What Holston pastors wish you knew (about disaffiliation)

What Holston pastors wish you knew (about disaffiliation)

Caroline Ratliff stands at the United Methodist "cross and flame" symbol at Camp Dickenson in Fries, Virginia, in July 2022. She is the daughter of the Rev. Jason Ratliff. Used with permission.

In the middle of the storm circling The United Methodist Church are the pastors, trying to keep their parishioners’ eyes fixed on Jesus despite the tug of wind and waves. The Call pulled five Holston clergy members aside and asked them to share what they wish they could tell church members, right now, about disaffiliation. Here's what they said.

REV. GRACIE CLARK, Mountain View UMC (Knoxville, TN)
Don’t believe everything that you Google. Do not believe everything the internet or the media posts about disaffiliation. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and it is deeply affecting our connection. Talk to your pastors and district superintendents about any questions you may have. We are here to help.

I have found in my own church setting that many people are concerned about what is going on in different areas of the country. We, as United Methodists, function within our own jurisdictions and annual conferences. I understand the concern, but we have to be focused on what we are doing in our local churches and how we choose to function. Holston Conference is dedicated to following our United Methodist Book of Discipline and serving our communities well by following it. 

I like to remind our churchgoers that nothing in our current Discipline has changed. We, as Methodists, have gone through many divisions in our history. However, even when we do not agree on everything – especially aspects of scriptural interpretations – we can still sit next to each other on Sundays and serve alongside one another, loving in the name of Christ. And that is what we are called to do. 

REV. JASON RATLIFF, First UMC (Hillsville, VA)
I have talked about this topic openly with the congregation I serve. I’ve been very vocal that our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and our Book of Discipline haven’t changed. No one in our congregation has left over this issue or threatened to leave. Some church members have come to me saying, “I saw this on Facebook. Can we talk about it?” We do, and the conversation seems to satisfy them.  

I preached a sermon from Romans 1:16 a few months ago entitled “Not Ashamed.” It’s the most important sermon I’ve ever given, simply because, due to a barrage of attacks on social media, people were wondering whether or not they should be ashamed to remain in The United Methodist Church. I made the case for the UMC in the strongest terms possible and explained emphatically that I’m not ashamed to be a Christian and I am not ashamed to be United Methodist and neither should they be. We are who we have always been. Others are leaving for a multitude of reasons, but our mission has not changed, our values have not changed, and our identity has not changed. Now is not the time to be ashamed of who we are. 

REV. SHARON BOWERS, Emory & Henry College (Emory, VA)
I wish the churches knew they had options and that much of what is being told to them about reasons to leave The United Methodist Church now are untrue or at best premature. I wish the churches considering disaffiliation or being courted by seemingly benign non-UMC organizations would do the research for themselves and realize that to date, the UMC has not changed its polity or Book of Discipline.

I wish the church would stay prayerful and hopeful and quit trying to play God and pass judgment on people. I wish the church would be more Christ-like, remember the Great Commission, and stay focused on the business of making disciples rather than deciding who is worthy of being a disciple.  

REV. RAY AMOS, Addilynn Memorial UMC / South Bristol UMC (Bristol, TN)
What I wish people knew about disaffiliation is that whatever theological perspective you come from, you don’t have to change who you are. Our Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett has stated over and over again that traditionalist churches and pastors are not just tolerated but welcomed, respected and needed in Holston Conference. 

I also wish that people understood the significance of being part of a connection and the support and strength that connection provides for pastors and churches.

I always want people to know and understand that they are loved unconditionally by God.

REV. ANGELA AKERS, Englewood UMC (Englewood, TN) / Eleazar UMC (Tellico Plains, TN)
One of the great strengths of The United Methodist Church is that our governance structure keeps us both accountable and connected. Which means, we are never alone. As individuals and as churches, we can count on the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. No one knows what our denomination will look like when the disaffiliation is finalized, but we do know that the structures that have guided us for more than 200 years will also guide us into the future. 

I love that passage in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks Peter, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" And Peter answers, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

And Jesus says, "…  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

As long as our churches continue to focus on worshiping and working in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, then nothing can overcome us.

Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.


Annette Spence

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