Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
With recent events within United Methodism, I wanted to reach out to you as senior pastor of our church. I returned last weekend from a few vacation days following Christmas, in which my family worked on moving my in-laws into assisted living in our area from across the state, to news released on January 3rd about a plan for “separation” within the United Methodist Church, which made national news. This plan relating to ongoing division regarding marriage and ordination of LBGTQ persons proceeds the scheduled General Conference of the UMC in May 2020. With this news, it is important to remember that no formal action has been taken or can be taken outside of the UMC General Conference.
In an effort to keep our congregation informed, I would like to share with you links to the separation plan protocol and other official news from the UMC on this topic, as well as to ask you to be prayerful as we approach what I believe to be a critical time for the UMC. In addition, I offer invitation to interested members to join me in a group here at FUMC that will be in dialogue about this plan (and perhaps others) and that will commit to prayer and mutual support as General Conference 2020 approaches no matter what our opinion on the plan(s). My goal is to lead the church forward in the ministry of Christ, no matter what happens related to General Conference 2020. I will say more about the group I plan to form at the end of this letter, and we will also share information about the group through our church communications.
- The first link is to the issued protocol for separation . This is the actual document signed by 16 leaders across differing opinions within the UMC.
- The next link - News Service Announcement - provides information issued by our bishop and through the United Methodist News Services explaining the protocol.
- Finally, this article, from the UM News Service, offers a summary of some reactions to the protocol from across the UMC: UMC Response .
- On Monday, January 13th at 9:30am, the UM News Services moderated a conversation with leaders from those who back the protocol for separation. The link provided for this livestream can be found here: Livestream .
I encourage you to read these documents, as well as official UMC statements that will be forthcoming. I understand both our District and Conference will be providing further information as well.
Again, I provide the sources above to help keep you informed as the national news has had its own spin on our denominational situation since January 3 rd . I also want to reiterate that this information proposes a plan only. There can be no action outside of the General Conference of the UMC which convenes this May with worldwide delegates representing both clergy and laity. Leaders in our denomination estimate that if this protocol passes, it will not cause a “split” of the UMC. It will be more like a splintering if passed. The numbers I have heard associated of those worldwide congregations that may exit with this plan’s approval are between 6% and 20% at the most. However, these are estimates. Moreover, this exiting or “separation” may not only be from those who align as “traditionalist,” as “progressive” churches may decide to separate as well. Even with differing opinions concerning LBGTQ ordination and marriage (which are the central points of difference), reports say that many United Methodists feel strong allegiance to the mission of the UMC, its heritage, and a long-lived commitment to transforming the world for the sake of Jesus Christ.
As your senior pastor, I cannot say that our current situation in the UMC does not pose heartbreak for me. I see and feel pain. I hear the division. I have counseled lifelong friends at odds on these issues. I have served in the work of Christ in our Annual Conference with Rev. Keith Boyette and Rev. Tom Berlin who have found themselves on opposite sides of this long-held debate and now have both signed the protocol for separation, thinking it best for both traditionalists and progressives. All of this comes from the church of my infancy, my baptism, my marriage, my children’s adoption (through UMFS) and my ordination. Like so many of you, I love my church, its people, and our mission. Yet, above all else, I have allegiance to Christ.
In the early community of faith, the Apostle Paul struggled with the real and hard divisions between Jews and Gentiles, and in sharing that the Gospel of Christ was for all, Paul wrote, in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It is amazing to me that he wrote this in addressing the wide span of division between Jew and Gentile. I am sure he did not know fully how things would be resolved because they were so grossly opposed. However, he did put his hope and their hope in the right place -- in the power of God through the Holy Spirit. That is where I turn and lay my concerns, my own brokenness and even anxiety about the church, and with this, I look to a future of God’s kingdom advancing with hope in whatever form it takes.
In the interim, I will offer what I am calling “A Dialogue Group on the Future of the UMC” as place for holy conversation, study and reflection, prayer and potential planning from anyone interested in working with our pastoral leadership as we guide our church forward in these times. With love for their church, both Pastor Josh and Pastor Jim are coming alongside me in this effort. This group is open to traditionalists, progressives, moderates, and the uncertain or inquiring, if you are a member of our body here at FUMC. Last fall, I shared with our church council chair that I had plans for this group after the beginning of the year, with no knowledge that news of this protocol would come forth with January. I believe God was preparing us to come together and lead forward in this New Year. The “Dialogue Group” will first convene on Thursday, January 30th at 6:30pm in the church fellowship hall. This will not be a place to argue with each other or the pastoral team. I see this group as a place to come together in the love of Christ, to move a church we love forward in that same love, to seek the guidance of God’s Spirit, and to be prepared as well as we can for changes should they come.
Please know that I continue to look forward to our joined year of ministry together in year 2020. God is doing wonderful things through Fredericksburg UMC, and God certainly has plans we can trust for the future.
Much grace and peace in Christ Jesus,
Rev. Gina Anderson-Cloud
Fredericksburg United Methodist Church