Gracious Exit Supported

By Thomas Lambrecht –

According to an article by Heather Hahn of UM New Service, “A theologically diverse group of United Methodists wants General Conference delegates to prioritize passing a ‘gracious and equitable’ plan for churches exiting the denomination.

“‘While we pray for a unified way forward, the reality of our circumstance convinces us that any decision made at the 2019 special session will likely lead to congregations and pastors deciding they are no longer able to remain in The United Methodist Church,’ said an open letter put together by 16 clergy and lay members of the West Ohio Conference.

“‘We write to urge the 2019 Special Session to approve a gracious and equitable process for exit.'”

Good News sees the provision of an exit path for congregations to leave the denomination and keep their property to be of paramount importance in moving forward. No matter what plan is passed (or even if no plan is passed) at General Conference in February, some congregations will find it impossible to continue living in The United Methodist Church in whatever the new reality turns out to be. Rather than tie up bishops, annual conferences, and local congregations in expensive lawsuits that drain away the church’s time, money, and energy, an exit path would provide a way to amicably allow churches to depart (which in itself would be a positive witness to the watching world). In addition, a uniform exit path would prevent unfair treatment of congregations, where an annual conference might let one church go, but not another, or where different annual conferences would have different ways of handling departing congregations that resulted in some congregations being able to leave with their property and others not.

While the Renewal and Reform Coalition does not support every one of the proposed financial provisions in the letter, we strongly endorse the concept of an exit path and support it being the first action of the special General Conference. Such a move could remove the temptation for supporters of whichever plan passes General Conference to be less than generous with those not supporting the plan. And it could greatly decrease the anxiety across the church.

As of this writing, over 1,700 lay and clergy United Methodists have signed the letter calling on General Conference to provide such an exit path. If you would like to read the letter and sign your support, you may do so by clicking HERE.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. He also served as a member of the Commission on a Way Forward.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Tom, there’s a lot of talk about planning for gracious exit for congregations (even annual conferences), but what about individual clergy? As an ordained elder, if I were to decide I should leave (if, for instance, my congregation decided to exit and wanted me to continue as their pastor and I agreed to that), would I be held in the denomination because of itineracy?

    What would a gracious exit plan look like for clergy who want to continue to 1) have their ordination recognized, and 2) continue to participate in the pension and health care programs? If this is explained somewhere, I’ve missed it.

    • Ommer Everson says:

      Mike,

      I’m sorry you are having to deal with this, but in my opinion and the opinion of many others, this is past the point of pension and health benefits and jobs. This is about scripture and God’s word. The Clergy are the ones who brought this whole situation on. I’m not saying you, but if the UMC had held their clergy accountable to God’s word rather than what the world thinks and their favorite word UNITY there wouldn’t be any issues at this point.

    • Rev. Thomas Lambrecht says:

      Hello, Mike.

      Clergy have always been able to leave the denomination and are not held in by itinerancy. We do not have provisions for transferring credentials (although that provision is in the Traditional Plan). In our Discipline, clergy have to withdraw to unite with another denomination. This involves (I believe) surrendering one’s credentials and being re-ordained by the other denomination. Assuming a clergy person left the UMC to join either a progressive or evangelical Methodist denomination, that new denomination would have to make provision for credentialing its clergy.

      Regarding pensions, the Traditional Plan explicitly allows exiting clergy to continue with Wespath under a plan sponsored by their new denomination. I don’t believe the generic exit path that has been proposed deals at all with clergy (except see above). However, Wespath is positioning itself to be able to offer services to clergy who become part of an exiting group. However, there are plenty of other pension programs out there if the Wespath connection does not materialize.

      Tom Lambrecht

  2. Of course good, truthful, and honest people would naturally agree with a gracious exit plan. And, good, truthful, and honest people would not support these non-traditional plans as well because neither are good, honest, or truthful.

    As Carolyn Moore points out, others have tried the one church plan approach. Will the UMC learn from history or repeat it?

    https://juicyecumenism.com/2018/10/10/elca-umc-one-church-plan/

  3. Have all considered the words of John Wesley on the issue of schism?
    In particular, consider these: “The pretences for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause.”

    It is evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christian, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretences for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of he Spirit in the bound of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined: To that of St. Paul, “Let brotherly love continue:” — that of St. John, “My beloved children, love one another;” — and especially to that of our blessed Master, “This is my commandment, That ye love on another, as I have loved you” Yea, “By this,” saith he, “shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.”

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