FINDING A WAY FORWARD


Read more below about how the global United Methodist Church responds to issues of human sexuality and governing church rules, and how this affects St. Paul's UMC.

News from The United Methodist Church:

General Conference 2020 POSTPONED

Selections from "Church Leaders Postpone General Conference 2020"

by Heather Hahn

March 18, 2020

UM News


"With the coronavirus disrupting lives worldwide, General Conference organizers determined they have no choice but to postpone The United Methodist Church's top legislative assembly. 


"The Minneapolis Convention Center — scheduled to host the 2020 General Conference — announced it is now canceling gatherings of 50 or more people through May 10. The shutdown covers the first five days of the denomination’s 10-day meeting, which was set to draw 862 delegates, 66 bishops and others from four continents.


" 'This news is not unexpected based on the current guidance from health officials and we expect to move forward with new plans as quickly as possible,' Kim Simpson said in a statement. She is the chair of the Commission on the General Conference that plans the big meeting.


"The commission's executive committee, which met by teleconference March 18, decided the venue's announcement meant that General Conference could no longer go forward May 5-15 as planned. However, commission members do not yet know how quickly they can announce new dates. ...


"General Conference organizers and the bishops acknowledge the legislative assembly scheduled this year comes at a particularly sensitive time for the church. United Methodists have submitted multiple proposals to resolve the denomination’s longtime debate over homosexuality by splitting the denomination.


"General Conference also faces other critical decisions such as setting the denomination’s four-year budget and electing numerous leaders[.]" 


Image below: The Minneapolis Convention Center, exterior, photo by Dan Anderson.

Come to the Table of Grace:

A "way forward" series of events

Following the outcome of the Special Church Conference on October 13 and at the direction of the Church Council, the Reconciling Steering Committee developed a six-month plan for exploring ways to make St. Paul’s more inclusive, including possibly joining Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). 


From December 2019 through April 2020, all are invited to “Come to the Table of Grace.” This series of events will solicit, explore, and reflect all viewpoints to invite a deeper understanding of the Bible and a clearer understanding of our community. Upcoming events are posted below.


At the end of this process the Steering Committee will recommend a date for a final vote on membership in RMN, tentatively set for April 2020.

The Better Humans Book Club

The Reconciling Steering Committee and Justice & Compassion Team are co-hosting The Better Humans Book Club, open to everyone as part of our congregation’s “Come to the Table of Grace” series of events designed to help us critically examine the community we offer those within and outside St. Paul’s UMC. This book club will meet 7:00-8:30 pm in the Parlor and child care will be available upon request. Please contact Travis Stalcup or the church office if you have questions. You can read more about each selection in the January Epistle newsletter.

  • God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships

    January 15


    Feeling the tension between his understanding of the Bible and the reality of his same-sex orientation, author Matthew Vines devoted years of intensive research to examine with care and precision just what the Bible says about homosexuality.

  • How to Be An Anti-Racist

    February 10


    Ibram X. Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to reveal how racism, at its core, is a powerful system that intersects with class and culture and geography to create false hierarchies of human value.

  • POSTPONED: Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians

    previously scheduled for March 18


    Many people, even many LGBTQ allies, still lack understanding of the transgender

    experience. Into this void, Austen Hartke offers a biblically based, educational, and affirming resource providing stories of biblical characters and real-life narratives from transgender Christians living today to help readers visualize a more inclusive Christianity.

  • Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart

    April 15


    Divisions have been epidemic in the body of Christ from the beginning to the present. We criticize those who disagree with us, don't look like us, don't act like us, and don't like what we like. Though we may think we know why this happens, Christena Cleveland says we probably don't. With a personal touch and the trained eye of a social psychologist, she reveals the unseen dynamics that separate us, providing real insight for ministry leaders who attempt to build bridges across boundaries.

  • The Devil’s Highway: A True Story

    May 20


    26 men from Vera Cruz embarked on a journey to the U.S. and found themselves in the deadliest region of border desert; 12 men survived and 14 others did not. Luis Alberto Urrea's recounting of their horrific ordeal was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and has been described as "the single most compelling, lucid, and lyrical contemporary account of the absurdity of U.S. border policy" (The Atlantic).

Come to the TaBle of Grace:

Previous EVents


Reconciling Panel – Members of the Reconciling Steering Committee held an open meeting on Thursday, January 23 at 7:00 PM where representatives from area congregations that have joined the Reconciling Ministries Network discussed their experiences.


Faithful & Inclusive – This six-unit video study was led by Pastor Pat Allen beginning on February 2. The study, authored by Rev. Rob Fuquay, examines biblical texts regarding homosexuality using a United Methodist understanding of Scripture that honors Scriptural authority, tradition, reason, and experience, known commonly as the “Wesleyan quadrilateral.”


Refuge - This retreat at West River offered an inclusive faith-building weekend for LGBTQ+ youth. St. Paul's Reconciling Team helped plan and sponsor the event.


The Better Humans Book Club – The Reconciling Steering Committee and Justice & Compassion Team are co-hosting this book club which is open to everyone. Books have been chosen to challenge, illuminate, and encourage readers to explore issues of race, gender, and public policy. 


Lenten Devotional - The booklet "Come to the Table of Grace" features prayers and reflections written by members and friends of St. Paul's as they consider what it means, in the spirit of Christ, to welcome the outsider.

Previous Events:

Reconciling Ministries Network Info Session

and SAmoan Circle Panel

The Reconciling Team from St. Paul's held an information session in the Fellowship Hall on September 22, 2019  to describe what the Reconciling Ministries Network is, what is involved in becoming a member church within the network, and why the Reconciling Team recommends this as a step on St. Paul's Way Forward. 


A Samoan Circle, a panel where people with different perspectives can share their views on controversial topics, was held on September 29.


A Special Church Conference convened on Sunday, October 13, 2019 to hold a vote on whether or not to begin the process that leads congregations towards joining the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). District Superintendent Rev. Gerry Green presided and all full members in attendance voted by ballot. The vote was 205 to 22 in favor of formally exploring possible membership in the Reconciling network. 


Please scroll down to the "Summary & FAQs" section to find a summary of our steps on our Way Forward and for the *pdf file with "Reconciling FAQs," clarifying many of the questions that came up in these sessions. If you have additional questions, please contact Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton.

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Summary & FAQs

Click here for the *pdf of the Reconciling Process FAQs, addressing many of the questions raised during and after the Reconciling Info Session (Sept. 22) and Samoan Circle Panel (Sept. 29). Printed copies are available in the office. A condensed version is also included in the October edition of the Epistle newsletter.


At the global General Conference of The United Methodist Church, which ended 26 February 2019, delegates voted 438 to 384 to adopt a "Traditional" plan regarding church policies on homosexuality. Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has stated "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve" in the church (¶304.3) and clergy are prohibited from conducting same gender weddings (¶2702.b). The new legislation adds mandatory automatic penalties for UM clergy who would defy the Book of Discipline and creates a process (now contested) for congregations wishing to leave The United Methodist Church. In its review, the global church's Judicial Council ruled in April that the new rules may stand, and went into effect January 2020.


In response, St. Paul's lay leaders and clergy have formed leadership teams to help St. Paul's navigate this time of transition. They will be exploring the process and laying out the steps for becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network of UM churches that affirm LGBTQ+ persons, engaging with other local UM churches to see how they are addressing the issues posed by the Traditional Plan, and monitoring regional and national developments as other possible organizational frameworks, legal challenges, and alternative plans arise. 


Since the first St. Paul's Info Session in March, we have worked to provide up-to-date information about how developments at the global and district levels of The United Methodist Church will affect St. Paul's UMC. Marge Higgins, lay leader, and Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton, Associate Pastor, compiled and updated a written summary of the UMC legislation and how it impacts the local church. Following a period of small-group discussion and discernment, St. Paul’s Church Council published a letter explaining our early steps toward our own Way Forward. Copies are available in the church office.


Click here for the *pdf version of the Church Council's detailed letter updated July 5, following Processing Group meetings. This letter was mailed to church members and is available in the church office.


Click here for the *pdf document "Discerning a Way Forward," updated June 4 to include information about recent activities at the Baltimore-Washington Conference's annual convention. Paper copies are available in the Narthex and church office.


You are welcome to contact Pastor Kate directly (kfulton [at] stpaulsk.org, 301-933-7933 ext 103) if you have additional questions or concerns that are not addressed here.

More About...

The Price tag of Disaffiliation

Excerpts from "Exiting Congregations Face Hefty Price Tag "

by Heather Hahn, UM News Service

June 13, 2019

Photo at right: Rev. Derek McAleer, South Georgia Conference Treasurer

For the full article, click here.


For the first time in its history, the UMC denomination has set procedures for U.S. congregations to withdraw from the denomination and take their buildings with them. Before a departure, those congregations could be on the hook for more than a million dollars. Annual conferences — church regional bodies — have the final word on what their churches owe. As U.S. annual conferences meet this year, some already are reckoning with how to calculate those costs.


For an exiting church, the biggest cost will likely come from what their conference determines is a fair share of unfunded clergy pension liability — that is, what conferences will owe retirees. A church’s pension contribution not only supports the church’s current pastor but those who previously served the congregation. Conferences are pension plan sponsors and legally responsible for paying benefits.


Exiting churches also must pay for transferring the building title or other legal work. They additionally must pay two years of apportionments — the amount conferences apportion to their churches to support regional, national and international ministries. Still, pensions are where the dollars can add up. Generally speaking, the larger a church and more pastors on staff, the larger its pension obligations are likely to be.


The South Georgia Conference acknowledged this challenge at its June 2-5 meeting when its members approved its own pension and disaffiliation policies meant to augment what General Conference passed. The Rev. Derek McAleer, the conference’s treasurer and benefits officer, told those gathered that the conference has to make sure it can pay the promises it has already made. “The amount of money is so huge that everybody has to stop and take a deep breath,” he said. “We’re talking about 586 churches and $30 million bucks. There is no way to divide $30 million into 586 and get a small number.” 

More About... 

processing groups, aka Small Groups for Discernment

Discernment, in the Christian context, is the process of determining God’s desire in a situation or for one’s life, or of identifying the true nature of a thing. 


Processing Groups (aka Small Groups for Discernment) were designed to serve as the official way to participate in the discussion about what the future of St. Paul’s UMC should look like in the wake of the 2019 General Conference. The Summary & FAQ document available in the sections above provides useful context on these issues. Processing Groups for Discernment included members and friends of the church and were loosely organized geographically. Groups had the option to meet in homes or at St. Paul’s, on dates and times that group members found agreeable. Each Group was led by a trained facilitator who guided the discussion.


After groups met, facilitators reported back to a Steering Committee about areas of disagreement, areas of consensus, and what next steps might be useful, without sharing confidential or personal details. The Church Council, made of St. Paul’s clergy and lay leaders, used the Processing Groups' feedback as they examined what options are “on the table” and what impact each might have on the church’s leadership, finances, and future, and when or whether to call for a church-wide meeting or a special Church Conference for congregation-wide vote.

WHat happened at the

UMC General Conference 2019?

The Special General Conference of the global United Methodist Church met February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri to review language about human sexuality and issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion in our governing Book of Discipline.


1) The Traditional Plan, as amended, was adopted by a vote of 438 to 384. This language affirms existing church policies on homosexuality and strengthens enforcement. As it stands right now – and as it has been officially in the UMC since 1972 – 'self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve' in the church (2016 Book of Discipline, ¶304.3). In addition, the church prohibits its clergy from conducting same gender weddings (¶2702.b). (http://www.bwcumc.org/news-and-views/umc-seeks-a-way-forward/)  Delegates further referred the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council for determination if it is constitutional. The Judicial Council addressed the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois, and found the majority of the new language to be legally sound and enforceable.


2) The One Church Plan, which was endorsed by the Council of Bishops, including Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, was not adopted at the Special General Conference. The One Church Plan would have removed restrictive language limiting LGBTQ+ participation, while also protecting those who disagree by not requiring any annual conference, bishop, congregation, or pastor to act contrary to their convictions.


3) On Saturday, March 2, 2019, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling led the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in a time of information sharing through a live-streamed video feed, viewable at numerous church locations throughout the conference and online platforms. Leaders from St. Paul's met at Hughes UMC (Georgia Avenue, Wheaton) to watch and listen.


4) On February 27, 2019, the pastors of St. Paul's released a letter recognizing the challenges and questions that the General Conference rules pose for members and friends of St. Paul's. A copy of the letter is available to download in *pdf format.



As the church works to understand what this means for St. Paul's and tries to articulate how this Conference decision will affect our church family, our bishop has invited us to reflect on the words the Apostle Paul wrote: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  ~Romans 8:38-39

St. Paul's Info Session


Following the vote at the global General Conference of The United Methodist Church to adopt a "Traditional" plan regarding church policies on sexuality, St. Paul’s held an information session to update our congregation regarding these events on Sunday, March 3, 2019. Rev. Adam Snell, Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton, church council chair John Seabreeze, and lay leader Marge Higgins answered questions about what happened and what this could mean for the St. Paul's community. This St. Paul's "debrief" session was recorded and is available for viewing below. For more up to date information, please see the document "Discerning a Way Forward," available by clicking the link in sections above or by picking up a copy in the office or Narthex.

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A Way Forward At St. Paul's

Getting ready for what The United Methodist Church decides about human sexuality and church policy.


On Saturday, May 19, 2018, St. Paul's held the Way Forward at St. Paul's Workshop. The free workshop included 75 people, from youth age eleven to adults in their nineties. 


Through breakout groups, activities, and discussions, this group attempted to ask and answer questions about essential beliefs and values of the people of St. Paul's. Our objective: To explore how our St. Paul’s congregation might respond to and address the United Methodist Church’s eventual decisions, not then known, regarding policies addressing sexual orientation and homosexuality.


Our gathering was guided by three main questions:

  1. As Christians and United Methodists, what do different people at St. Paul's believe? Among these varying beliefs, which ones would all of us at St. Paul's agree on? In other words, what makes up the shared bedrock of our faith? This question was further divided into sections focused on what people believe about God's relationship to us, the Bible, worship, how people relate to each other, and how we address differences.
  2. What, concerning human sexuality and our church, might members of St. Paul's disagree on?
  3. Of the different ways decisions are made at St. Paul's, what might be a good way to proceed when choices related to human sexuality arise?

The goal was not to focus on debating individuals' personal opinions, but rather to fathom and report on the diversity of beliefs and thoughts that might be found across the congregation. 


A longer summary of the workshop and details about our discussions are available as *pdf files for download here:

"A Way Forward: The Collective Wisdom of 75"

Attachment 1: Questions and Exercises

Attachment 2: Workshop Agenda

Attachment 3: Workshop Evaluation & Feedback


The Way Forward Workshop was organized for the St. Paul's UMC community by Bill Butz and Emily Sama-Miller. We give special thanks for these Breakout Group facilitators: Meg Baker, Alison Clark, Jay Codner, Rich Higgins, Steve Lillie, Martha Lipscomb, Phil Rush, Ray Ruskin, Susan Schwarz, Micah Smartt, and Travis Stalcup.