The information contained on this website is for informational purposes and represents a good faith effort by the Church Council Study Group to educate and inform our congregation on the full range of perspectives in regards to the current issues facing the United Methodist Church and their impact on the future of our church. The inclusion of any links does not imply a recommendation or endorsement of the views expressed in them.
A MESSAGE FROM CHURCH COUNCIL CHAIRPERSON NANCY STEVENS
I love our great church and am incredibly honored to serve as Chairperson of the Church Council. The Church Council is the governing board whose role is to ensure that our local church fulfills our mission to Make and Grow Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World who KNOW the Heart of God, GROW in the Grace of God, and SHOW the Love of God. We have been doing this for 194 years at the corner of Broad and Trinity Streets.
Since 1968, our church has been part of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Conference meets each June in Athens. We send two delegates, termed “Lay Members,” to represent our church. Following this year’s meeting, I received a letter from our lay members, Libba Bowling and Jennifer Emery, that expressed concerns about the growing division within the United Methodist Church, the conflicting views and interpretations of the Bible, and faithfulness to the Book of Discipline. They witnessed 70 churches in our Conference disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church and requested that we discuss the issue.
I called a meeting of key elected officials and, following our discussion, asked that group to further study the issues at hand. The members of the Church Council Study Group besides me include:
John Jackson and Martha Pirkle, Lay Leaders
Lea Rawlinson, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees
Rhonda Mitchell, Chairperson of the Finance Committee
Tracy Van Norman, Chairperson of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee
Esther Rainey, President of LaGrange First Methodist Memorial Foundation
Libba Bowling and Jennifer Emery, Lay Members of Annual Conference
At the study group’s direction, I invited fellow members of the Church Council and a few other church members who had approached me with questions regarding the issue of affiliation to meet for a fact-based discussion. I held three such meetings. Then our study group listened to feedback. And we prayed.
At the August 30 meeting of the Church Council, John Jackson presented a recommendation on behalf of the study group requesting that the Council hold a church-wide educational meeting for our entire congregation to hear both perspectives—the progressive and the traditional points of view. Twenty-three members of the Church Council were present, and all of the 23 voted in favor of the recommendation.
I would like to personally invite you to join me on Sunday, October 30 from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm in Wesley Hall. We will hear presentations that represent both perspectives during the first half of the meeting. Then we will enter into a time of Q&A. You may submit questions in advance below. The meeting will also be recorded and posted here. Speakers include Stuart Gulley and Greg Porterfield on behalf of the progressive perspective, and Dan Parr on behalf of the traditional perspective. Click here for more information about the presenters.
I know this may come as a surprise to some of you and others may be following the issue closely in the news media. What is most important is that we—those who love our great church—listen, pray, and discern together how we will best do God’s work for the next 200 years at the corner of Broad and Trinity Streets. We are “better together”.
Nancy K. Stevens,
Church Council Chairperson
Use the Link Below to contact the church council
Moving Forward in Faith Church-Wide Educational Meeting
Frequently Asked Questions
This list will be expanded following the church-wide educational meeting to include those questions posed to presenters at the meeting and other developments that may occur.
What is the issue of affiliation facing United Methodist churches now?
In 1972, the General Conference entered a new paragraph in the Book of Discipline stating that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” Based upon this paragraph, restrictions have been imposed regarding the ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and conducting ceremonies between same sex couples in United Methodist facilities. Since 1972, the paragraph and restrictions have been debated during every session of General Conference, including the 2019 special session of General Conference which was limited to these debates. Petitions seeking to eliminate the paragraph have failed consistently.
Yet an increasing number of pastors and bishops have conducted such ceremonies in violation of the Book of Discipline. A self-avowed, partnered homosexual was elected as bishop and assigned to an episcopal area within the Western Jurisdiction of the United States. All ordained pastors in the United Methodist Church took vows to uphold the standards contained in the Book of Discipline. These violations have been cited by pastors and bishops as one of the reasons for seeking disaffiliation among both local churches, pastors, and bishops.
During the 2019 Special Session of General Conference, a pathway was established by which local churches could disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church with its property and assets, subject to certain conditions being met. The pathway is limited in time—expiring December 31, 2023. The North Georgia Conference requires a request to disaffiliate be submitted to the District Superintendent between January 1, 2023, and February 28, 2023, for disaffiliation to be approved by the Annual Conference in June 2023. General Conference does not meet until May 2024 when other opportunities for disaffiliation might be established.
Is this the first time our denomination has faced divisions over theology and polity?
No, since the Methodist Episcopal Church in North America was established by John Wesley in 1784, the church has splintered several times to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1816), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1821), the Methodist Protestant Church (1830), the Wesleyan Church (1843), the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1845), the Congregational Methodist Church (1852), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870), the Church of the Nazarene (1907), the Free Methodist Church (1912), the Southern Methodist Church (1940), the Association of Independent Methodist Churches (1965), the Global Methodist Church (2022), and the Liberation Methodist Connexion (in formation).
Hasn’t LaGrange First always been United Methodist?
No. In our 194-year history, we have chosen to affiliate with four different Methodist denominations: the Methodist Episcopal Church (1828), the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1844), the Methodist Church (1939), and, finally, the United Methodist Church (1968).
Who made the decision to enter into a time of local church discernment?
On August 30, 2022, the Church Council voted 23-0 in favor of the recommendation to hold a church–wide educational meeting for our congregation to discuss both perspectives related to our future with the United Methodist Church and to enter into a period of discernment.
What is local church discernment?
Discernment, at its core, is about prayerfully understanding where God is leading us as a church. The process is guided in information, communication, and prayer. Discernment will not necessarily end in a church vote. Discernment may end in conversation that agrees that remaining a UMC congregation is best for our church community. It might, however, culminate in a vote of the church conference (members of our church) asking to determine our future affiliation as a congregation.
What questions should we be asking?
- Who are we?
- Why do we exist as a congregation?
- What are key issues for us as a congregation?
- What is God’s will for our congregation at this time and in this place?
- How can we continue to be the most faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Holy Scriptures?
- Does the United Methodist Church present opportunities or obstacles to us realizing God’s call for us in this season?
- If we feel led to stay in the UMC or leave the UMC, what are the costs (emotionally, spiritually, numerically, economically)?
- What impact does our decision as a congregation have upon our current pastoral appointments?
- What is connectionalism? What are the benefits and drawbacks?
- How will/can we love and honor one another through this process, even if we are not in agreement on the issues?
What is “disaffiliation” from the United Methodist Church?
Disaffiliation is a process whereby a local United Methodist Church can separate from the United Methodist denomination while keeping its property and assets.
Why are we acting now?
At the 2022 North Georgia Annual Conference Session in June of this year, the process to disaffiliate was established that requires a request to disaffiliate be submitted to the District Superintendent between January 1, 2023, and February 28, 2023, for disaffiliation to be approved by the Annual Conference in June 2023. Prior to submitting such a request, a local United Methodist Church must go through a period of discernment with the congregation to determine if that is the correct course of action for that congregation. We want to be sure we have ample time for Godly discernment and prayer within our congregation.
Has our church leadership already made the decision regarding our affiliation?
No. The decision to disaffiliate from the UMC is a congregational decision and requires a vote by professing members of the congregation who are present and have taken a ballot at a specially called in–person Church Conference. The church leadership has decided to begin a period of discernment with the congregation to determine our future course.
If our congregation were to vote to disaffiliate for the UMC, would we still be “Methodist”?
Yes. We would not be a United Methodist congregation, but a Methodist church free to affiliate with another Methodist denomination with an historic connectional structure as set by John Wesley in establishing Methodism in America.
What are the next steps in the process after the October 30 Church-wide Educational Meeting?
The Church has entered into a time of discernment. Members of the Church Council, the administrative body of our church, will listen to input from members following this meeting. On December 13, the Council can decide to end the process if members believe the predominant feeling of the congregation is to stay in the United Methodist Church or the Council can vote to request the District Superintendent call a Church Conference. The request to hold the Church Conference meeting must be received by the District Superintendent between January 1 and February 28, 2023. At the Church Conference, all professing members of our church who are present in person will vote on our affiliation. Disaffiliation requires a two-thirds majority of the professing members present to vote in favor of the resolution to disaffiliate.
If the church votes to disaffiliate, what happens to our ministers and staff?
The staff is employed by the church and that status would not be affected by the church’s decision to leave or stay in the United Methodist Church. Each staff member would decide if he or she wished to remain employed by the church.
Appointed UMC clergy will use their own discernment process to determine their own decision. Our clergy joins with the congregation in the current period of discernment; they are in careful consideration and studying their options.
Clergy pensions are protected by law, and no matter whether a minister continues in the UMC, joins another denomination, or simply resigns from ordained ministry, his or her pension is protected. Health insurance differs from Annual Conference to Annual Conference. It is anticipated that similar standards for health insurance that most clergy are familiar with today will be available in whatever denomination with which they align.
If our church votes to disaffiliate from the UMC, how will the church be appointed a pastor?
There are 70 churches in North Georgia that disaffiliated from the UMC at the 2022 North Georgia Annual Conference session. It is anticipated that there will be additional churches that will follow since the postponement of General Conference in 2024. These churches are putting together pools of potential pastoral candidates. If LaGrange First Methodist chooses to affiliate with one of the new denominations, these denominations will also have candidates available. In either case, the church would have a greater voice in the appointment of our senior pastor as well as the other appointed pastors.
What would be the financial cost to the church if we choose to disaffiliate?
The actual cost is determined on the day of disaffiliation, but it would include the following:
- Apportionments for 12-months immediately prior to the disaffiliation date (6/1/22 to 5/31/2023) and the 12 months after disaffiliation from 6/1/2023 to 5/31/2024. As of November 7, 2022, a total of $191,865.90 in apportionments would be due; this total decreases as apportionments are paid monthly.
- An amount equal to the church’s pro rata share of any aggregate unfunded pension liability of the Annual Conference (currently $143,365.15); this amount is updated quarterly.
In addition, the church will bear any legal costs incurred in the process. There will be other incidental costs of transitioning from being a United Methodist Church congregation as well, including signage.
What is the “trust clause”?
The trust clause is a historic, universal claim made by the United Methodist Church and written into the church’s articles of incorporation in an effort to retain ownership rights of local church properties. Holding properties in trust for the UMC means the “holder” (LaGrange First Methodist) is required to use the property exclusively for the purposes of and to benefit The United Methodist Church. It also means that if at any point it becomes clear the holder can no longer or chooses to no longer function as part of UMC, it forfeits all rights to continue to hold the property, and the property itself and all other assets transfer to the denomination (the North Georgia Conference Board of Trustees).
Simply, the North Georgia Conference actually owns all property and assets currently being used by LaGrange First Methodist; the church does not own its own property or assets. Should First Methodist vote to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, the church will be released from the trust clause and will own all property and assets.
What happens to church and membership records if the church disaffiliates?
Upon disaffiliation, the local church is required to send a copy of all its church records and membership records while still retaining a copy for its own use.
What happens to my membership at LaGrange First Methodist?
If the congregation votes to disaffiliate, your membership remains at LaGrange First Methodist. If you desired to stay in a United Methodist congregation, you would then have to transfer your membership to a local UMC congregation nearby.
If the congregation votes to stay in the UMC, your membership remains at LaGrange First Methodist. If you desired to leave the UMC, then you would transfer your membership to a non-UMC congregation.
Why is the UMC dividing over the issue of human sexuality language in “The Book of Discipline”?
While human sexuality is the issue receiving the most public attention and debate, it is not the root issue. It is a symptom of a deeper divide between theological and institutional issues. By embracing and celebrating the popularity of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, modern culture has forced the UMC to address issues regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. The language regarding homosexuality in The Book of Discipline has remained constant for decades. Legislative petitions have been submitted by Methodist individuals and groups requesting the removal of this language, which exposes theological differences in the beliefs regarding human sexuality.
What are the theological and institutional differences facing the United Methodist Church?
The UMC’s theological impasse is rooted in our differing beliefs regarding the authority of the Bible, the interpretation of the Bible, its impact on how we live out our faith, and the Lordship of Jesus. Though United Methodists have held differing beliefs, we committed to the same practices as outlined in our connectional covenant outlined in the Book of Discipline.
The impasse today between traditionalists and progressives (and centrists who find themselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum) is rooted in differing beliefs, differing practices (how we live out our faith), and violations of the connectional covenant in the Book of Discipline which are being tolerated and promoted by members of the Council of Bishops. It is impossible to detail all differences; however, a general overview of the theological differences between core traditionalists and core progressives is presented below. These are only some of the theological differences:
Have changes been made to the core theology of the United Methodist Church?
No. Our core theology contained in the Book of Discipline cannot be altered as it is protected by the First Restrictive Rule (1808). However, those who support disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church contend that our core theology is being violated by local churches, pastors, and bishops without accountability.
SHOULDN’T THE CHURCHES OR CLERGY OR BISHOPS WHO ARE NOT WILLING TO ABIDE BY “THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE” BE ASKED TO LEAVE THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH?
There are processes for addressing congregations, clergy, and bishops when they violate the standards of The Book of Discipline. However, much of The Book of Discipline is a statement of the covenant with the expectation that it will be followed. Addressing the unwillingness of persons to follow the disciplinary process of The Book of Discipline has revealed holes in accountability.
WHAT IS THE NORTH GEORGIA ANNUAL CONFERENCE’S POSITION ON HOMOSEXUALITY?
During her “Come to the Table Lay Webinar” (April 19, 2022), current North Georgia Conference Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson presented the document “Love is Making Room – Reclaiming the Welcoming Table.” It included statements supported by the Bishop and her cabinet: “We believe that harmful language about LGBTQIA+ people and restrictions on marriage and ordination should be removed from The Book of Discipline.”
Bishop Robin Dease, who was just assigned to the North Georgia Conference and will assume the position on January 1, 2023, stated, “I want to be transparent: I do not believe homosexuality is a sin. I do believe that same-gender-loving persons can love and marry. I also believe they can be called by God, ordained, and serve our churches well. But you also need to know this is not the only issue we face as a church.”
WHAT IS LAGRANGE FIRST METHODIST’S CURRENT STANCE ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND ORDINATION OF SELF-AVOWED AND PRACTICING HOMOSEXUALS?
Since 1972, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church has stated, “While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homo- sexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church” (¶304.3). LaGrange First Methodist follows The Book of Discipline and believes in the authority of scripture regarding marriage (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-5) and sexual practices outside of marriage (Romans 1:26-27, Leviticus 18:22).
DOES LAGRANGE FIRST METHODIST WELCOME HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS AT OUR CHURCH?
Absolutely! Our church views all people as individuals of sacred worth. Therefore, everyone is invited to participate in worship as lay congregants or in ministry programs as lay participants. We extend welcome, grace, and respect to all who call LaGrange First Methodist their church home.
WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST STAY TOGETHER IN LOVE AND PEACE AND RESPECT EACH OTHER’S THEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE?
Methodists can still have respect and compassion for one another, but we cannot all live in the same house any longer. Separating into two expressions of faith is both a beginning and an end for Traditionalists and Progressives/Centrists – an end to conflict and uncertainty and the beginning of vibrant denominations that can focus time and resources on missions and ministries instead of focusing on the conflicts that divide us. Still, there is deep grief for all Methodists that separation has occurred.
WHY ARE CHURCHES WHO ARE WANTING TO STAY UNDER “THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE” AND THE “TRADITIONAL PLAN” HAVING TO PAY TO DISAFFILIATE?
Paragraph 2553 is the only current pathway for churches to leave the UMC. It provides for a buyout payment. Those desiring to change church theology and teaching have control of the executive branch of the UMC and therefore decide whether The Book of Discipline is enforced. They have decided not to leave the denomination because they believe The Book of Discipline will change in the future once traditionalists leave the UMC. Therefore, if a church wishes to continue the way it is now, the church must disaffiliate.
How much does LaGrange First Methodist currently pay in apportionments and how are these funds used by the North Georgia Conference?
A description of how these funds are utilized by the Conference may be found via the Conference website.