Happy New Year! As a new decade unfolds before us, we’re excited about our church’s continual mission: living into the kingdom of God in Pulaski as we seek to follow Jesus together.
Our togetherness as the United Methodist Church has been tested as our denomination has wrestled with questions of human sexuality. In the first week of this new year, a new proposal was released: A Proposal of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. You can read the full proposal here, along with helpful frequently asked questions found here.
This proposal is significant because of the coalition behind it: representatives from many of the leading traditional, centrist, and progressive voices in the United Methodist Church created this proposal together with the help of a mediator. Seeing this many different voices at the same table makes me hopeful, even in divisive times, and encourages me to listen.
This new proposal maintains the United Methodist Church and presses pause on charges against those conducting same-sex weddings, while also designating funds for the creation of a new denomination for those seeking to leave the UMC for a more conservative expression of faith. In addition, the proposal recommends making the United Methodist Church more regionally-focused: Methodists in the United States would have a greater say on how the church is governed in the United States, Methodists in African nations would have a greater say on how the church is governed in Africa, etc. If an Annual Conference or local church wishes to leave the denomination for a new expression of faith, they would have the opportunity to do so.
National headlines that speak of the United Methodist Church splitting are premature and slightly misleading. Our only decision-making body remains General Conference, which will meet in May. General Conference, which includes representation from United Methodists from around the world, last met in February 2019, when traditional language on human sexuality was upheld with 53% of the vote. Nothing can or will take place until May.
In the midst of a difficult season, one thought has given me constant hope: we get to decide what kind of church we’re going to be. That’s not a decision we make in May or its aftermath. That’s a decision we’re making today. It’s a decision we’ve been making at First Pulaski for more than 100 years. It’s a decision made by a diverse group of people who worship in three different services speaking two different languages. We worship and work together to love first, to be a place where all are welcome in both theory and practice, and to make disciples who make a difference. As we shared last February, when it comes to deciding what kind of church we’re going to be, the power of a denomination is no match for the power of a local church. It works both ways: the most life-giving theology and doctrine is no match for a church that fails to be its hands and feet (or uses them instead to do harm). And I continue to believe the worst of a denomination is no match for the best a local church can do.
Thanks be to God for that best we all have a chance to be a part of at our church. We value your prayers, for our church and our denomination, in the months ahead. My office is always open and I would genuinely love to hear from you on this. When any of this feels like bad news, I am reminded that the good news is still the good news: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
See you Sunday,
Rev. Will Shelton, Senior Pastor
Here’s the sermon audio from Sunday, January 5, 2020 when we shared on this proposal:
- A response from the Holston Conference delegation to General Conference, co-authored by Rev. Kim Goddard, New River District Superintendent
- A Recipe for Reformation: Scripture, Tradition, and the Future of the United Methodist Church by Rev. Wil Cantrell, Holston Conference clergy and author of Unafraid and Unashamed