How Did We Get Here?
The United Methodist Church became official in 1968 as a merger between the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB, of which we were a part) and the Methodist Episcopal Church. While the name ‘United’ is a bridge to our heritage, the truth is that the UMC has rarely been truly united. For decades, church leaders have been distracted and depleted by disagreement regarding Christology, biblical authority and interpretation, sexual ethics, and the definition of marriage. Where practices deviated from church doctrine as outlined in the Book of Discipline, the denomination has suffered from a lack of accountability and enforcement. The contentiousness has been elevated within the last five years and the denomination is discerning how/if it can stay together.
The UMC meets every four years for General Conference - the highest decision-making body of the denomination. Clergy and lay representatives are sent from every UMC conference around the world based on worshipping attendance in each region to do the work. In 2016, General Conference delegates asked the Bishops of the church to help lead us through the growing frustrations around human sexuality. The Bishops convened a special General Conference in 2019 that only focused on issues related to the church’s stance on human sexuality. This resulted in a debate with heated, strident and painful staking out of opposing views while a traditional, orthodox view of our core doctrines and human sexuality were upheld. One piece of legislation was passed in 2019 that has fresh implications - Para. 2553, was approved, allowing churches to disaffiliate from the UMC prior to 2023 due to disagreements on human sexuality.
Shortly thereafter a group of United Methodists on all sides of the theological spectrum met with a professional mediator to discern a more peaceful way forward together. The result of that meeting was that there was widespread agreement that separation is the best and final way to resolve the deep divisions. By parting ways, each wing of the denomination — progressive and traditional — would be free to continue in ministry without the lingering burden of these matters.They drafted legislation for a General Conference 2020 vote called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace . The Protocol gave an easier means for the different streams to amicably separate into multiple Methodist “branches”. Due to the pandemic, General Conference 2020 has been postponed 3 times and will not meet until 2024.
The continuing United Methodist Church or, as some are calling it, the post-separation UMC (psUMC), as stated in the preamble to the Protocol, would move in a more progressive theological direction, and those holding traditional views would be free to join or start new movements, in order to preserve the historic teaching of the church.
Since there has been no General Conference, a couple things have happened:
1. A new, traditional-theology denomination launched called the Global Methodist Church
2. Rebellion and defiance to current UMC doctrine and practice has accelerated, most acting out of convictions that the UMC beliefs are causing unnecessary harm.
3. Some pastors and churches started exploring disaffiliation using Para. 2553.
In the absence of clear guidelines for consistent and fair separation due to the postponement of the UMC General Conference until 2024, each Annual Conference, led by its presiding bishop, was tasked with setting its own parameters for parting ways at the local church level. The resulting outcomes of this arrangement vary greatly depending on the episcopal leadership of each annual conference.
In some annual conferences, churches are being required to pay 30%-50% of the total value of their property and assets in addition to standard required apportionments and unfunded pension liabilities. In other conferences, bishops and district superintendents are not publicly disclosing their exit terms or requiring extended periods of discernment. In contrast, clear and reasonable terms have been created and published by Bishop Gregory Palmer and his cabinet and staff in the West Ohio Annual Conference. A checklist was created following the 2022 Annual Conference, outline the steps a local church needs to take in order to leave the denomination. Bishop Palmer graciously scheduled a special annual conference this November to confirm any church disaffiliations.
In July 2022, our Church Council notified Bishop Palmer that we felt it a responsible step to invite our congregation to discern its future with a congregational vote. This vote would be whether or not we discern God’s leading to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Grace United Methodist Church joins around 100 congregations in the West Ohio Annual Conference in discerning a new future outside The United Methodist Church. Each church must choose a discernment pathway that best reflects its theological beliefs, core values and Christian mission in the world. Other key factors for consideration include matters of business formation, finance, clergy benefits, pensions and credentials, and property.
The Church Council has been wading into the options before us and will present a summary of them at our information sessions. Click here to see a detailed analysis of some of the other denominations for consideration.
Option 1: Stay in connection with The United Methodist Church
Taking a “wait and see” approach and remaining a congregation associated with The United Methodist Church follows conventional wisdom for maintaining the status quo, but, in fact, this pathway may lead to a very different version of the UMC compared to the organization’s established profile from previous decades.
The post-separation UMC (psUMC) will not maintain the status quo. The Council of Bishops, academic leaders and some clergy are moving to adopt more progressive theological positions as evidenced by some of the links at the bottom of this page.
Bishop Palmer will retire in 2024 and his replacement could bring a different set of expectations for disaffiliating churches.
Option 2: Affiliate with another Wesleyan denomination
Membership and worship attendance in the greater United Methodist Church have declined nearly every year since its inception in 1968. Because of this trend, much attention has been placed on the need for renewal on a denominational scale.
As we look to other expressions of Methodism, there is a desire to retain the classic Wesleyan model of congregational connectionalism — that is, moving together in the direction of growth and renewal not as individual churches but as a network of churches that are theologically and socially aligned.
The discernment team at Grace Church recognizes the value in the maintaining the connectional model for the purposes of upholding its historic, Wesleyan tradition and for laying the groundwork for future growth and vitality that only comes in shared community.
Option 3: Become an independent church
Becoming an independent congregation carries a different set of considerations compared to affiliating with another Wesleyan denomination.
There are financial and legal distinctions, and in some cases, they are more favorable, such as freedom from paying apportionments to a parent denomination.
With freedom comes more organizational responsibility and risk (for example, maintaining all provisions for clergy benefits and retirement independently, versus the UMC-sponsored plans available through Wespath).
Securing independence from The United Methodist Church means relief from theological and social misalignment of past decades, as well as the ineffective and outdated oversight model. However, this relief comes at the expense of any official connection with likeminded clergy and congregations. In addition, an independent church is contrary to the spirit of connectionalism that was core to our theological heritage and Grace Church’s history.
Theologically Progressive United Methodism
UMC/GMC Comparison Resources
Comparison of Future UMC and GMC - Chris Ritter
Why Stay UMC - Adam Hamilton
Why Leave the UMC - Jeff Greenway
Global Methodist Church