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 Brief Summary from the Church Council of St. Paul's UMC
July 5, 2019
In February, the global United Methodist Church passed the Traditional Plan that affirmed the church’s existing position on LGBTQ+ individuals, stated that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, enacted strong punishments for clergy who ordain homosexuals or perform same sex marriages, and passed rules for churches wishing to disaffiliate from the UMC.
St. Paul’s recently held discernment sessions attended by about 180 church members and friends. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss the future of St. Paul’s. A three-page letter from the Church Council will be mailed to members and is available by clicking HERE, providing a full summary of the responses, analysis, early decisions, and steps forward.
Those who attended brought with them a broad range of views and ideas. Many voiced concern about the new policies, and expressed a desire to move toward becoming a more inclusive congregation. Some are considering leaving the UMC and many would like St. Paul’s to disaffiliate from the global UMC. Many participants expressed anger and fear, and there was a desire to do something immediately to demonstrate St. Paul’s inclusivity and/or express opposition to the Traditional Plan
The Church Council met in June to review the results and consider options moving forward. The detailed letter sent to all church members shares the feedback, a summary of challenges, and an outline of the near-term actions.
Under current rules, disaffiliation is not financially feasible – it could cost several million dollars. However, other options may emerge as a result of the global General Conference already scheduled for May 2020.
In the interim, St. Paul’s will explore ways to become a more inclusive and welcoming church. Specifically, the Church Council decided to pursue the following courses of action:
- Learn more about becoming a reconciling church, and hold a congregational vote in Fall 2019 to determine whether to proceed with the Reconciling process.
- Engage with other local UMCs to understand what they are doing in response to the enactment of the Traditional Plan.
- Monitor national/regional developments on a path forward separate from the Traditional Plan.
Church leaders will keep the congregation updated as these actions develop. In the meantime, we welcome all those at St. Paul’s to provide input to help us move through this time of change. Contact Rev. Adam B. Snell (firstname.lastname@example.org, 301-933-7933 ext. 101), Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton (email@example.com, 301-933-7933 ext. 103), Church Council Chair John Seabreeze, or Lay Leader Marge Higgins.
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 penalties for UM clergy who would defy the Book of Discipline and creates a streamlined process 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 this news affects St. Paul's UMC. Marge Higgins, lay leader, and Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton, Associate Pastor, have compiled and updated a written summary of the UMC legislation and how it affects the local church. Our Processing Groups, or Small Groups for Discernment, met over several months to engage in facilitated discussion about the future of St. Paul's. The Church Council met in late June to consider the results of these discussions and have composed the brief summary in the section above.
Click here for the *pdf version of the Church Council's detailed letter updated July 5, following Processing Group meetings. This letter will be 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
If you have questions, please contact Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton directly (email@example.com, 301-933-7933 x103).
July 9, 2019
Shortly after the Baltimore-Washington Conference clergy session convened on Wednesday, May 29, a motion was made to vote to approve all clergy candidates in a given class pursuant to a single motion, rather than on a candidate-by-candidate basis. The class included two candidates who acknowledged they are married to persons of the same gender.
The clergy session voted in favor (245 to 122) of the motion to review the class as a whole. Subsequent procedural votes to approve the class passed by a vote of 285 to 77- a 79% majority - and by a vote of 315 to 47, representing an 87% majority.
A request for a Ruling of Law challenging this commissioning and ordination process was made the following day by the Rev. Robert Barnes.
Bishop Easterling's Ruling issued on July 9 finds the procedures used at Conference did not violate church law, and the commissioning and ordination will stand. Click here to go to the full text of the Bishop's decision.
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.
February 27, 2019
The Special Session of General Conference 2019 ended on Tuesday, February 26. Those days in St. Louis were emotional ones, both for the delegates who attended and for all who monitored the proceedings from afar. As pastors our hearts often rejoice with those who rejoice; likewise, as is so for many now, they most assuredly weep with those who weep. Wherever you are across the spectrum of emotions, we stand ready to hear you. Please contact either one of us if you need a sympathetic ear.
Two pieces of legislation were passed that may have a direct impact on St. Paul’s and other United Methodist congregations. The first is a version of the “Traditional Plan,” which keeps our current language on the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and creates minimum sentencing guidelines for clergy who perform same-sex marriages or who are openly gay and partnered. The second is an “exit plan” that allows churches to leave the United Methodist connection in a more expedited process than the one currently outlined in the Book of Discipline. However, both pieces of legislation contain clauses that our Judicial Council has already ruled unconstitutional. This means that these proposals, or portions of them, may need to be re-written before they can become part of our church polity. Our Judicial Council meets again in April to consider and offer rulings on both items.
St. Paul’s will begin the process of discerning our own next steps soon. Informed by the bishop’s live-streaming town hall event on March 2, we will host our own information session at noon this Sunday, March 3. This will be held in the Sanctuary after we worship together. We pastors will summarize the events that took place in St. Louis. Marge Higgins (Lay Leader) and John Seabreeze (Church Council Chair) have been working with us to develop steps the whole congregation can take to process the legislation that was passed and to formulate a response that reflects who we collectively are as the body of Christ. Marge and John will outline those steps for us on Sunday when we gather.
Meanwhile, we encourage all to follow the bishop’s plea to hold one another in prayer.
Rev. Adam B. Snell and Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton
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.
Individual stories from the UM News Service covering events at the General Conference include:
Tuesday, Feb. 26: General Conference passes Traditional Plan
Monday, Feb. 25: Traditional Plan Advances as One Church, Simple plans fail
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.