Let not your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid. -John 14:1
Dear Friends in Christ,
These have been anxious times. Weather, politics, a pandemic, financial uncertainty and for the church, disaffiliation. Each of us chooses how we react and engage during these times. Today, I want to talk with you about disaffiliation and congregations exploring leaving The United Methodist Church.
In GNJ, 21 churches, or 4% of our congregations have chosen to participate in the disaffiliation process. These are congregations whose leadership have voted to explore disaffiliation because they do not want to be a part of The United Methodist Church because they do not agree that Church should allow ministry with and by LGBTQ persons and see this occurring within The United Methodist Church. Their hearts and our hearts are broken. Most of the congregations have been United Methodist for more than 100 years. They have faithfully participated in the mission and ministry of GNJ and The United Methodist Church. They are our friends and colleagues in Christ. Regardless of differences, if they vote to disaffiliate, they will be missed.
The disaffiliation process involves 2-3 sessions of discernment led by a spiritual guide and a series of votes. It is a time to listen for the Holy Spirit. The congregation by church law must vote by two-thirds to disaffiliate. Unfortunately, in a few congregations, division has arisen, and church leaders and some members have turned to pressuring members on how to vote, are not speaking the truth about The United Methodist Church and biblical and theological understandingand have created further division. Some members are even claiming their leaders are manipulating them. I am deeply troubled by these allegations.
On the last night of his life, Jesus gathered with his disciples in a room. During the evening, there were differences between the disciples and heated debate. One of disciples would turn Jesus in to the authorities, another would deny he even knew Jesus and by the end of the evening, not one would be left standing with Jesus. But in the midst of their differences, Jesus would continue to stand with them and by them. In a very troubling time for Jesus and the disciples, Jesus said, let not your hearts be troubled.
The majority of congregations in GNJ, both traditional orthodox and progressives are staying in the midst of their differences. One matter is not going to divide them. Like Jesus and even the disciples, there will be differences, but we have a greater mission and ministry that we are focused on. I am deeply proud of clergy and lay leadership who have led their congregations to continue to focus on the greater mission and purpose of the church.
Ultimately that is why Jesus could tell his disciples to not be troubled. God had a plan and mission bigger than any one of their differences. Jesus would not let them or the mission be compromised by their differences.
Our present United Methodist controversy is about people not issues. That is what Jesus realized, he saw his disciples as people, not an object, not an issue, not those who were with him or against him, but as people. For those who go through the process and continue with The United Methodist Church and its mission, we have a covenant process that identifies what you need to continue with the mission of The United Methodist Church and a covenant with the cabinet to value you and see you as important member of the body of Christ.
Today, I call the 96% of the congregations who have chosen to continue as United Methodist congregations to see those who are exploring disaffiliation as people, beloved children of God. I ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide their decision making. And for those who vote to disaffiliate, that God will bless them and their ministry. An untroubled heart can release, forgive and see people through God’s eyes.
Today, I call the pastors and church leaders who are applying pressure, and it is not all the congregations who are exploring disaffiliation, but a few, to trust the Holy Spirit. That is also an untroubled heart. We tend to get more of what we promote, and if we promote division, you will see more division in your future.
Thank you everyone for being part of the body of Christ and for faithfulness to the mission of God in and through The United Methodist Church.
Keep the faith!
Bishop John Schol
The United Methodists of
Greater New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania