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.
A Special Church Conference convened on Sunday, October 13 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 beginning the Reconciling process.
The Reconciling Team and the Way Forward steering committee will now develop plans, following RMN recommendations, to explicitly engage the full church on issues of inclusion. These could take the form of small group workshops, lectures, sermon series, or discernment programs.
Another vote will be scheduled once these steps have been completed, likely sometime in 2020, to determine whether to officially join the Reconciling Ministries Network.
Please click here to read the Frequently Asked Questions hand-out which addresses many of the questions raised during this initial process.
The Reconciling Team from St. Paul's held an information session in Heavener Hall on September 22 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.
Please scroll down 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 two sessions. A vote on whether to begin the process of becoming a Reconciling church will be taken on October 13. If you have additional questions, please contact Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton.
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 and Narthex. 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 will go into effect January 2020.
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.
As of Fall 2019, there are now parallel efforts underway led by a steering committee and lay leaders at St. Paul’s. These groups will spend the next few months 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, challenges, and alternative plans arise.
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 (email@example.com, 301-933-7933 ext 103) if you have additional questions or concerns that are not addressed here.
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 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.”
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.
In brief: At the close of their meeting April 23-26, the UMC Judicial Council has ruled that about 60% of the total legislation passed in February is constitutional. The parts of the Traditional Plan legislation that are valid will go into effect in January 2020. This includes new minimum penalties for clergy conducting same-sex weddings and a specific ban on ordaining self-avowed homosexuals to the clergy or as bishops. The streamlined "church exit plan" for those congregations wishing to explore disaffiliation has also been ruled constitutional.
Photo: Members of the 2016-2020 Judicial Council. (From left) Front row: Deanell Reece Tacha, N. Oswald Tweh Sr., the Rev. Luan-Vu Tran. Back row: Lydia Romão Gulele, Ruben T. Reyes, the Rev. Øyvind Helliesen, the Rev. Dennis Blackwell, and the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko. (Not pictured, Beth Capen) Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.
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.
The Special General Conference of the global United Methodist Church met February 23-26 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.
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, 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, 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
Getting ready for what The United Methodist Church decides about human sexuality and church policy.
On Saturday, May 19, 2018, we 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:
- 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.
- What, concerning human sexuality and our church, might members of St. Paul's disagree on?
- 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:
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.
In response to discussions at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference, the Council of Bishops created The Commission on a Way Forward. This body of clergy and laity from across the denomination and across the world was charged with discerning a path forward for our denomination concerning human sexuality, same-gender unions, and inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ brother and sisters. The Commission was tasked with making a complete examination of every paragraph of the United Methodist Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and to develop possible revisions. The Commission's goal was to explore options that could help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.
The Commission on a Way Forward presented their final report and possible plans to the Council of Bishops at their meeting in Chicago, the first week of May 2018. The Bishops voted to recommend the "One Church Plan" for deliberation at the global UMC Special General Conference in February 2019.
- The One Church Plan (recommended by the Council of Bishops) removed restrictive language from the Book of Discipline while protecting any annual conference, bishop, congregation, or pastor so they would not be asked to act contrary to their convictions.
- The Connectional Conference Plan (not recommended by the Council) proposed three values-based conferences in place of the current geographic conferences, with working titles of Progressive, Contextual, and Traditional Conferences based on theology and perspective on LGBTQ+ ministry.
- The Traditional Church Plan (also not recommended by the Council) strengthened the language in the current Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and streamlined the process for handling violations of the Book of Discipline.
According to the United Methodist News Service, the recommended One-Church proposal aimed to "align with centrist models which would see the removal of restrictive language from the Book of Discipline, letting conferences decide how inclusive to be while protecting clergy who could not, as a matter of conscience, perform a same-sex union or support ordination of openly gay clergy.”
For the full statement on the Way Forward from the Bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, please read more here: http://www.bwcumc.org/news-and-views/bishop-easterlings-statement-on-a-way-forward/
Since January 2017, United Methodist Conferences worldwide have been engaged in "praying our way forward," a vigil of prayer for the important work of the Commission on A Way Forward. The Baltimore-Washington Conference's designated time of prayer was held in July 2017. Please click here for a personal reflection by St. Paul's member Emily Sama-Miller, and a prayer from our July 23, 2017 worship service.