Earlier this year, when a group of United Methodist leaders shared a proposal for an amicable separation of the UM Church, it seems fair to say most United Methodists greeted the news with a mix of sadness and relief. Led by the late Bishop John Yambasu, the 16 member mediation team produced the now widely known Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. If the 2021 General Conference adopts the plan’s implementing legislations, and many people believe it will, then the plan will create space for three new denominations: one for traditionalists, one for centrist/progressives, and perhaps one for liberationists.
According to the terms of the Protocol, local churches would have the freedom to separate from the UM Church in just a matter of weeks after the close of the 2021 General Conference. And even annual conferences and central conferences could convene special sessions and vote to join a new church, although it is likely many will wait until their regularly scheduled sessions to make a decision.
All of this raises some vexing questions for traditionalists who will want to separate from the UM Church in the weeks and months following the close of the 2021 General Conference: Will there be a new church for them to join? Will there be people ready to provide leadership in the new church? And will there be some sort of governing document that guides everyone in this transition until the new church holds its convening conference?
The simple answer to all three questions is, “Yes.” Thanks to the creation of a Transitional Leadership Council local churches, annual conferences, and even central conferences will have the opportunity to join a new global Methodist church shortly following the adjournment of the UM Church’s General Conference. But of course this answer justifiably raises a host of questions about the Transitional Leadership Council. To help its members and friends become familiar with the creation, purpose, and mission of the Transitional Leadership Council, the WCA is happy to provide the following FAQ. Over the next several months it will continue to share more information about the council.
Who created the Transitional Leadership Council?
A diverse group of traditionalists from across the church created the council. While the WCA has been out front in planning for a new church, other traditionalists have been formulating ideas as well. In March of this year, Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Annual Conference, Ms. Pat Miller, Executive Director of The Confessing Movement, and the Rev. Keith Boyette, President of the WCA, invited other traditionalist leaders to join them in Atlanta, Georgia, to see if they could reach consensus regarding the general tenets and structure of a new global Methodist church. The invitees included bishops from the U.S., Africa, Eurasia, and the Philippines as well as leaders from the Confessing Movement, Good News, UM Action, and the WCA. Most importantly, it also included traditionalists who had never aligned with any of the historical advocacy groups, and who were also concerned or even skeptical about some of the WCA’s proposals for a new church. After meeting for three days the group reached consensus and released the document “Reimagining the Passion of a Global Wesleyan Movement.” (Nearly all of those who attended signed the document. One attendee wanted more time to consider the group’s proposed direction, and another person stated support for it, but cited potential vocational repercussions for withholding a signature. The names of all those who did sign can be found at the bottom of the document.)
One of the important points of the agreement was the creation of a Transitional Leadership Council that could provide a modicum of leadership and guidance as local churches, pastors, and annual and central conferences decide to join the new denomination during the period between the close the UM Church’s General Conference and the new global Methodist church’s convening conference. While no definitive date for a convening conference has been set, leaders forming the new denomination believe it will meet sometime in the fall of 2022.
Why is there a Need for a Transitional Leadership Council?
Under the terms of Protocol it is not feasible for a new global Methodist church to hold a convening conference immediately after the adjournment of the UM Church’s 2021 General Church. The new church’s convening conference will be a critical gathering where it will establish its core beliefs, clarify those essential ethical standards that are rooted in its core beliefs, and set forth a governing structure to empower it to fulfill its mission in the world. Local churches, annual conferences, and central conferences around the world will need time to meet and vote on whether they want to join the new church or remain with the post-separation UM Church. Furthermore, these bodies must openly and fairly elect representatives to the new church’s convening conference. Therefore, the need for transitional leadership will be imperative for those local churches and conferences during a season of transition prior to the new church’s convening conference.
Local churches that join the new denomination will of course no longer be guided by the UM Church’s Book of Discipline, so they will need some definitive source to point to regarding their core beliefs, ethical standards, and their governing structure during a transitional period. Local churches will also continue to receive new members so they will need membership vows appropriate to the new church and some guidelines as to what it means to be a member of that church. Furthermore, a few pastors will surely retire during the transitional period, some others will leave the ministry for other work, unfortunately some will pass away, and some churches will align with the new churches, but their pastors will make a different decision. Therefore, local churches will need leaders who can assist them in finding a permanent or interim pastor during the transitional period. And as the new church prepares for its convening conference, some designated leaders will need to prepare for that critical gathering.
These matters, and a host of others necessitate that some transitional leadership and guidance be put in place as the new church moves towards its convening conference. Therefore, the traditionalists who met in Atlanta selected 16 individuals to serve on the Transitional Leadership Council and appointed Keith Boyette to serve as its chairman. The council will provide the new church with leadership and guidance during the transitional period. But to be clear, the new church has not been officially launched or legally formed, and therefore is not operating as a church at this time.
Who are the Members of the Transitional Leadership Council?
The leaders who selected the council members agreed it was wise to allow the council members a period of anonymity as they embarked on their work. They wanted them to have the freedom to share opinions and try out ideas without having their names permanently attached to those opinions and ideas. Furthermore, some of the clergy invited to serve on the council requested a season of anonymity to ensure their present church appointment was not disrupted for serving on the council. All of the members are serving voluntarily and without compensation, and they will freely share their names when they are prepared to share their work product with those traditionalists longing to join a new global Methodist church.
The council has met nearly once a week since April. It has spent the majority of its time preparing a transitional governance structure that will guide the church until its convening conference. Its work on that structure is nearing completion and all of its members are eager to share it with others. In the coming months the council will increasingly turn its attention to work associated with the mission and ministry of the new church once it is launched, funding for it during the transitional period, and preparing for the convening conference. It looks forward to raising its visibility as it prepares to widely share its work with like-minded traditionalists.
Will Traditionalist Local Churches Exiting the UM Church be Required to Associate with the Transitional Leadership Council?
No. The traditionalist leaders meeting in Atlanta believe that when traditionalist local UM churches are given the freedom to part ways with the UM Church many, but not all, will want to be knit together as a global church that shares core beliefs and a common mission. The council will only provide leadership and guidance to those local churches and annual and central conferences that freely choose to join a new global Methodist church. And the council members will only serve in their roles during the transitional period prior to the new church’s convening conference.
The Transitional Leadership Council’s important role will in no way supersede the work of the WCA. The WCA’s global council, legislative assembly, regional chapters, task forces groups, and international intercessory prayer network will continue their efforts. The council and legislative assembly will pass along a raft of well vetted proposals for the new church’s consideration. Its task force groups will continue to develop recommendations regarding a host of issues the new church will need to address sooner than later. The regional chapters will continue to do their best to keep the WCA’s members and friends connected and fully informed. And most importantly, its intercessory prayer network will cover all the WCA’s work in prayer.
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