A MESSAGE FROM YOUR PASTOR
We need to talk…
Now that I’ve gotten your attention with the least-favorite four words I (or anyone else) wants to hear, I need to share with you the need for some difficult conversations coming up. Without sounding overly dramatic, I think it is fair to say the United Methodist denomination is at a breaking point, a new Methodist denomination has formed, and there is a lot of confusion within the ranks of the United Methodist camp. I may be getting a little ahead of myself, so let me back up a bit:
There has been a decades-long division in the UMC over matters of human sexuality. For 50 years, the United Methodist Book of Discipline (hereafter BOD) has affirmed “Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth…. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons” (paragraph 161G) and “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve The United Methodist Church.” (paragraph 304.3). The division is, in regards to human sexuality, between those who wish to retain the traditional language in the BOD, and those who wish to change or delete said language and open the pathway to ordination and affirmation of same-sex marriage. Needless to say, there are strong proponents, arguments, and emotions on all sides of this issue, even within our local church.
At the 2019 special called session of the United Methodist General Conference (the law-making body of the UMC), this language was again retained in the BOD, but paragraph 2553 was added that, in part, states “Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience…” The paragraph goes on to address the specifics required for a local church to disaffiliate, including costs, timeline, and the voting process. You may read the entirety of Par. 2553 below this letter, or at this link.
Following the tumultuous meeting of 2019, a group comprised of many concerned voices met, and in early 2020 a seemingly amicable agreement was struck called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation that would provide the space for those to separate to do so amicably, and for those who remain to do so in the same spirit. In effect, it was a divorce agreement. It was scheduled to be voted on at General Conference 2020. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the regularly-scheduled GC was delayed, then delayed again, and most recently delayed until the next regularly-scheduled session in 2024. That, in part, led to the launch of the Global Methodist Church (GMC) on May 1, 2022. The GMC is a new denomination that, among other things, holds more traditional values in regard to marriage and sexuality.
I think that brings us up to date. So, you may ask, what do we need to talk about?
At the PGFUMC church council meeting on April 10, 2022, those members present had an extended discussion regarding the state of the United Methodist Church, and resolved to enter into the process of discernment dictated by par. 2553. I speak for myself and the church council when I say we have not made any decisions to leave the United Methodist denomination. While other churches, both in Arkansas and many other annual conferences, have first made the decision to disaffiliate and are now following the prescribed process to exit, we are very clear: we are investigating the process, and by doing so hope to discern the best decision for our church and community. Again, no decision has been made, and in fact, we cannot make a decision without the consent of the local church as a whole.
Here is the process as we currently have it:
1. Your church council and I will be meeting in closed session at least twice in the coming weeks, including this coming Sunday, May 22, so that we can study and understand the varied issues at work, dialogue with each other, and prepare for the next part of the process.
2. That next part in the process includes three listening sessions (town hall meetings) open to all members and regular attendees, the first of which will be led by our District Superintendent, Dr. Blake Bradford, on Wednesday, June 29th at 6:00 p.m. in the church’s worship center. There will be a presentation of the process, and time allotted for asking questions, as we know there will be many. These sessions over the course of 90 days are necessary according to par. 2553 and I strongly encourage attendance at one, if not all, of these sessions.
3. At the third session (date TBD) and possibly at all sessions, we will take a straw poll to see where our congregation is in the decision.
4. Based upon that straw poll, we may call a church-wide conference, where every full member is entitled to vote, and by a 2/3 affirmative vote of the church membership, we may move forward with disaffiliation. If the straw poll does not merit such an action, or if the vote falls short of the 2/3 threshold for disaffiliation, the process ends.
The full process for Arkansas churches is outlined on the Arkansas Annual Conference webpage and can be found below. This process is an evolving one, and has already shifted a couple of times in just the last few weeks. As our Arkansas Annual Conference is scheduled for June 1-4, the landscape may change yet again. I plead for your patience as we navigate these uncharted waters.
This is a painful time in the 54-year history of the United Methodist Church. But in the 238-year history of Methodists in America, there have been no less than six major divisions and reorganizations over very weighty matters such as these. I say this to assure you that while this is painful, it is not unique. It isn’t that it has never happened, but it has never happened in our recent history.
One last bit of history: Methodists have been meeting in Prairie Grove since as early as the 1820’s. The first Annual Conference for this area was held in 1833 at the Salem Campground, just outside of Prairie Grove. The presiding bishop, Rev. Joshua Soule, was responsible for drafting the Plan of Separation of the Methodist denomination just prior to the Civil War, a division over issues of slavery. The Methodist Church in Prairie Grove was officially chartered in 1866 as the Prairie Grove Methodist Episcopal Church, South. At some point, the name was changed to the Wesleyan Methodist Church according to a name found on the cornerstone of the old building. In 1950 the name was again changed, to Prairie Grove Methodist Church, and when the United Methodist denomination formed in 1968, the name was yet again changed to First United Methodist Church.
No matter the name, I strongly believe the people called Methodists will continue to gather in Prairie Grove. I plead with you for prayer and patience as we seek a way forward in unity.
In His Service,
For the latest resources, visit https://arumc.org/current-landscape/