by Chris Ritter
I thought I would share what I wrote to the congregation I am appointed to serve this past Friday night amidst the news of the separation protocol.
Dear Church Family,
Grace and peace to you in the strong name of Jesus.
Our denomination is certainly in the news today. Here are examples:
Christianity Today Magazine Coverage
Wall Street Journal Coverage
New York Times Coverage
Washington Post Coverage
Quad Cities Dispatch and Chicago Tribune Coverage with quote from me.
I thought it might be helpful to offer some information, clarification, and context about what is happening and what it might mean for us.
A plan for the separation of The United Methodist Church was announced today through the Council of Bishops website. The proposal was the result of months of negotiation with key bishops and leaders of caucus groups. The process was aided by Kenneth Feinberg, a noted attorney and mediator. The separation plan builds on negotiations I participated in last summer.
Our bishop, Rev. Dr. Frank Beard, issued a brief statement reminding us that the plan is only a proposal that will come to General Conference 2020 in Minneapolis this May. But it does seems to have the prominent support needed for approval.
Talk of division has become necessary because of significant differences of opinion about the role of Scripture in the life of the Church. One branch of our church believes we should offer same-sex weddings and appoint non-celibate gay clergy and bishops. The other side believes this to be contrary to Scripture and affirms human sexuality expressed within the context of marriage, defined as an enduring union between a man and a woman. The names “Progressive” and “Traditional” are often used to describe the two approaches. (This is not to be confused with matters concerning traditional vs. contemporary worship styles). Both sides agree we should love, protect, and minister to all.
The interwoven design of our denomination makes it difficult for two different visions to coexist. The properties of each congregation are tied to the conference which appoints and holds clergy accountable. We are inextricably connected… not just a voluntary association. Designed to make us more effective, this connectedness has also kept us in conflict for over forty years. The “pot boiled over” last February at a special General Conference called to settle the matter once and for all.
I was one of 865 delegates to a specially-called General Conference 2019 in St. Louis. We voted by a 54% margin to uphold church teaching on marriage. Here in America the decision set off a firestorm of resistance. It has become clear that General Conference no longer governs the denomination. Something has to give. The debate is distracting us from mission, depleting us of resources, and providing a poor Christian witness to the rest of the world. Although the church is growing worldwide, here in the U.S. we have experienced fifty years of unbroken decline.
Geneseo First Methodist is a founding congregation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group of like-minded United Methodists with a vision for an orthodox, vibrant Christian faith in the Methodist tradition. We desire to uphold Scripture as we love and minister to all. I am a founding member of the WCA Global Council. First Methodist operates as a vital, traditional United Methodist congregation and is blessed to be an exception to the prevailing trend of numerical decline.
In the announced proposal, Traditionalists agree to leave The United Methodist Church to start a new denomination. It seems strange that the majority would be required to leave while the minority stays! But the denomination has become so broken and leadership representing the other view is so entrenched that many feel this is the only option. Traditionalists see no way to restore order and the denomination would need a major overhaul under any circumstances.
The new traditional Methodist Church (name to be determined) will be streamlined and relational as opposed to top-heavy and bureaucratic. A draft Book of Doctrine and Discipline has been prepared which describes key features. The emerging church aspires to be warm-hearted, Spirit-filled, and orthodox in belief… in keeping with the highest ideals of the heritage handed down to us from John Wesley. The cost to the local church for participation will be much lower than the apportionments currently paid to the UMC, freeing up funds for local ministry. Congregations will also have a bigger voice during the selection process when pastors are named. Each church will have ownership of its own property. I don’t deny that I am excited about the possibilities. But until General Conference offers a choice, I am foremost a United Methodist pastor ordained and serving in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
I do not presume to speak for our congregation with regards to future choices. I have asked our Church Council Executive Team (Church Council Chair [name], Finance Chair [name], SPRC Chair [name], and Trustees Chair [name], and Executive Director [name]) to begin planning for a season of prayer, fasting, information-sharing and discernment. If the separation plan is approved in Minneapolis in May, we may need to hold a church conference… a special meeting chaired by the district superintendent where each member has a vote. Under the announced plan, the Church Council will determine if a simple majority or 2/3 majority will be required to leave the UMC and join the newly forming denomination. It is possible, if somewhat unlikely, that our annual conference may vote to leave the UMC as a unit. This decision may eliminate the need for a local church vote to re-affiliate.
It is my sincere desire that we all move into the future together. Geneseo First Methodist Church has been part of several denominational expressions over the years. We were launched by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1850. In 1939 the northern and southern branches of Methodism reunited after 95 year split to become The Methodist Church. We became United Methodist in 1968 with a merger with the Evangelical United Brethren denomination. We can continue to be First Methodist Church of Geneseo regardless of affiliation. Like many growing churches today, we tend to wear our affiliation rather lightly as most people want to learn to follow Jesus and are not that interested in loyalty to a denominational institution.
I chronicle every development in the UMC schism on my blog. You can find over 1,000 articles, commentaries, and news items at PeopleNeedJesus.net.
You will want to check out these key links on the announced plan of separation:
The Plan of Separation
The Frequently Asked Questions Document
The United Methodist News Story about the Separation Plan
WCA’s Article on the Separation Plan
The next step for our church will be a briefing of our elected leaders at an officer’s orientation on January 11. Your leaders, I am sure, commit to keep you informed every step along the way. I envision informational sessions being held prior to any vote or decision.
Would you join me in prayer and fasting for the future of Methodist Christianity? 2020 will no doubt be a remarkable year.
Because People Need Jesus,
Rev. Dr. Christopher Ritter
Well said! And very appropriate thank you. Pastor Barry Ritenour, Local Pastor WPAUMC
Excellent summary with clear explanation of what has currently been proposed and possible steps that will be needed at the local church level.
You say the Annual Conference May vote as a unit to leave the denomination thus eliminating the need for a local church vote.
The way I read the document if an annual conference votes to leave local churches may vote to say and be assigned to another Annual Conference?
That is right
Reblogged this on Kingdom Pastor and commented:
This is for my United Methodist Friends, and for those who long to see God’s Kingdom in our culture. I admit at first I was hurt, and opposed to this idea of those who have faithfully kept their ordination vows may be asked to leave. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of Chris, I am seeing the wisdom of God in all of this. Pray for my Tribe, the congregations and communities I serve; oh, and throw up a few prayers for me. I need discernment and clarity.
Thanks Chris for sharing such wisdom. At first I was hurt and opposed that I would be asked to leave all because I am keeping my ordination vows. Your words are opening my heart and mind to what the Spirit is doing.
This is disturbing to me! When is it people’s opinions/beliefs matter more than The Holy Bible? Alot of historical figures have been damaged or moved because of “people’s opinions”. I spend time with Jesus everyday & call myself a “Christian”, with no denomination. I only read the KJV Bible & don’t let religion/politics lead my way to Jesus Christ.
I think that is the point. There is one group of people that say people’s opinions do not matter more than the Bible and there is another group that states culture and experience matter more.
Thanks for this information. Basically this is what I shared with our Sunday School class today. Your comments clarified several points of interest. As a point of reference, my wife and I are original members of the WCA from the Chicago organizational gathering.
Thank you so very much for your letter & e planationto yuur church. Praise God for your leadership. Prayers will continue from NW New Mexico!
Satan has won this battle but not the war! We know how it all turns out in the end…I just can’t believe that the Christian majority is letting the satan minority overrule/change the UMC! Baptist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian I’m afraid your denomination is next! So, so, so sad….Love the sinner despise the sin has no effect anymore.
Thanks for this update Chris. I know you have said to me before about the new denomination letting churches own their property (in other words be free if they so choose). Has there been anything about this in written form from WCA. That is our church’s largest concern at the moment.
Yes, that is bedrock principle for WCA. Check out Keith Boyette’s speech at the Tulsa gathering.
Thanks Chris, unfortunately Vimeo and YouTube is blocked on our network so I actually can’t watch it. 😦
Reblogged this on Reformed Truths.
I ,too, believe that those who are voting and “pushing” for modification to our UMC founding principles should be the ones chosen to relocate and not the Traditionalists .
No one has to leave the UMC. As with all suggested changes to the Discipline, there will be votes at General Conference. Some of the statements in the Book of Discipline I fully support and others I do not. I dont depart from the church, however, I keep trying to convince the church to adopt language/social principles, statements, etc, that I prefer. Thus, if the restrictive language in the current Book of Discipline is removed regarding weddings and ordination for LGBTQ plus communities, those who oppose can try to get it added at a future General Conference. Many of our statements are a bit lukewarm and I would want them worded differently. The statements were passed that way…not because everyone loved them, but they were what the majority could live with. So, if the language that restricts ordination, weddings, etc is removed, you may advocate all the harder that they be added back in the future. No one has to leave, unless they find they would be more content, or feel led by God’s spirit, to join another denomination or help form a new Methodist one. It is a painful and anxious time for all. Prayers.
Janet, I’m thinking that once orthodox Christians leave, the UMC will be left with a liberal representation. It will be hard to have an orthodox faith statement put back. And if you stay, will be bullied, considered outdated, and irrelevant. Same happened at the PCUSA a decade ago, and was never able to retract.
The death spiral will be expedited following their leader of the pack, Cal-Nevada conference.
I have been a traditional Methodist all of my life… I live by what the Bible teaches and Jesus is my first love…
I plan to keep it that way….
Thank you for your clear explanation
Steve The attached is from a pastor who writes regularly about the UMC. I think his information is reliable. Jim
Thank you Pastor Ritter for an interesting, thoughtful explanation of the challenge facing our beloved U.M Church. As a retired pastor of the U.M. church and veteran of many other church challenges I am convinced that our church will survive and continue by the grace of God to be effective.
Thank you even though we’d already heard this. As a Christian & a UMC member, this is wrong. What better place for sinners to be. Our churches are not houses of saints nor are they supposed to be. They’re a welcoming house for sinners.
Yes, I agree homosexuality is a sin, having said that, is it anymore of a sin than unknown sins we all do on a daily basis? We have a granddaughter who is gay, never will we turn our backs on her nor her partner. We love them as Christ loves us.
These 2 have shown us more love than any members of our previous church family, including our pastor.
They know how we feel, & respect us. Their spiritual walks with Jesus Christ is between them, Jesus Christ & only them. Why can’t we as Christians have unconditional love as Christ gives each of us. We cannot say they aren’t His children, he made them, they’re His.
Have anyone of you lived a perfect life free from sins? Absolutely not. Whose to say their lives want change? People where is your faith you profess to have? Instead of our churches separating we should all be coming together as one body of Christ. No one on this earth is perfect. He was crucified centuries ago.
Members need to spiritually grow up, love as Christ has taught us, preach , teach His word & let Him handle these problems. The best place a sinner can be is in the Lords house. Pray you all have a blessed day.
I believe in the Bible. God’s Word. The Truth. God inspired. Consistent. Never changing. Spread throughout the world by the Power of the Holy Spirit. We are to Love one another and share how Jesus is working in our lives to those who are willing to hear and open their hearts and ask Jesus to come into their own heart. As Jesus is the Light, we too as Christians must keep our lamps filled and share this Light to those who are in the dark. True, we are aALL sinners, but we are convicted in our Love for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Without Him, we are knowing. We are to live according to God’s will and way. And yes, we do have free will, that is to say that we are not at liberty to do what one wishes to do , nor is it an end of all restraints. We can not abuse that gift from our Living God. Jesus died on the cross to bury our sin and rose on the third day to give us new life, Not an easy one. Paul so many times tells us that the closer we our in our covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, all the more temptation and persecution we will be confronted with as we press forward in our walk thru this life God had planned for us. It is up to us to be obedient to God’s Word. We need to live a life of Piety, directing our whole life to God and making our life of grace our ideal. Piety is living a life in grace with a willingness to be changed by the Holy Spirit, in order to become an increase effective Leader who responds to God’s call to change the world. I have been on this earth for 62 years now and I have never in any church, including a U M Church, seen anyone turned away that chooses to enter the church’s door to hear the Word of God and to fellowship with those who choose to do the same. Where 2 or more our gathered in His Name, there too Christ is with us. We are to humbly bow our heads and ask our Good Father God to forgive us from our sins and give us His mercy, so we can go to the table and receive His Body and Blood, given up you us and shed for us so we too can be in Communion with all the Saints and Angels at the Agape Feast with our Lord and Savior. We must wholeheartedly follow Jesus’ teachings with a earnest heart. Jesus knows our heart. And yes, your sin is as bad as my sin, And Mine is as bad as yours. That is the reason for the church, to build a Christ-like community. We are to transform the world not conform to it. The “Great Commission” tells us this. In Revelations, Jesus tells the 7 churches to co back to their firm foundation and their first Love wihich is God, our Creator. He also warns them of the Jezebels of the world. Do not be tempted or follow false prophets who will lead you astray. And so these words still are true today. My hope is that the U M Church will Raise a Hallelujah and stand up for Christ’s Love for each one of us and His teachings. To put on The Armor of God to protect theirselves and their followers for the sins of the flesh that has run rampant in our world. I stand with you, Rev. Dr. Christopher Ritter. God bless you and God bless the U M Church and their people, true Believers in Christ.
Michael Maurer, a child of God.