Eastern Pennsylvania Church Leaves UMC

By Walter Fenton -

One of the fastest growing local congregations in the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church has parted ways with the denomination. Over the past two decades, Wesley UM Church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, has grown from a worshipping congregation of 30 to 700. Local pastor Blake Deibler, who has served the church for 20 years, leads the conservative-evangelical congregation.

“We did not take this step lightly,” said Executive Pastor Larry Rineer. “A great deal of prayer, conversation and thought went into it. The idea of leaving the denomination was a grassroots movement in the congregation that had been welling up for years, but in the past we did not think the timing was right.”

Like many local churches in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, a pair of high profile clergy trials forced congregants to carefully consider Scripture and official UM Church teachings regarding the practice of homosexuality and same sex weddings.

In 2004 the Rev. Beth Stroud was defrocked after announcing to her congregation in Philadelphia that she was living in a partnered relationship with another woman. Although she was defrocked, the church hired her directly and she continued to serve there for a number of years.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, an elder in the Pennsylvania Annual Conference, was defrocked in 2013 for presiding at his son’s same-sex wedding. However, upon appeal to a Northeastern Jurisdiction judicial panel his credentials were restored and the Judicial Council, the UM Church’s highest court, confirmed the decision. Schaefer continues to serve as a UM pastor in Santa Barbara, California.

Members at the church grew increasingly perplexed and frustrated by the seeming inability of the UM Church leaders to speak with one voice and to hold pastors accountable. The highly publicized trials and the ongoing attempts by progressives to liberalize the church’s teachings finally prompted their decision to formally explore parting ways with the denomination.

“For us it really came down to the authority of the Bible,” said Rineer. “People grew dissatisfied with the leadership of the general church and the direction they seemed to be heading. It didn’t seem in keeping with Scripture.”

After the people at Wesley voted 441 to 5 leave the denomination, church leaders entered into negotiations with the annual conference. According to Rineer, they negotiated an agreement that allowed them to keep their new, sprawling campus set on 57 acres of fields and woods. The congregation has a $1 million annual budget and services a $4 million mortgage on its facilities. It now goes simply by the name Wesley Church.

The conference could have exercised the denomination’s “trust clause” in an effort to retain the property and assets held “in trust” by the local congregation. However, conference officials did not believe it could afford to service the debt or maintain the property.

For fear that other local churches might attempt to leave the denomination, conference officials were careful to characterize the negotiated settlement as an “unprecedented agreement.”

According to Rineer, Wesley Church agreed to contribute a total of $100,000 to the annual conference spread out over a five-year period. It will also forward apportionment dollars it had retained during its discernment process.

“We wanted to end our relationship with The United Methodist Church respectfully and without fanfare,” said Rineer. “We believe our decision is a faithful one and is done in God’s timing.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News. 

 

Comments

  1. Sonja LeVan says:

    I believe you are just one of many to come…The Denomination has broken it’s covenant with God and his people…Therefore it gives the churches a LEGAL right to leave with it’s building….It no longer has a binding contract with the Denomination!!!JUST THE BEGINING 2016!

  2. stephen heard says:

    It is simple what the Bible states about homosexuality and how that it is a sin and abomination – if a church can’t simply read a passage that is as plain as day and understand the meaning and follow it, the pastor is pretty much an anti-Christ leading sheep astray and should be shunned away, as we need as many people speaking the Biblical truth of the Bible to a fallen world as we can get, not falsities and lies, conforming to the moral standards of the world in order to attempt to attract more “congregants” to their “church”.

    • William Moorer says:

      It’s unfortunate that laity — and some clergy– have not really done their Biblical homework in the so-called “homosexuality passages” of the Old Testament and the New. The behavior which are condemned In both resemble in no way the Marriage Equality phenomenon today. Loving, committed, partnered couples are not found in the Bible. Homosexual behavior in those periods was exploitive and committed against vulnerable and powerless people. Come into the 21st century real world, Christian people. You don’t condemn the OTHER 75 behaviors condemned in Leviticus. Study your Bibles in depth!

      • Jane Bonner says:

        Same sex activity is against God’s Creation. Jesus affirmed marriage between one man and one woman. It is a fallacy to imagine that all same sex relationships prior to the “modern era” were exploitative and committed against vulnerable and powerless people, although such abusive relationships continue today as young people are exploited by people who have authority or influence over them such as university professors, bosses, and big strong bullies. It is laughable to imagine that the relationships between men and men are “loving and committed” as a rule. This is an absurd assertion.

      • Kurt Bowers says:

        We’ve done our Biblical homework, we just don’t apply selective hermeneutics to the so-called for good reason “homosexuality passages” of both the old and new testaments. If coming into the 21st century means ignore what you don’t like and spin texts to your own subjective opinions, I’d rather not. There are plenty of DMin, ThD and PhD level Biblical Scholars along with the clergy and laity who understand these passages correctly to not need your condescending admonition.

        • Ian McDonald says:

          Thank You Kurt well put.

        • Buddy Whatley says:

          It does not require a DMin or ThD or even a PhD to read plain English; it does apparently require them to change the meaning of plain English.

          I’m reminded of Bill Clinton’s rather laughable questions about the meanings of rather simple words.

      • Bob Robinson says:

        William Moorer you are why the United Methodist Church will cease to exist in 2016! You are terribly wrong.No one in any of the Churches hates or nor they have the ability to condemn anything, God will judge all who turn away from God–those who perpatrate the lie of Satan. There is already a mass exodus of people from the UMC now because of you confused doctrine. May God have mercy on the Pastors who believe the way that you do. Have a Blessed day.

      • Paul W. says:

        These same false revisionist arguments repeated over and over do not resonate with those of us that believe that the Bible is the unchanging Word of God. I do not know you or your heart, but I do know that many who repeat the claims you make do so with the sole intent of sowing confusion among those who trust the Scriptures.

        I would respectfully suggest that you stop reading only pro-LGBT revisionist literature and instead study how the Greek and Roman world viewed homosexuality from both a legal and social perspective. What you wrote is simply untrue. The Apostle Paul was quite familiar with Greek and Roman culture. The sin nature of man has not changed no matter how many try to argue that we are now more “enlightened”.

        Also, I would suggest that you would find a good commentary on Leviticus quite helpful for understanding the meaning, role, and intent of the Law. Belittling Scripture simply because you find it difficult or do not understand it is a very dangerous path to tread and, sadly, many of our leaders who have no excuse are choosing to go down this path. The Jews are a people set apart by God; as such, many of the laws serve as reminders that they are to remain set apart and faithful to God. Studying and understanding the hard passages of Scripture is the best way to gain a deeper appreciation and reverence for the Word, Truth, and Revelation of God.

        For the believer, the Holy Spirit is our guide and He will not lead us astray. We know that there is nothing good in man: The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. (Jer. 17:9) Our problem on this issue is not ambiguity; it is rebellion and unbelief. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)

        My prayer is that we will all meet Christ with a clean heart, clothed in His righteousness.

        When He shall come with trumpet sound,
        Oh, may I then in Him be found,
        Clothed in His righteousness alone,
        Faultless to stand before the throne!
        On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
        All other ground is sinking sand.
        [Edward Mote - My Hope is Built on Nothing Less]

      • Thomas Jordan says:

        William, can you please list for me those scriptures that prove that God has established homosexual marriage as His ideal and original template for humankind. Can you also list for me those scriptures that prove that God blesses homosexual marriage and approves of same sex sexual activity. I am anxiously awaiting your response.

      • Ian McDonald says:

        What specific behavior of the 75 you mention in Leviticus are you talking about? Are you referring to the dietary laws or moral code?

      • stanley m. vidal says:

        The scripture in Romans 1:26-27 plainly says that: those who burn with passion with their own kind (woman to woman and man to man) are committing things that God despised. It did not mention homosexuals… though. Just like when when we say, Is smoking prohibited in the Bible? Of course you can’t find a verse for such… but what the Bible says is, ” do not destroy your body…”

      • William T says:

        William,
        Seems your argument is with Jesus, the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As recorded in Matthew 19 in his discourse on divorce, Jesus defined marriage for yesterday, today, and forever.

      • Drew says:

        Do you ever get tired of regurgitating the same old talking points? Do you really believe that we somehow invented this new form of “homosexuality” in the 20th and 21st centuries? All of your arguments could also be made for child marriages and multi-partner marriages.

    • Christopher Munro says:

      Stephen heard, you have to realize that you can’t simply read a passage that is as plain as day and understand the meaning and follow it. You should know that is not how it works. You have to look at the context, time period, and the audience. You also should spend some time going back to the original language. According to the Bible, if a woman’s husband dies and she hasn’t had a son, she must marry his brother and have intercourse with him until she has a son (Mark 12:18-27). This text is as plain as day and we should follow it or we are an anti Christ, right? Isn’t that what you just said? Sometimes, biblically wives are good, but concubines are better. Many of the “men of God” were not only married, but at least three of them had more than one concubine (Abraham, Caleb, Solomon) and they remained “men of God.” But like I said, “biblically wives are good” and there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Right? So, why not have many wives? God frequently blessed polygamists (Esau, Jacob, Gideon, David, Solomon, Belshazzar). As far as sexuality and the Bible’s perspective on woman as property and as slaves… well, as you can imagine, it does not get any better. When people say they want to get back to Biblical Marriage, I wonder what marriage in the Bible they are referring too? Solomon and his many wives? David and his adultery and Bathsheba? Abraham and Sarah and sleeping with the Maid, Haggar? There are lots of polygamous marriages, do we want to go back to that, I mean it is Biblical marriage. AGAIN, The point is this: most of us have matured enough theologically to recognize that we need to contextualize the writings of the Bible, and because of it we have moved passed using these examples as the end-all-be-all on acceptable practices of sexuality. However, somehow, we have not managed to apply the very same understanding to the Bible verses that have become known as the “clobber verses” in the Bible. “Clobber” because they are the verses most used to clobber people who are gay or who support gay rights.

      • James says:

        Jesus is pretty clear about one man one woman in Mathew 19. He also refers back to Genesis to reference the root of his understanding.

  3. Scott Mann says:

    God bless everyone!

  4. Seestraight says:

    Those who make the Bible there God will have trouble finding God in the Bible

    • William T says:

      Seestraight,
      Please direct me to the place other than the Bible that I can find the written Word of God.

  5. ed selby says:

    This comments section is yet more evidence to support the USA not being a Christian nation. Y’all can’t even agree with yourselves, and you are just one sub-sub-sub-set of a myriad of denominations of Christianity.

  6. Linda Becker says:

    I agree 100% with the church’s decision. I was active in the Methodist church all my life and am so thankful for each saint that took me under their wing. Then when a few crises occurred with the pastor, and we saw how corrupt the district superintendent’s office was run, we had to leave.
    Very impressed with the prayerful and respectful attitude in which this was handled on both sides. God will bless those that keep His Word in truth. Godspeed

  7. Rev. Joe says:

    In the Philippines, there are now eight conferences established, since we left UMC. The denomination which we now belong is AIMPilipinas-(Ang Iglesia Metodista sa Pilipinas. We are then registered in the Philippines Securities and Exchange since December 11, 2011.

  8. God, created man then woman. God created them differently. God created man and woman with the ability to reproduce other children, some of them boys and someofthem girls. Together these different humans will reproduce other boys and girls. It simple to a simple man like me, seems oblivious to me that God gave us these bodies so that we could reproduce! Also seems that if we choose to partner with the same sex we are not using our bodies as God intended when he created us. It also seems, to me, that if we do not use our bodies as God intended, then we just might be opposing God! We make our choices and we live with them as well as the consequences that may result.

    This may be too simple to understand!

  9. Eric Pone says:

    Evenutually Conferences will be forced to let churches leave and many will net nothing in return. Most conferences have money issues and simply can’t afford to keep up the building and property of one major campus let alone multiple campuses. Eventually a peaceful break will be needed.

  10. Ian McDonald says:

    So EPAC followed the Book of Discipline in this instance. If the Book of Discipline had been followed in the previous instances that lead up to this Churches departure, this would not have happened. After reading this article it is apparent that they tried to undermine Good News and Walter Fenton’s article albeit very poorly. I wonder if the UM Reporter will take such a stance if other churches leave the connection after 2016 if the stance on homosexuality is not changed at General Conference.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference (EPAC) spread across the Internet (based largely on Walter Fenton’s story at Good News Magazine). As Fenton reported, the Wesley United Methodist Church in Quarryville, PA voted to leave the […]

  2. […] individualism (which makes as much sense as “biblical obedience”) will only make the house of cards fall […]

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