By Walter B. Fenton
In just 15 months the Global Methodist Church has welcomed 3,150 local congregations, launched 13 provisional annual conferences, and established two provisional districts. In the U.S., it is likely to launch four more provisional annual conferences and another provisional district by the Spring of 2024 as the total number of local churches climbs to 4,000.
Many people are excited about the GM Church’s growth and want to be a part of it, but are disappointed they cannot find a church in their area. “Why,” they ask, “if so many churches are joining the new denomination, can we not find one within a 100, 200, or even 500 mile radius of our homes?”
Those most inclined to ask the question live in U.S. Western states or in the Northeast area of the country. Crossroads visited with the Rev. Steven Taylor about this and several other questions concerning the growing denomination. Taylor is the lead pastor at Panama Methodist Church in Panama, New York, a community 80 miles south of Buffalo. He also serves as the leader of the Northeast Transitional Conference Advisory Team (TCAT), a group of laity and clergy working to create a provisional annual conference covering a vast geographical area in the Northeast.
What are the most challenging obstacles local churches and the Northeast TCAT are facing as they work to form a GM Church provisional annual conference in the region?
The growth of the GMC in the Northeast has been steady but slow, mostly due to The United Methodist Church’s disaffiliation process and the costs local churches in the Northeast must pay when disaffiliating. We span nine UM Church annual conferences in 13 states, plus Washington, D.C. Each annual conference has different requirements for disaffiliation from the UM Church ranging from fairly amicable to some of the most onerous and expensive terms in the denomination [e.g., according to a recent Christianity Today article, 299 local churches were approved for disaffiliation in the UMC’s Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, while only eight local churches have managed to disaffiliate from its Greater New Jersey Annual Conference]. The requirements are so stiff in some UM annual conferences that dozens of local churches have turned to the civil courts for relief. Our TCAT is working hard to encourage Northeast churches disaffiliating from the UM Church to consider aligning with the GM Church. We are confident that over the next two to three years people will begin to see more and more GM local churches in the area. We will grow as former UM local churches affiliate with the GM Church, and by planting and multiplication.
How did the Northeast TCAT come into existence?
It was born from several meetings among leaders in the area, especially leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s regional chapters in the Northeast. In the summer of 2022, a group of eight leaders began to discuss how the GM Church could most effectively create connection and organization for local churches wanting to affiliate with the new denomination. Early in 2023, the decision was made to create one large provisional conference in the Northeast, with the understanding that a time would come when we would need to multiply into two or more conferences. The GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council approved the Northeast TCAT on April 15, 2023, and it was formally launched on May 1, 2023.
In general, how would you describe the members of the Northeast TCAT?
The TCAT is a diverse gathering of 31 people from across the region, from every church size, ethnicity, male and female, young and old, lay and clergy, active and retired, and with an incredible set of spiritual gifts and experience to lead.
Approximately how many local churches have indicated they want to be part of the Northeast Provisional Annual Conference? Given all that has transpired, why do they want to join another denomination, specifically the GM Church?
To date, approximately 120 congregations in the area have made the decision to align with the GM Church. Many more are in the disaffiliation and discernment process, with final disaffiliation dates still unknown. However, we are confident that by the end of 2023, close to 200 local churches will apply to join the GM Church. Much of the timing depends on the UM annual conference special sessions and the submission of all required documents for disaffiliation. Thankfully, the process for aligning with the GM Church is simple and there are no application costs or initiation fees. We are finding that many local churches are eager to align with the GM Church because of its commitment to Wesleyan-Methodist doctrine, a strong stand on the authority of Scripture, clear accountability standards for bishops and clergy, lower connectional funding rates compared to the UM Church’s apportionments, and a desire to be connected to like-minded Methodists who are building a new movement around the world.
Given the vast geographical boundaries, what are ways you are trying to create connection and community?
Connections thrive in relationship. The more we know one another, the more connection we create. Since its inception, the Northeast TCAT has been a movement grounded in prayer. We hold a monthly online prayer gathering hosted by our Northeast Prayer Steering Team, led by Rev. Dr. Leo Park. During that gathering, we worship and pray. Technology has allowed us to be connected across the miles and has been a blessing for us. In July, over 200 people attended a one day Summit in Halifax, Pennsylvania, for worship and connection. Bishop Mark Webb was the preacher for the day, and TCAT members held a panel discussion to answer questions from people present and online. Whether a local church has already joined the GM Church or is still considering affiliation our media team is keeping them all informed and connected.
What are the joys and surprises the TCAT has experienced so far? When do you anticipate the launch of the Northeast Provisional Annual Conference and the date of its convening annual conference?
The biggest joy is getting to know laity and clergy throughout the diverse Northeast region. We have been surprised by the number of local churches joining the GM Church and the pace at which they are doing so. At the end of August, the Northeast TCAT will be meeting in-person for the first time, to continue laying the groundwork for the Northeast Provisional Annual Conference. While we don’t have a target launch date, we are hoping to finish the work needed to stand up an annual conference by the end of the year, and to hold our convening annual conference in the Spring of 2024. To connect with the Northeast TCAT, please send an email to Rev. Taylor at: email@example.com.
Crossroads will continue to feature Global Methodists organizations around the world that are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.
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.