Click Reconciling Ministry Network Presentation to jump to the video and Q&A.
Holy Trinity Methodist Church in Prior Lake was incorporated on June 10, 1962 with 35 members, first meeting in the gymnasium of what is now Grainwood Elementary. In 1968 the name was changed to Holy Trinity United Methodist Church when the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church joined their denominations. Over the years since then there has been division within the denomination over language in the Book of Discipline (adopted in 1972) stating, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and over whether to allow individual churches to have autonomy regarding ordaining gay clergy and same sex-marriage. In early 2020 church leaders proposed splitting the church to resolve the debate, but the vote was postponed multiple times due to the pandemic and is currently scheduled for 2024. The leaders advocating for the more conservative view, maintaining the language of incompatibility, and forbidding same sex marriage or the ordination of clergy in same sex relationships elected to form a new group, the Global United Methodist Church launching May 1, 2022.
Holy Trinity, believing that the love of God is universal, that all people are created in the image of God and have divine worth, and having affirmed through a 2019 survey that approximately 70% of the congregation supported the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals, has entertained no conversation about disaffiliating from United Methodist Church. We are currently reflecting through study and conversation whether simply “welcoming all” is enough or if we, as a congregation, are prepared to go further and become part of the Reconciling Ministry Network, acknowledging that the language and policies in the Book of Discipline have done harm and advocating for change.
The Methodist church developed from the British Methodist revival movement led by John Wesley, and was brought to the American colonies in the 1760s. The contemporary United Methodist Church continues Wesley’s original ideals of study, service to others, and work on social issues, especially those connected with race, poverty, and peace. Women have been accepted for full ordination since 1956 and the first woman bishop was elected in 1980.
The governing body of the worldwide United Methodist Church is called the General Conference. The General Conference is made up of smaller units called Jurisdictions in the United States and Central Conferences outside the US. Jurisdictions are made up of Annual Conferences, which are made up of Districts. Holy Trinity is in the River Valley District of the Minnesota Annual Conference, within the North Central Jurisdiction. Please note that the yearly gathering of the Annual Conference is also called the Annual Conference, and the quadrennial gathering of delegates of the General Conference is also called the General Conference. This is known to be confusing.
Reconciling Ministry Network Presentation
Q: Isn’t it possible to accept all, love all, respect all, without waving a flag or saying that we accept all (or becoming a reconciling congregation)?
A: The short answer is yes, it is possible to be respectful, loving and welcoming, and hopefully we are already doing that. To become a reconciling congregation would take that a step further, and be a very public, visible way to say to anyone driving by that this is the kind of a church one can expect.
Q: How much autonomy do we have about becoming a reconciling congregation?
A: That decision is totally ours. It does not depend on the Annual or General Conference.
Q: Is there more information on the new Global Methodist Church (GMC), and how does that relate to our church?
A: The GMC is launching today, May 1, 2022. The GMC is no longer a part of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Much like in the Civil War, when the north and the south could no longer agree politically or religiously, a split occurred in the Methodist Church between the northern and the southern congregations, primarily over slavery. Since 1976 there has been debate within our denomination over language in the Book of Discipline saying, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Several efforts have been made to change this language, but as a global denomination we have many churches in parts of the world where societal laws are different than in the United States, resulting in conflict and tension on this issue. The General Conference is the only time when official changes can be made to the Book of Discipline. In 2019 a special General Conference was held that was supposed to provide a pathway forward that would allow congregations of both conservative and progressive belief align their practice with their values around full inclusion of LGBTQ people in ministry. Instead, the punishment to clergy who were in same-sex relationships or performed marriage ceremonies for same sex couples was heightened. In response, the Minnesota Annual Conference established a vision to become a church that is grounded in Jesus Christ, rooted in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all people, and committed to justice and compassion. There are enough annual conferences that have created their own aspirational documents for inclusion that the conservative branch has said they can no longer wait for the General Conference to happen where rules will be rewritten. They took action to create a new church. As of today, any pastor or church could begin working at disaffiliating from the UMC so they can affiliate with the GMC. The GMC will maintain the current Book of Discipline language on homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, prohibiting the ordination of clergy in same sex relationships, and prohibiting clergy from performing marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. It is expected that in 2024 that language will be removed from the UMC Book of Discipline. To our knowledge there are two congregations in Minnesota in the process of disaffiliating from the UMC so they can join the GMC. Others are considering it but are not yet moving in that direction. At no point has the leadership of HTUMC entertained conversation about joining the splinter group, the GMC, due to the survey undertaken in 2019 that indicated a strong majority of the members of this church are in favor of becoming a reconciling congregation or at least becoming more open and affirming to all people.
Q: Does the action of becoming a Reconciling Congregation in any way disaffiliate us from the broader United Methodist Church?
A: No. As a matter of fact, the Reconciling Ministry Network (RMN) is a subdivision of the UMC and there are over a thousand congregations in the US, including many in Minnesota. While what they stand for is contrary to the disputed language in our current Book of Discipline, becoming a part of the Reconciling Ministry Network could be considered an act of civil disobedience, or peaceful protest. Becoming part of the RMN names us as a church that is willing to stand up and speak out against what is in the Book of Discipline.
Q: Will the GMC still be a Methodist church?
A: The Global Methodist Church will still be a Methodist Church but will not be part of the United Methodist Church. It will be a separate branch with its own Book of Discipline. Clergy and churches will remain connected to the health and benefits program so those things will remain the same. It is possible they will also stay part of UMCOR, but that has not been stated yet. We could describe this as a splinter rather than a split. With a split you end up with two or more pieces, but if you have a branch that separates lengthwise, but remains joined at the base, you have a common starting point with splinters going independently.
Q: (The timeline for the RMN learning events shows the Bible study on relevant scripture scheduled for September.) If the Bible is the guiding set of principles for us why do we wait until four months into the process to understand it?
A: As Methodists we do believe scripture is primary in our understanding of social and other issues, along with reason, tradition, and experience (these four make up the Wesleyan Quadrilateral). We have put opportunities to look at tradition, reason, and experience earlier in the timeline, but we could adjust the schedule. One reason it is in September is that it can be harder to find a workable schedule for groups in the summer and fall is when we get the greatest participation.
Q: When do things get decided?
A: In November a guided discussion is planned to discuss the statement the steering committee has created about reconciling. At that time a straw poll will be taken. A straw poll is not binding but gives feedback to leadership about whether this is a direction we want to continue pursuing. If it does look like we want to move toward becoming a reconciling congregation, a final vote would be anticipated in April 2023.
Q: Who will be making the decisions about the Book of Discipline at the General Conference in 2024?
A: The 2024 General Conference will be made up of elected delegates from annual conferences in the UMC. Since most of the conservative congregations will then be part of the GMC (including the Bulgarian and many African congregations,) it is likely the delegates will be ideologically more centrist or progressive than were at previous General Conferences.
Q: When the decision is known will it be publicized?
A: Part of the idea and motive for deciding to become reconciling is that it does become public. As you heard from quotes in the presentation, people have a desire to see a rainbow flag flown. That is not a requirement of reconciling churches, but it certainly is a symbol that identifies a church as being open and accepting of the LGBTQ community. We have some signage already being developed for people to put in their yards and larger banners for the church grounds that include rainbow and many skin tones. These are going forward regardless of our decision about being a reconciling congregation. We want people to know they are loved and are welcomed here, because we know there are churches in our area that are not as open and welcoming, especially to people from the LGBTQ community.
Q: Are there other churches in Minnesota joining the Reconciling Ministry Network?
A: We are not sure if any others are in process, currently there are about a dozen in Minnesota that have already gone through the decision process and voted to become reconciling. You can find more information at RMnetwork.org under Find A Reconciling Ministry Near You.
Please stay in conversation, ask questions, participate in the scheduled events to learn as much as you can, and pray. Regardless of where you find yourself on this issue, pray for our church and that the Holy Spirit will move us in the direction that we are supposed to be moving.