a year, the GM Church has nine operational conferences (six in the U.S., and one each in Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines), and one provisional district (Slovakia). In addition, the GM Church is working with a number of teams outside the United States in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe leading toward the formation of provisional annual conferences in those regions.
Clergy and lay leaders from Kentucky, Eastern and Middle Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Southern West Virginia converged on Wilmore for their initial TCAT meeting and the service of Healing and Hope that Reiley and others across the quad-states region attended. At its April 14, Friday night meeting, the TCAT began to lay the groundwork for a provisional annual conference that would connect local churches throughout the region. Its goal is to hold a convening annual conference later this year or early next.
“We have TCATs that are at the very beginning of forming provisional annual conferences, a few on the cusp of becoming operational conferences, and a number somewhere in between,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the GM Church’s Chief Connectional Officer. “Depending on the circumstances, it takes a TCAT four to six months of detailed planning before it can petition the Church’s Transitional Leadership Council for authorization to launch a provisional annual conference. The 20 to 30 lay people and clergy who compose a TCAT have to give hours of their time, talent, and resources to demonstrate to the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council that a proposed annual conference would be healthy, sustainable, and able to provide the basic services local churches would expect of it.”
Since John Wesley and his friends founded the Methodist movement in the middle of the eighteenth century, Methodists, of whatever stripe, have emphasized the importance of connectionalism. As the Rev. Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean at United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio) and a Transitional Leadership Council member, put it, “To be Methodist is to be connectional.”
Wesley’s use of the term was his way of emphasizing what Christians have always believed: living out our faith is done in community, in local churches. And just as individuals need to be connected, so local churches do as well. Methodists believe connectionalism is rooted in the patterns set forth in the New Testament church.
Approximately 1,700 local churches have joined the GM Church in the past year, but over half of them are not yet connected to a provisional annual conference. Depending on several factors (e.g., region of the country, average size of local congregations), the Church believes approximately 120 local churches are necessary to form a viable and sustainable annual conference. TCATs are essential to building connection and bringing local churches together. Many, like the team that met in Wilmore this past weekend, have sponsored gatherings so members from GM local churches in a given area can meet with one another and experience the joy of connectionalism.
“I sensed from the very beginning this was a movement God was in,” said the Rev. Sue Eaton, a member of the TCAT that met in Wilmore. “Before retirement, my last appointment was as a prison chaplain; it was such a blessing to work where the fields are ripe for harvest. It was a very fulfilling ministry for me, and I assumed it was the end of my formal service. But then I was very excited and humbled to be asked to be a part of this TCAT. It was something I never expected to be doing at 76 years of age. It’s such a blessing for God to still have a way for me to serve, and it is a joy to be used by him to help build this new Church!”
TCAT members are responsible for the day-to-day work of preparing the way for a provisional annual conference, but they also work closely with GM Church Bishops Scott Jones and Mark Webb, the Transitional Leadership Council, and general Church staff members. As provisional annual conferences are taking shape, TCAT members find themselves filling important gaps during the GM Church’s transitional period. Some local churches turn to them for assistance finding a pastor, pastors look to them for potential appointments, and groups of lay people and clergy seek their guidance for planting and multiplying new churches.
“It’s exciting to serve on a TCAT,” said the Rev. Jordan McFall, 36, who serves The Goddard Church in Goddard, Kansas. McFall is a member of a TCAT that includes Southeast Colorado, Kansas, Southern Missouri, and Oklahoma. “It is a privilege to take part in this fresh move of God in the Wesleyan expression of the faith. I am excited to join together with other like-minded sisters and brothers in Christ to pray and press into the leading of the Holy Spirit as we discern the next steps for our area of the Global Methodist Church. God is on the move, and I am just excited to be a part of it, no matter how big or small.”
Recently, the GM Church’s 22 member Transitional Leadership Council announced it plans to hold its convening General Conference sometime in the late summer or fall of 2024. By that time, it believes over 90 percent of GM local churches in the U.S. will be connected to a provisional annual conference. And while some GM local churches in other countries are already connected to conferences, it anticipates many more will join the new Church in late 2024 and throughout 2025 as pathways are opened to them to vote for affiliation with it.
In opening remarks at the Healing and Hope Service in Wilmore, the Rev. Mike Powers, the leader of the TCAT in the region, shared that after decades of ministry he was just easing into the joy of retirement when a call came asking him to help form a GM Church provisional annual conference. Initially, he was not interested, but then he said he started to think about “his children’s children’s children,” and so felt called to help build a church for them and for many other people’s children.
As if in reply, Reiley, the first year seminarian, said, “The more I have learned about the Global Methodist Church, the more encouraged I am about its future, I see a place for my generation; I’m excited for it; and so I am grateful to be on the receiving end of a lot of work that has gone into a Church where I get to spend my lifetime in ministry!”
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.