By Walter Fenton-
A congregation in Wichita, Kansas, that averages 350 in worship has voted to leave The United Methodist Church. As a satellite campus of Asbury UM Church, the congregation announced its decision on Sunday, March 19.
“Some pastors and people are weary of all the defiance and unaccountability in the denomination,” said the Rev. Rick Just, senior pastor of Asbury UM Church. “While we at the central campus are praying and waiting for the Commission on a Way Forward to provide leadership and guidance during this unsettling time, Pastor Aaron Wallace, the leadership team, and the congregation at our west campus reached the conclusion that the ongoing battles in the denomination are a distraction from the kind of kingdom work they want to do.”
Asbury UM Church planted its west campus site 10 years ago in an effort to reach unchurched people and younger families on Wichita’s growing west side. The satellite congregation grew quickly and attracted its target audience. The west campus is filled with people in their 30s and 40s, and boasts thriving programs for children and youth. The central campus also remains one of the healthiest and most evangelistic churches in the Great Plains Annual Conference.
“We are sad about their departure,” said Just, “but church leaders have been going their separate ways to do ministry since Peter and Paul took different paths. Asbury is proud of what we accomplished with our west campus. We’re not bitter about the situation, and we foresee partnership opportunities with Pastor Wallace and his congregation as we all work to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
In a media statement shared with Good News, Wallace acknowledged his “struggle with some of the conflict that has been occurring in the life of the denomination.”
According to an article by Todd Seifert, Communication Director for the Great Plains Annual Conference, Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr., the episcopal leader in the area, said, “Clergy and laity throughout The United Methodist Church are in a season of waiting and discernment as members of the denomination experience varying levels of frustration with the impasse on human sexuality and the unity of the church. The denomination is awaiting a ruling from the Judicial Council on the election of an openly gay bishop serving in the Western Jurisdiction and is following closely the progress of the Commission on a Way Forward, a group appointed by the Council of Bishops to review language related to human sexuality in the Book of Discipline.”
Word of the congregation’s decision comes just weeks after two large UM churches in Mississippi voted to leave the denomination. Both congregations are still in conversations with Mississippi Annual Conference leaders regarding the terms of their exits.
“I fear these departures are just the most visible manifestations of what is going on across the connection,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President of Good News. “People hoped our bishops would stand up and defend our church’s teachings on marriage and its sexual ethics, instead, they’ve witnessed a train of defiance and dysfunction. My guess is many more rank-and-file United Methodists are just simply walking away from local churches. It’s a sad indictment of many of our leaders.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.