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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Echo
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Pierce disaffiliates from denomination

Local church leaves United Methodist

People filled the rows of chairs on Sunday morning at Pierce Church.

For many, nothing had changed after leaving the United Methodist Church. The only physical remnant that indicated change was the removal of their old church sign: Pierce Chapel United Methodist Church.

Since 2019, around 6,000 Methodist churches across the U.S. have disassociated from the United Methodist Church (UMC), furthering tension. UMC questioned the authority of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus and homosexuals becoming members and bishops of the church throughout their recent conferences.

“Even while the Book of Discipline has stayed the same up to this point, the level of trust and of covenant keeping among clergy, in churches and higher-level leadership has eroded,” the Rev. Evan Guse of Pierce Church said. 

Similar to other congregations, Pierce Church felt called to leave the UMC. They officially disaffiliated on Dec. 1, 2022, and joined the Global Methodist Church by the end of December. 

One of Pierce Church’s members, Pamela Hensley, never thought that UMC’s progressive changes would take effect in the Midwest, especially Indiana. Hensley watched as the UMC conferences voted on things that Pierce did not support. 

Last year, congregants at Pierce Church discussed and prayed for direction. Churches disaffiliated from United, some joining the Global Methodist Church and others becoming independent. Hensley said they had many discussions through informational meetings and one-on-ones with congregants.

For any church to disaffiliate from UMC, the congregants were required to have a 67 percent vote in favor to leave, the bishop’s overall consent, paperwork and payment.

For many churches, the required fee was the biggest obstacle. 

Gary Newton, professor of Christian ministries at Taylor University, said that for his church – Cornerstone Church of Pennville – to disaffiliate, they paid $66,000. His church had 40 people in the congregation. The money covered the United Methodist Church’s retirement and building expenses.

Many of the churches that wish to disassociate from United are in smaller towns, Newton said. The trouble is, smaller congregations don’t have as much money and therefore can’t pay the required fee to leave the denomination. 

“So, if you can’t leave, you almost have to walk away from the building and then restart, and you don’t have the money to do that either,” Newton said. “Then they put the building up for sale.”

Sophomore Landry Woolever observed the difficulty his father — a Methodist pastor — faced in disaffiliation from United. 

The bishop could make the process as difficult or as easy as he wants. At that point, some churches have to go into lawsuits to try and leave, Woolever said.

“It is that the core Christian, core Wesley beliefs that we've always had are under attack and are being changed and that is something that most churches that are leaving cannot in good conscience put up with,” Woolever said. “If you say, ‘Oh, yeah, the Bible was good for the time it was written, but we know better now,’ then all of a sudden that undermines a vast majority of Christian doctrine and tradition - and at that point, if you can just pick and choose what you want to believe, what's the point of being Christian?”

Churches across the states have had to ask the same question: What’s next?

The Rev. Brad McKenzie, pastor of two Methodist churches in Nacogdoches, Texas, had been involved with the United and Global Methodist Church situation. 

He said that disaffiliation was the result of the building division in the UMC. For a while, UMC was able to work through that growing tension. 

Those in the more conservative, orthodox camp wanted to be a people devoted to the word of God, Methodism and the historical Creeds of the church as they have understood it for hundreds of years, McKenzie said. They felt like UMC arrived at the point where those in disagreement were not as willing to work together.

“But I think a lot of us don't look at it as a split. It's more of a separation of worldviews,” McKenzie said. “And so, there's just the reality that we don't always stay in the same place — we don't always agree with people, and sometimes it's just necessary for us — for the sake of the church and for the sake of the work and for the sake of people involved — that we go different directions.” 

Both Hensley and Guse agreed that little has changed at their church. Pierce Church’s goal is the same as it was before they disaffiliated: love and serve Jesus, Guse said.

“I think the challenges with the Global Methodist Church specifically is — it's just new,” Guse said. “It's young. We're in the infancy period of this movement, and so being sure that you make the right decisions early on,. But really the focus is that we want to be focused on Jesus –- that's what's most important.”