the discernment process  

Regarding  Disaffiliation from The

United Methodist Church

June 5, 2020

by Martin Turnidge, HopeGateWay Leadership Team Chair


HopeGateWay discernment process regarding disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church


The process we have been following:

On September 26th 2019, HopeGateWay embarked on a process to discern whether to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church (UMC) over issues of human sexuality. This process was following legislation from the special General Conference (GC) in 2019 and the New England Annual Conference (NEAC).


This is part of what Sara wrote at the outset:

Since no one knows what will unfold at General Conference 2020, or elsewhere in the UMC, we feel it is important to keep our options open by beginning this process now. The HopeGateWay Leadership Team voted in September to embark on this journey of discernment. 


It is important to note that deciding to begin this discernment process is NOT a decision to leave the United Methodist Church. Rather, it is a decision to commit ourselves to a deliberate learning process, in collaboration with other congregations. It will be a time of focused and prayerful reflection designed to discern the best path forward for each individual congregation.


The eight sessions were as follows:

  • Session 1 – October 27, 2019 – Understanding the polity and structure of the United Methodist Church
  • Session 2 – November 24, 2019 – The Methodist Movement
  • Session 3 – December 29, 2019 – An Intersectional Analysis of Oppression and Liberation within our Church and World
  • Session 4 – January 26, 2020 – The Role of Clergy
  • Session 5 – February 23, 2020 – What would disaffiliation mean for this church’s theology, identity, history, discipling?
  • Session 6 – March 29, 2020 (via Zoom) – Financial obligations and options
  • Session 7 – April 26, 2020 (via Zoom) – Community Partnerships
  • Session 8 – May 24, 2020 (via Zoom) – General Conference


Sessions 5, 6 and 7 in particular contained a lot of sharing from people from the HopeGateWay community about their experiences, hopes and concerns.


The current situation

The numbers received from the NEAC for HopeGateWay mean that under the current proposal in order to leave with our buildings and other property, HopeGateWay would need to pay approximately $500,000 to the NEAC. This is dominated by an amount defined as our share of the $90,000,000 dollars calculated as NEAC’s share of the “unfunded market pension liability” in the WesPath pension program.


For reference, our property assets are valued around $654,000 and our total assets (including invested) is around $903,000.


Due to COVID-19, some of the timing related to the next steps in the process has changed:


General Conference has been postponed from May 2020 to August-September 2021.

  • The New England Annual Conference Session is postponed from June 2020 to a one day virtual session in October 2020.
  • To be considered for disaffiliation at the NEAC 2020, Congregational Charge Conference votes need to be taken by August 1, 2020 rather than June 1, 2020.
  • Disaffiliation agreements with congregations must be finalized before the Annual Conference votes on the disaffiliation
  • The Pension Liability Requirement for Disaffiliating Churches will be voted on at the next Annual Conference Session. The Annual Conference has the power to decide what the cost will be.
  • If the Annual Conference voted on both a congregation’s disaffiliation agreement and the pension liability formula at the same annual conference, the two votes might be in conflict. 
  • The next deadline (for a disaffiliation agreement to be considered at the 2021 Annual Conference) is April 1, 2021.
  • Congregations in New England can vote to leave the UMC under the Taylor Plan (Book of Discipline ¶ 2553) before April 1, 2023.

Moving forward


Network/Alliance

Sara has been meeting weekly with a group of clergy and laity from 10 or so congregations who are at various stages of the discernment process. Four churches are at the same stage as HopeGateWay. These four churches feel it would be more advantageous for ourselves and for those who come after us to move forward together on the same timeline.


This group is intending to work together to envision a network or alliance of churches that share values, resources, clergy credentialing processes, and other connections. 

The hope of this group is that upon completing our discernment requirements we can turn our attention and efforts to forming what each congregation would like to become together and separately. 


We are hoping to use time between the end of our required discernment process and the time we need to vote prior to the Annual Conference Meeting to be able to define a new future. There will be a Charge Conference Vote on Disaffiliation scheduled in the future at HopeGateWay. We hope to choose the timing of this vote to give HopeGateWay and any congregations that follow us in this process the best possible deal and also to give ourselves the clearest view possible of the options available to us after disaffiliation.


What we have heard during the discernment gatherings from the HopeGateWay community is that a clear stance of full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQIA persons is more important to HopeGateWay than remaining in the UMC. 


Concluding meeting

On May 31st, HopeGateWay held a meeting to conclude our discernment process and to move into the next phase of our life together. Much of the material in this document was presented and discussed at the meeting.


The conclusions shared in that meeting were as follows:

A strong commitment to full inclusion and affirmation.

A desire to define a new future - including connections with other churches - outside of the UMC.


We move forward in the work of developing what we will become and what we want to be a part of as we have finished the work of discernment. In concluding our discernment process HopeGateWay has decided to move forward with developing our plans to leave the UMC.


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September 20, 2019

Beloved,


Ten years ago, we at HopeGateWay made the decision to become a Reconciling Congregation, and ever since, we have been faithfully striving to embody this vision as a faith community where people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions are celebrated and affirmed. We have long hoped that our denomination, The United Methodist Church, would eventually acknowledge that the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline is antithetical to Christian teachings and change its official stance to one which upholds the dignity and sacred worth of each person. 


Unfortunately, rather than move toward acceptance, the United Methodist Church has intensified its efforts to discriminate against LGBTQIA+ clergy and laity. 


As you are probably aware, United Methodists held a Special Session of General Conference in February 2019 to address the status of LGBTQIA+ persons in the church. In the end, the United Methodist Church voted to not only uphold their prejudicial position but to tighten restrictions and increase penalties against those who refused to live out these harmful policies. 


For several months, I have been working with a small group of United Methodists in New England who are exploring possibilities for churches who feel they cannot abide by our denomination's prohibitions and punishments aimed at LGBTQ people. We have been working to create a discernment curriculum to prepare congregations to make a decision about whether they will remain part of the United Methodist Church, or whether they feel called by God to disaffiliate from our denomination. The curriculum is being designed to inform everyone about the implications of the decisions made at General Conference, to discuss the actions that have been taking place around the country in response, to examine our own congregation's commitment to LGBTQIA+ equality, to learn how disaffiliation could be accomplished and how it would impact our ministry together, and to explore possibilities for a new expression of Methodism. At the end of our discernment process, we would decide what, if any, action to take. 


Since no one knows what will unfold at General Conference 2020, or elsewhere in the UMC, we feel it is important to keep our options open by beginning this process now. The HopeGateWay Leadership Team voted in September to embark on this journey of discernment. 


It is important to note that deciding to begin this discernment process is NOT a decision to leave the United Methodist Church. Rather, it is a decision to commit ourselves to a deliberate learning process, in collaboration with other congregations. It will be a time of focused and prayerful reflection designed to discern the best path forward for each individual congregation. 


I notified Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, spiritual leader of the New England Conference, of our intention to enter into this discernment process alongside many other UM Churches, on Thursday, September 26, 2019. This date was chosen because of its historical significance for New England Methodists: It is the day 232 years ago when the Methodist movement came to New England — the day the Rev. Jesse Lee, an early Methodist circuit rider, held the first Methodist Class Meeting in New England. 


Please join us for our a series of eight learning and listening sessions — watch for dates and details. This is an important season of questions, of discernment, of uncertainty and hope, and we trust that God is with us, guiding our discernment and leading us forward in faith. 


Grace and Peace, 


Sara


HopeGateWay is one of 9 churches in New England to start this discernment process.  To learn more please read this Press Release


Dates of our Discernment Process Meetings + Links to Recordings:

  • Session 1. October 27, 2019 – Understanding the polity and structure of the United Methodist Church
  • Session 2. November 24, 2019 – The Methodist Movement
  • Session 3. December 29, 2019 – An Intersectional Analysis of Oppression and Liberation within our Church and World (We watched this video about "An Intersectional Analysis of Oppression and Liberation within our Church and World. It is a sermon by Jay Williams from the New England Annual Conference 2019. We started watching at 30:23: video)
  • Session 4. January 26, 2020 – The Role of Clergy
  • Session 5. February 23, 2020 – (recording - lots of sharing from many voices; our last in-person gathering): Reporting from Conference Groups (including Annual Conference Trustees, Board of Congregational and Community Development, Treasurer, and Chancellor)
  • Session 6. March 29, 2020 – Financial obligations and options (recording - at 30:00 the conversation moves from logistics to feelings and desires for HGW's path forward)
  • Session 7. April 26, 2020 – Community Partnerships (recording)
  • Session 8. May 24, 2020 – General Conference (recording)


Open + Affirming

No matter who, no matter what, you are welcome.

We worship an inclusive and loving God, who calls all persons into relationship, both with God and with neighbor. In response to this love, demonstrated most perfectly in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves as an open and affirming community, welcoming and celebrating people of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, economic situations, and social statuses.


We are members of the Reconciling Ministries Network of The United Methodist Church, which means that we declare ourselves to be open and affirming, fully inclusive of the LGBTQ community, and advocating for a more inclusive church and a more inclusive society.

Our relationship with the UMC

HopeGateWay will be engaging in an intentional process about our identity and relationship with the United Methodist Church over the next 8 months. This process will involve learning, listening, and discerning our theological identity together. This will encompass 8 meetings, which will take place once a month from October to May. The first four are educationally focused and the last four will be both informational sharing and intentional listening to one another and our stories and experiences.

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