“It’s Time for Freedom!” – Episcopalians & the UMC

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From time to time, the Café publishes Letters to the Editor from our readers.  The opinions expressed are the author’s own and are not an expression of the collective opinion of the Café content team. Before submitting an editorial, please check out our Submissions page for guidelines.

 

 

by Frank Brookhart, Deirdre Good, David Simmons 

 

Long-standing fractures in the United Methodist Church (UMC) were exposed at the Special Conference held in St. Louis in February of 2019.  The Conference passed a set of legislation that is widely held to be an attempt to force LGBTQIA+ persons and their allies out of the UMC. While it passed by a narrow margin of worldwide delegates, an estimated two-thirds of the delegates from the church in the United States voted against the so-called “Traditional Plan.”  Indeed, the UMC in much of the USA is known for its efforts towards full-inclusion – including thousands of openly welcoming congregations, a sizeable minority of LGBTQIA+ clergy, and a variety of intentionally Queer church plants.

 

“It’s time for freedom!” Professor Traci West of Drew University Theological School proclaimed as a keynote speaker at Our Movement Forward Summit, May 17-18, 2019, highlighting POC+Q+T (Persons of Color, Queer, and Transgender) voices in the UMC. Her cry is resonating from Washington State to Washington DC. As the implications of the Special Conference have started to be understood, queer UMC members and their allies have won a series of startling victories in their Annual Conferences (Annual Conferences are roughly equivalent to dioceses in the Episcopal Church).

 

Members of the June 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference adopted 491-86 a vision for Minnesota that commits to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church. The vision declares, “we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to and with all persons,” and expresses a commitment to center marginalized voices, vowing to affirm each clergyperson’s prayerful discernment about whether to officiate at same-sex weddings. Separately, members adopted 446-108 a resolution formally recognizing that the Traditional Plan approved at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference “does great harm to the witness of The United Methodist Church.”

 

At the June 2019 New England Annual Conference, Bishop Devadhar declared at the outset, “We invite all to the table, because holy communion is a means of grace, and we want to extend that means of grace to all…all means all.” More than 1,500 laity in the New England Conference and others signed a statement denouncing the “harmful results of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference and commit(ing) ourselves to a reborn Wesleyan movement, firm in its full affirmation of LGBTQIA+ persons.”

 

The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC published a statement of values in March of 2019 that states in part, “We believe that God calls and gifts LGBTQI persons for ministry just as God does other people, and we are committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in the Church today. We also believe pastors and churches should be free to bless those who commit their lives to one another without restriction.” Similar statements and votes have been written and passed in many of the Annual Conferences within the United States as they met earlier this summer.

 

While some online commentators in the Episcopal Church have referred to the UMC as “homophobic” or “hateful,” the UMC is a diverse church that is engaged in a struggle not dissimilar to ours. If the Anglican Communion’s authority was more globalized like that of the UMC, our denomination would likely be in a similar legislative situation.  The LGBTQIA+ Community in the UMC is in a time of crisis, and they need the support of their Christian siblings in the Episcopal Church.  Are there ways that we Episcopalians can affirm the visions and ministries of these UMC annual conferences? Can we help our Methodist siblings witness to and sharing of Jesus’ proclamation of God’s love for the world while showing those, whose vision is narrower, a more faithful way?

 


 

The Right Rev. C. Franklin Brookhart, D.Min., co-editor of That They May Be One?: The Episcopal United Methodist Dialogue (2014, Seabury Books); Canon Dr. Deirdre Good, Co-Chair of Episcopal UMC Dialogue Committee; The Rev. David Simmons, President, EDEIO.

 

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Thomas Rightmyer
Guest

Back in the 1990's I helped form the NC Episcopal United Methodist dialogue, and served one year as its Chair. I am delighted to see this declaration of support for the proposed full communion and shared ministry agreement. It was approved by General Convention and if approved by the 2020 United Methodist General Conference and the 2021 General Convention will establish a new relationship between our churches beginning in January 2022. The relationship will be similar to the relationship between Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America. I recently served as Pastor and Rector of the Lutheran Episcopal Church of the Savior, Newland, NC. There are some 60 joint Lutheran Episcopal congregations in the USA. Many of them are small, but all offer worship to our common Lord and service in the communities where they are planted. The Episcopal - United Methodist agreement offers opportunities for common ministry in many parts of this country. Urge GC deputies to support it!

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Craig Marshall
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Craig Marshall

The silver lining on the UMC's imminent schism is an opportunity to grow into deeper unity with its ecumenical partners during a time of new beginnings. Unfortunately, I have not seen any evidence of that yet, though I hope that much is happening behind the scenes.

It is incumbent on TEC and ELCA to offer sharing resources, and perhaps even new forms of unity, now rather than later. If the new organizations begin forming a new infrastructure without strongly considering that opportunity, the ship will have sailed. After decades of infighting it is time for each of these churches to manifest a new Christian unity to the world that honors and is blessed by the charisms of the Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist traditions.

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

I don't know exactly what it means to be "in communion" with the UMC, but it sounds nice! I'm sure that issues of Apostolic Succession and the belief in the real presence in the Eucharist have been worked out.

Many members of the UMC were deeply hurt by the vote for the Traditional Plan at an international conference. TEC would also lose if Lambeth had a vote in our affairs. I believe that we should be in communion and offer sanctuary for those hurting.

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Marilyn Davis
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Marilyn Davis

The Episcopal Church could offer Love Feasts to Methodists who don’t like the liturgy of the Episcopal Church. In North Georgia and many other places their is no other accepting place to go.

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Wayne Helmly
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Wayne Helmly

The UMC may be engaging in a struggle similar to that of TEC, but the conclusion to which they came in February is the total opposite of ours. As long as their polity discriminates against LGBTQ+ people in any way, I do not believe we should consider full communion.

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Member

I'm not educated enough in United Methodist structures to know how they will address the large (and largely overseas) contingent responsible for the "Traditional Option" majority. With that UMC churches and conferences were given a path for separation. It's unclear to me how we should support the North American progressive majority until they have made some difficult internal decisions.

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Craig M.
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Craig M.

(Craig, we ask all commenters to please use their full first and last names - thx, ed)

The silver lining on the UMC's imminent schism is an opportunity to grow into deeper unity with its ecumenical partners during a time of new beginnings. Unfortunately, I have not seen any evidence of that yet, though I hope that much is happening behind the scenes.

It is incumbent on TEC and ELCA to offer sharing resources, and perhaps even new forms of unity, now rather than later. If the new organizations begin forming a new infrastructure without strongly considering that opportunity, the ship will have sailed. After decades of infighting it is time for each of these churches to manifest a new Christian unity to the world that honors and is blessed by the charisms of the Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist traditions.

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John Welch
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John Welch

Note, as well, that the UMC in the US has shifted from about 2/3, mentioned in the letter, to about 75% in favor of gay ordination and gay marriage since the special conference earlier this year. In Annual Conference after Annual Conference, gay-affirming and progressive delegates were elected to the every-four-years General Conference of 2020. The right-wing UMC coalition now complains that they were shut out in delegation after delegation. Incidentally, the issue is not only of "homosexuality" but of whether Methodists should continue to be committed to even a mild form of Social Principles. See https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/survey-results-1-of-4-awakening-urgency/?fbclid=IwAR2Ccus6L1p262WsX845SBDMNYHaMWEAoXQzbra1mumcCaAHvY-X-7HK3KU

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Joseph Flanagan
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Joseph Flanagan

"US has shifted from about 2/3, mentioned in the letter, to about 75%"

That is a tad misleading. Those percentages may refer to delegates, but almost certainly do not actually reflect the opinion of the people in the pews.

But, I think that left-leaning UMC members and congregations should seriously consider switching to TEC. Methodism began as a reform movement in Anglicanism. Having an influx of Methodists might help reinvigorate the low-church side of TEC and should be welcomed.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

Couldn't disagree with you more, Joseph. The last thing that The Episcopal Church needs is an influx of Evangelicals (You do know the difference between Low Church and Evangelical, don't you..?) Historically most of the dissention in our Church has been the work of Evangelicals, e.g., the Methodist Schism of 1779-84, the Evangelical Episcopal Schism of 1816, the Cummins/Reformed Episcopal Schism of 1873 and most recently the bulk of the ACNA Schism. American Evangelical religious culture is simply at odds with the Anglican ethos in America...

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Joseph Flanagan
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Joseph Flanagan

I doubt that liberal refugees from the modern UMC would cause quite the disruption that Kurt fears.

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Joseph Ekstrand
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Joseph Ekstrand

Speaking as a cradle United Methodist, I am strongly considering switching-the only thing holding me back is loyalty to my local church, which is Reconciling (and in fact, our former pastor acted as the whip for the coalition opposed to the ‘traditional plan’), and has been my home since moving to Kansas City (no, not Church of the Resurrection). I think there’s a decent chance that my local church will split from the UMC next year if the Traditional Plan stands at our next general conference.

I wonder if there is a way for a local charge to switch denominations en mass?

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

A parish could petition the local Diocese for recognition as an Episcopal parish. At this juncture that would likely also require the Methodist pastor to receive re-ordination by a bishop in the Historic (Apostolic) succession.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

"Having an influx of Methodists might help reinvigorate the low-church side of TEC and should be welcomed."

Methodists = "low-church side of TEC"?

I fear I am losing a sense of a church I have thought I knew for generations. The terms of reference are no longer clear.

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Joseph Flanagan
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Joseph Flanagan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_church

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Steve Price
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Steve Price

Short and very informative link;also several years ago an entire Assembly of God congregation was admitted to the Diocese of Georgia.The Bishop stated: We let the Methodists get away,we're not making that mistake again.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

I do not need to read about 'low-church' at Wikipedia. I am a third-generation cleric whose grandfather taught liturgics at the (at the time) low-church seminary, Bexley Hall. Virginia and Sewanee were their counterparts. (He was the sole 'high-church' faculty member). I entered VTS in 1977.

The term used to mean cassock and surplice; formal, uncluttered worship; identification with 1928 MP; and so forth. With the arrival of the 1979 BCP and weekly communion came new haberdashery changes. Most of TEC is in that vein. 'High-church' has therefore come to be, in order to distinguish itself from genric TECism, what was once the ritualist wing of catholic Episcopalianism (post Tractarianism).

Methodism has its own changes and chances. It would not be 'low-church' in any historic or present meaning of the term in TEC contexts.

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