Statement from the WCA Council on the Mississippi Congregations
Yesterday Bishop James Swanson issued a statement indicating that two congregations in the Mississippi Annual Conference are actively re-evaluating their relationship with The United Methodist Church. We understand that the members of both congregations voted overwhelmingly to move toward exiting our church.
The Orchard UMC in Tupelo and Getwell Road UMC in Southaven are two highly vital congregations. According to the General Council on Finance and Administration, Getwell Road has grown steadily over the past twenty-five years from an attendance of 221 to 804. Nearly 500 people have professed faith in Jesus Christ at Getwell Road since 2005 under the ministry of the Rev. Bill Beavers. Led by Dr. Bryan Collier, The Orchard UMC has grown in attendance from 315 to 2711 over the past fifteen years. This vibrant congregation can often be found on the annual list of the fasting growing UM congregations and is currently the fifteenth largest congregation in United Methodism by attendance.
We are deeply saddened that the collective dysfunction of our connection is causing fruitful congregations to question their place in United Methodism. We share their frustration over wavering leadership, weak resolve, and open rebellion to our doctrine and discipline. The structures designed to enable the ministry of the local church have too often become a hindrance to the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As these congregations testify, the continuing conflict in our church harms our witness for Christ. But change is coming.
Just to be clear, the actions of the two congregations were taken independently, without consultation with the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council, and are the actions of those congregations alone. We continue to believe that those of us committed to the historic doctrine and discipline of The United Methodist Church are better off acting together and in connection with each other. The Commission on a Way Forward is meeting to bring recommendations to a proposed called General Conference in 2019. While the commission’s ability to find a solution with integrity is difficult, we believe that this process offers the best option for preserving the ministry and integrity of conscience for traditional and orthodox United Methodists. The protracted timetable, while not ideal, provides an opportunity for like-minded United Methodists to organize for a new future.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association stands as an alliance to advance vibrant, scriptural Christianity. We are building relationships in local chapters and around the world to refocus on John Wesley’s vision of spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land. Whatever the future holds, we know that we want to face it together. The Wesleyan Covenant Association is committed to being a landing place for persons and congregations who desire to be part of a global expression of vibrant, orthodox, Wesleyan Christianity as we live into what’s next.
The WCA Council commits to pray for Bishop Swanson, the Mississippi Conference Cabinet, and the pastors and people of each of these congregations, and we ask the rest of the church to join us. The days ahead will try us all. We call upon the entire church to walk faithfully and in love.
The Following statement was approved at the WCA Launch Event on October 7, 2016. It was endorsed by the body, but will not be individually endorsable.
Chicago Statement to the Bishops’
Commission on A Way Forward
The Wesleyan Covenant Association
Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on Friday, October 7, 2016, over 1,700 people affirmed and approved the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The association is a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from across The United Methodist Church, committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the uncertain future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.
We have heard from many concerned United Methodists who believe that the church’s current situation is untenable. Some of our members are leaving their local churches or suspending their giving. Some local churches are suspending or redirecting the payment of apportionments, while other congregations are preparing to leave the denomination. Therefore, we call upon the Council of Bishops to:
- Swiftly name the members of the commission and expedite their gathering to begin working together, and
- Approve the call for a special General Conference in early 2018 to enable resolution of the conflict that divides us before further harm is done to United Methodist members, congregations, conferences, and ministries.
As faithful United Methodists, we will fervently pray for the bishops’ Commission on A Way Forward. And while we patiently wait for it to complete its work, we call upon its members to:
- Work deliberately and expeditiously as it prepares a recommendation for a called General Conference scheduled for early 2018;
- Regularly update the people of the church regarding its progress, or lack thereof, and,
- Bring forth a recommendation that would definitively resolve our debate over The United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics and its understanding of marriage.
We deeply regret the acts of covenant breaking that have accelerated in frequency and in seriousness since the 2016 General Conference. Therefore, we join with the Southeastern College of Bishops in viewing such actions as “divisive and disruptive.”
- The proposed “pause for prayer and discernment” from the Council of Bishops that was adopted by the General Conference has been ignored by many progressives, leaving us to wonder if we have good faith partners who are willing to work toward a common future for The United Methodist Church.
- Despite the pledge of the Council of Bishops to uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline, some bishops are now routinely settling complaints against clergy who violate the Discipline with no consequences. This gives us reason to believe they will continue to break faith with the general church, despite what the special commission proposes.
- At least nine boards of ordained ministry or annual conferences and two jurisdictional conferences have pledged not to conform or comply with the requirements of the Discipline. Despite some rulings nullifying those actions, we have no confidence that a covenant that depends upon voluntary compliance can hold in the face of such defiance.
- The election of a person in a same-sex marriage to the office of bishop, in blatant contradiction to the requirements of the Discipline, has undermined the very structure of our global church to the point that its future survival is in question.
We believe it is imperative for the commission to propose a plan that calls for accountability and integrity to our covenant, and restores the good order of our church’s polity. If the commission determines no such a plan is possible, then we believe it should prepare a plan of separation that honors the consciences of all the people of the church and allows them to go forward in peace and good will. A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association wants what is best for United Methodist laity and clergy, and we are convinced a speedy resolution of our present crisis is now essential and imperative for the church’s future viability.
May God bless our bishops as they select the members of the commission, and may He lead and guide those who are chosen for this important task.
WCA Press Release
Wesleyan Covenant initiative launched
August 4, 2016
The newly launched Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) is a membership-driven initiative to link congregations, clergy persons, and laity to “promote the ministry of the gospel from a Wesleyan theological perspective within The United Methodist Church and kindred bodies,” according to bylaws adopted by nearly 50 United Methodist leaders gathering in Houston on August 1 and 2.
“We are a movement of like-minded, warm-hearted, Jesus loving, Wesleyan, evangelical, orthodox, and covenant-keeping Christians who are connected together in mission,” said the Dr. Jeff Greenway, lead pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church.
The group gathered to adopt bylaws and nominate a first slate of Council members that will be elected at their initial public gathering on October 7 in Chicago at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Information on the Chicago event can be found online at WesleyanCovenant.org.
“Our meeting was both serious and hopeful,” said Dr. David Watson, academic dean at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. “We prayed together, broke bread, shared ideas, agreed and disagreed, and learned from each other. We affirmed together that we are not another caucus group, but a community established for mutual encouragement, resourcing, and accountability. We simply want to embody Wesleyan holiness in a way that is already articulated in United Methodism’s Doctrinal Standards, but is often set aside in actual practice.”
In addition to Watson, other prominent United Methodist theologians in the group included Dr. Billy Abraham of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas and Dr. Bill Arnold of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. There were clergy and laity representatives from all five jurisdictions in the denomination, including from embattled annual conferences such as Rocky Mountain, New York, and Iowa.
“As a young orthodox United Methodist, I am excited about the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association as a coalition committed to the authority of God’s Holy Word, our Wesleyan heritage, and Holy Spirit empowered revival,” said the Rev. Madeline Carrasco Henners, pastor of Luling (Texas) First United Methodist Church. “We know that many pastors in many progressive annual conferences feel isolated from their fellow orthodox brothers and sisters. This alliance will help them have their voices heard in matters affecting the unity of the global church.”
Morning devotional messages were brought by the Revs. Ryan Barnett, Kerrville (Texas) United Methodist Church, and Carolyn Moore, senior pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church in Evans, Georgia. The concluding service of holy communion was conducted by Henners and the Rev. Jessica LaGrone, dean of the chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary.
The group established that one of its main purposes was to “promote the worship of the Holy Trinity, to preach the pure Word of God, to uphold the rich tradition of sacramental practice, to maintain Christian fellowship, to foster the edification of believers, and to welcome and advance the work of the Kingdom of God on earth.”
“During this time of so much uncertainty in United Methodism, the Wesleyan Covenant Association is bringing a fresh voice of hope, strength, and encouragement to those seeking traditional Biblical values,” said Jennifer Cowart, executive pastor at Harvest Church in Warner Robbins, Georgia.
“The United Methodist Church has a rich heritage of reaching people for Christ and helping them grow into mature disciples. However, we now find ourselves at a crossroads of what the future holds for our tribe. The WCA provides a network of like minded laity and clergy who cherish biblical traditional values.”
An erroneous report on the online version of Charisma magazine claimed that the WCA was ready to create a new denomination.Charisma issued a second story to correct their faulty reporting. Furthermore, Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, inappropriately blamed the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association as having “opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism.”
Leaders at the event agreed that both cases of severe mischaracterization should be retracted and corrected.
“Some have jumped to the conclusion that the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association is an effort to force schism and start a new denomination,” said Greenway. “I can understand why some might say that because these are confusing times and many forces are at play in the United Methodist family trying to shape what is to come. I can say unequivocally that we are not creating or starting an effort to leave our denomination, but we are developing an association of churches and leaders who are committed to live and practice what we say we believe.”
Those in attendance at the meeting want to be active in responding to the upcoming Council of Bishops commission that will bring proposals to shape the future of The United Methodist Church.
“We do not know what that will be, but we do believe that change is coming,” said Greenway. “As we live into what comes next, the WCA is committed to preserving the core of what we believe and practice as United Methodists. We are not leading a separation, but we are committed to being faithful to our convictions.”
The commitment to faithfulness in uncertain times was a shared sentiment at the gathering. “Christianity was born in a hostile culture. We were born in the Roman empire, that tried to destroy Christianity. And so it’s not the culture that’s going to determine who we are, it’s our faith,” said the Rev. Kenneth Levingston, senior pastor of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in Houston. “It’s whether or not we’re willing to stand up in the culture and love it and still call it to live in a faithful way and manner with Jesus Christ.”
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United Methodists form Wesleyan Covenant Association
“In these times of great uncertainty about the future of The United Methodist Church, we believe it is important for orthodox congregations, clergy, and laity to work together, to support one another, and to encourage each other,” said a group of 40 United Methodist pastors, theologians, and lay persons in a statement that announces the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). “We long for a church committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the last, the least, and the lost.”
“The Wesleyan Covenant Association represents the very best of our warm-hearted theology and action-oriented spirituality, and will provide support, encouragement, and resourcing for like-minded and like-hearted United Methodists,” said the Rev. Jeff Greenway, lead pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church. “During these turbulent times in our denomination, I find this association to be a source of encouragement and hope.”
The WCA is being launched as a member-based network of United Methodist congregations, clergy, and laity to provide “the encouragement we need to stay committed to our rich heritage while standing firm on the non-negotiables that make The United Methodist Church a vital contributor to the Body of Christ,” said the Rev. Carolyn Moore, senior pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church in Evans, Georgia.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (wesleyancovenant.org) will be gathering in Chicago for a one-day conference to promote its goals and welcome new members on October 7, 2016.
“My fervent prayer is that we will be able to share our witness in ways that will impact the Bishop’s Commission on the Future of the Church positively and contribute to the advance of God’s Kingdom among the people called Methodists globally,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, pastor of Wilderness Community UM Church in Spotsylvania, Virginia. “Those who choose to participate in this great endeavor will be better positioned I believe to embrace a fruitful future regardless of what ultimately occurs within The United Methodist Church.”
“As a young orthodox United Methodist, I am excited about the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association as a coalition committed to the authority of God’s Holy Word, our Wesleyan heritage, and Holy Spirit empowered revival,” said the Rev. Madeline Carrasco Henners, pastor of Luling (Texas) First United Methodist Church. “We know that many pastors in many progressive annual conferences feel isolated from their fellow orthodox brothers and sisters. This alliance will help them have their voices heard in matters affecting the unity of the Global Church.”
“Clergy and laity across the nation are rightly concerned about the state of The United Methodist Church in the United States,” observed the Rev. Jim Cowart, pastor of Harvest UM Church in Byron, Georgia. “Although blessed with sound doctrine, a history of personal and social holiness, and a rich heritage, the church seems to have lost its way in the 21st century. The Wesleyan Covenant Association provides us with a wonderful opportunity to gather around the best of what we are with those who are of like commitment to work toward making disciples for the transformation of the world.”
“Christianity was born in a hostile culture. We were born in the Roman empire, that tried to destroy Christianity. And so it’s not the culture that’s going to determine who we are, it’s our faith,” said the Rev. Kenneth Levingston, senior pastor of Jones Memorial UM Church in Houston. “It’s whether or not we’re willing to stand up in the culture and love it and still call it to live in a faithful way and a faithful manner with Jesus Christ.”
June 30, 2016
An Open Letter to the People of The United Methodist Church:
As clergy and lay leaders of healthy, vibrant orthodox United Methodist congregations, and as teachers preparing the future clergy leaders of our denomination, we welcome the creation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. In these times of great uncertainty about the future of The United Methodist Church, we believe it is important for orthodox congregations, clergy, and laity to work together, to support one another, and to encourage each other. We long for a church committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the last, the least and the lost.
Committed to the Wesleyan expression of orthodox Christianity, we believe the church can and must do better. We are alarmed by the growing loss in average worship attendance in many of our annual conferences. We regret the now numerous instances where colleagues in ministry have broken covenant with the rest of the church and sowed the seeds of schism. We are grieved by the actions of annual conferences that have decided not to conform to our Discipline. And we are disappointed in leaders who have failed to maintain the good order of the church. Consequently, the work of faithful pastors and laity has been undermined, healthy congregations have left the denomination, and thousands of United Methodists have gone in search of other places to worship and serve.
We believe the Wesleyan Covenant Association will give orthodox United Methodists hope for the future and serve as a source of encouragement as the church works through a critical period of discernment. We want to serve in close partnership with our brothers and sisters in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. And we want to be prepared to act as one in light of the important work and recommendations of the Bishops’ Commission on the Future of the Church. We encourage all orthodox clergy and laity to remain steadfast and faithful in these uncertain times. We believe the Wesleyan Covenant Association will bind us together and make us a strong, united witness for Scriptural Christianity.
We believe that God is “doing a new thing.” We believe a new and better day is coming for the people called Methodist who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the church’s being a missional force determined to reach a lost culture. We yearn to step into this new future together with others of like minds and hearts.
Please visit the Wesleyan Covenant Association website (www.wesleyancovenant.org) to learn more about it. We also hope you will plan to join us in Chicago on October 7, 2016, for the first gathering of the association.
We are confident you will be hearing more about the association in the weeks and months ahead, and we trust you will join us as we band together for the sake of a vibrant, Wesleyan expression of orthodox Christianity.
Perkins School of Theology
Asbury Theological Seminary
Kerrville First UMC
Wilderness Community UMC
Frazer Memorial UMC
Luling First UMC
Asbury Theological Seminary
Mount Bethel UMC
The Orchard UMC
Dalton & Tomich
The Woodlands, Texas
Crystal Lake UMC
Crystal Lake, Illinois
International Leadership Institute
International Leadership Institute
The Woodlands, Texas
Powder Springs, Georgia
Hickory, North Carolina
Asbury Theological Seminary
The Woodlands, TX
Grace Fellowship UMC
Jones Memorial UMC
Indiana Annual Conference
The Confessing Movement
Marion First UMC
San Augustine, Texas
Mt Bethel UMC
The Woodlands UMC
The Woodlands, Texas
The Woodlands UMC
The Woodlands, Texas
Winterville, North Carolina
West Ohio Annual Conference
Lake Waynoka, Ohio
Springdale First UMC
United Theological Seminary
The Mission Society
Church names provided only for identification purposes.