Holston leaders reassure members after coverage of new proposal

Holston leaders reassure members after coverage of new proposal

Jan. 8, 2020

Leaders and pastors throughout Holston Conference scrambled over the last week to respond to a proposed separation plan for the denomination, released Jan. 3 by a high-profile coalition representing diverse interest groups.

“Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” offers a proposal that would preserve The United Methodist Church while allowing traditionalist congregations to form a new denomination. The separating group would get $25 million in funds and would keep its local church properties. Read UMNS story.

The Jan. 3 "protocol" was quickly and widely reported by national media, leading some United Methodists to believe a separation within their church was imminent.

The 16-member coalition that created the proposal included bishops and other leaders from groups with differing views on how the denomination should proceed over issues around homosexuality.
Coalition offers separation plan

Joining numerous United Methodist bishops who released statements to inform and reassure their members, two leaders of Holston Conference’s delegation also responded with a letter shared by email (and at Holston.org) late on Jan. 4.

In the letter, Emily Ballard, Holston delegation leader, and the Rev. Kim Goddard, first elected clergy, sought to make clear the "protocol" cannot become church law unless it is considered and approved by the next General Conference, which meets May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“... It is crucial to understand no group, no matter how diverse or well meaning, can make decisions or set policy for The United Methodist Church. Only the General Conference has this authority,” the letter stated. "So, what we have now is another proposal that will almost certainly be presented to the General Conference as legislation delegates may or may not vote to adopt.”

Read Holston delegation's Jan. 4 letter.

Ballard and Goddard will lead Holston’s 12-member delegation to General Conference, joining the total 862-member elected body representing United Methodist congregations all over the world.
Emily Ballard and Rev. Kim Goddard

Using social media or email, several Holston pastors reached out to their congregations regarding the separation proposal, emphasizing that General Conference would make the ultimate decision and other plans are still under consideration.

“I wanted to encourage you in this moment we are still the United Methodist Church and we have a ‘method’ to follow,” said the Rev. Jerry Jones, pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Greeneville, Tennessee. “Each plan will be given due process at General Conference, providing they are properly submitted before the legislative body. It is my prayer that we will learn how to love and respect one another in this process.”

At least one pastor confessed frustration that new proposals were receiving heightened attention when the Traditional Plan was passed by a special General Conference in February 2019.

“Are we going to allow the 2020 General Conference to do their work?” the Rev. Charlie Harrison said on a Facebook page for Kingston United Methodist Church. “What I mean by this is the 2019 Called General Conference voted to uphold the [Book of] Discipline of the church. Whether we agree with it or not, that was the outcome. So are we going to bypass the General Conference doing their work and just start dealing with separation?”

Some pastors offered to meet with their parishioners to explain the process and answer questions.

“There is truth in the idea that the United Methodist Church may well be heading for a separation,” the Rev. Jimmy Sherrod said in a Jan. 3 message. “I will explain more about that in an upcoming Q&A session ... As far as Central UMC, we will keep doing the work God is calling us to do.”

On Jan. 5, Sherrod met with church members after Sunday worship at Central United Methodist in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Rev. Teresa Atkins McClure offered to meet with her members at New Life United Methodist Church individually. New Life is located in East Knoxville, Tennessee.

“The conversation of ‘do we split or do we stay together’ continues to be debated,” McClure said to church members on social media. “We are different from other denominations in that we are global. Our brothers and sisters around the world have a voice in this process, too. ... In the meantime, we go forward making disciples, serving and loving God and others. Want to meet and talk some more? I'd love to do that, too.”

Other pastors also took the opportunity to express love and encourage church members to stay focused on the mission.

“What has not changed? My love for you, friends. My love for you based not on your faith, but on your humanity,” said the Rev. Beth Tipton, director of the Wesley Foundation at University of Virginia College at Wise. “What has not changed is that I respond to you with love because I first have been loved.”

“What this means for us at this juncture is, simply, that we still have ministry to do at Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Ginger Howe Isom in Maryville, Tennessee. “Any decision that is made by the upcoming General Conference will not have immediate impact on our local churches and may not have any impact at all, so let us not become distracted once again but remain steadfast in our commitment to serve.”

The Rev. Troy Forrester, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Knoxville, also reminded his congregation of the big picture:

"... None of this currently impacts our day-to-day operations in any way whatsoever," he said. "We will continue to make Knoxville and the world a better place. We will continue to love our neighbors as ourselves. We will continue to welcome and offer hospitality to strangers."

And then Forrester announced a new sermon series (based on a book) scheduled to kick off the following Sunday:

"I'd Like You More If You Were More Like Me."

See also:
Reaction aplenty to separation plan (UM News, 1.6.20)

See also the following responses from United Methodist bishops:


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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.