Florida WCA President Surrenders Credentials over Extreme Requirements

By Thomas Lambrecht –

​​​​​The Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the Florida regional chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, surrendered his credentials as an ordained elder on July 8. He did so because of requirements that had been placed upon him by the conference board of ordained ministry that were inconsistent with the Book of Discipline and violated the policies of the Florida WCA. (Therrell was on leave of absence in order to serve as the Florida WCA president.)

Therrell gives a complete account of how the situation came to this point in a recent blog. The blog includes copies of the board of ordained ministry’s requirement letter and Therrell’s response to Bishop Ken Carter.

Essentially, both the bishop and the board of ordained ministry had been working over the past year to gain access to the names of the churches and leaders with whom Therrell had been in conversation about the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation and the options available to churches under the Protocol. It became apparent that Florida UM leaders wanted to monitor the content that Therrell was sharing with the churches and leaders.

In addition, pastors were fearful that they could be punished for allowing information to be shared and options discussed in their local churches. Licensed local pastors (unordained clergy) are particularly vulnerable, since a bishop can withdraw their appointments at any time for any reason, and district committees on ordained ministry can decline to renew their license for ministry at any time and for any reason.

As we have seen in other annual conferences, when licensed local pastors are proactive in sharing information with their congregations, conference officials sometimes remove them summarily from ministry. Basically, they are fired for doing what good pastors do in helping their churches stay informed and be proactive in planning for the future. We have also seen even ordained traditional clergy moved to a new appointment simply for sharing information with their congregations.

The board of the Florida WCA chapter had determined to protect the identity of those churches and leaders who consulted with Therrell. They did this to protect vulnerable clergy from being fired and to allow churches to explore options and receive information without the threat of the annual conference closing their church (something that has happened in other annual conferences).

Despite repeated requests over a year’s time from the bishop and district superintendents for this sensitive information, both Therrell and the Florida WCA board refused to disclose it. In fact, the attempt to muzzle Therrell began before he even became president of the Florida chapter. Therrell was forced to resign from the Florida cabinet in 2020 because the bishop wanted to forbid him from working on helping to create what became known as the Global Methodist Church in Florida. At the time of his resignation, Therrell was asked to sign a covenant restricting his ability to speak with other clergy or laity about a proposed new traditionalist denomination. Therrell declined.

The Ultimatum

In June of this year, the Florida board of ordained ministry gave Therrell an ultimatum: report the required sensitive information or (it was implied) run the risk of having charges filed against him for disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church. The board imposed three requirements:

1. Provide a “full and complete list of all ministerial activities performed while on leave… [including] the dates and locations for all past and henceforth meetings with United Methodist clergy and laity,” whether on church-owned or non-church-owned property.

2. Obtain permission from the district superintendent for any meeting to be held with UM clergy or laity as president of the Florida WCA.

3. Video record all gatherings with Florida UM clergy and laity, with the recording to be given to the district superintendent and the board of ordained ministry.

These requirements would have ended Therrell’s ability to serve in the role of Florida WCA president because all of the district superintendents would have denied permission for Therrell to meet with anyone. The requirements would have exposed vulnerable clergy and congregations to potential punitive action by the Florida bishop and cabinet and would have had a chilling effect on the ability of Florida UM churches to gain information and consider options in light of the Protocol.

The board of ordained ministry’s rationale from the Discipline for these requirements was that they constitute “ministerial activities” that must be reported to the board. Meeting with clergy and laity to inform them about the Protocol was considered “giving guidance, training, and equipping to laity,” which is a ministerial activity. Raising funds was also considered a ministerial activity. Because Therrell was on personal leave of absence in order to serve as the Florida WCA president, the Discipline prohibits him from conducting any ministerial activities outside of the local church where he holds membership, unless the bishop or district superintendent gives permission.

Through a Pharisaical application of the provisions of the Discipline, the board of ordained ministry prohibited Therrell from serving as Florida WCA president while also being an ordained clergy. Activities that any layperson could do – holding informational meetings, writing articles, and raising funds – suddenly became impossible for Therrell to do as an ordained elder. That left him no choice but to surrender his ordination credentials in order to continue serving in the position to which he believed God had called him.

Hypocrisy?

Florida’s attempts to muzzle Therrell are unprecedented. No other district superintendent coming off the cabinet and going on personal leave was prohibited from meeting with clergy and laity in the conference. No other person on leave of absence was required to report all meetings held with clergy and laity, much less video record them and give those recordings to the cabinet and board of ordained ministry.

According to Therrell, the same executive committee of the board of ordained ministry that imposed these outrageous requirements on Therrell allowed an ordained elder who is a lesbian married to another woman to return from leave of absence and be transferred to a conference in the Western Jurisdiction, where she would not face charges under the Discipline. This was done in secret without the involvement of the full board of ordained ministry, and the required interview with the board was even waived. Failure to file a complaint for such a clear violation of the Discipline, while holding Therrell to a standard not even the Discipline envisions, smacks of a double standard. As Therrell says in his letter to Bishop Carter, “If an elder is progressive and violating the Discipline, they are given great latitude. If an elder is a traditionalist and conducting lawful activities that promote the current official stance of The United Methodist Church, they are harassed endlessly.”

Throughout his involvement on the Commission on a Way Forward and since the 2019 General Conference, Bishop Carter has promoted the idea that we should interact with each other with a heart of peace, rather than a heart of war. Unfortunately, with its continued harassment and opposition to Therrell, the Florida conference leadership, including Bishop Carter, has not exhibited a heart of peace. Punitive actions, the attempt to prohibit information sharing, striving to control the messaging, all demonstrate a win-lose attitude that only heightens conflict. The motivation of Florida UM leaders, like those in some other annual conferences, seems to be to use any and every strategy to keep as many churches as possible from joining the proposed new Global Methodist Church. The power and agency of laity is being disregarded and their ability to choose to meet with persons to learn about the new Global Methodist Church is being compromised.

The way forward for The United Methodist Church is not to be found in heightened confrontation and conflict. Instead, it is to be found in mutual respect, transparent leadership, and facilitating individual congregational and membership choice. The whole point of the Protocol is to provide a fair and amicable way for United Methodists to decide whether they want to continue being part of a Methodist church that is evolving away from Scriptural Christianity and toward cultural affirmation, or whether they want to be part of a Methodist church that maintains the bedrock doctrines of the Christian faith and a traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality.

Therrell can continue his role as Florida WCA president, working for a new traditionalist Methodist church, now without the hindrance and harassment of Florida conference leaders. When the Global Methodist Church forms, he will be able to receive ordination in that new denomination and serve in pastoral leadership. Still, his costly stand for integrity and faithfulness to the Gospel is an example for all of us to follow. We salute all such clergy, some of whom have lost their livelihoods and others forced through the upheaval of an unplanned (and sometimes punitive) move to a new church.

There are definitely some parts of the church where the theological conflict is causing casualties. We hope and pray that cooler heads will prevail. Such internecine warfare does not serve the Kingdom of God or the mission of the church. Power plays and punishment for theological differences do not build a healthy church. These situations simply demonstrate yet again how necessary the Protocoland separation really are. We continue to urge its support by all fair-minded General Conference delegates.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.

Comments

  1. Tom Fuller says

    When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. (Luke 12:11-12)

  2. wil meiklejohn says

    Sure would be nice to get the whole story rather than the ‘he said, they said, he did, they did ‘ one-sided perspectives and interpretations. All that this piece accomplishes is to further deepen the division and bolster anger and negativity. Being called to ‘bury the hatchet’ doesn’t mean to aggressively plant it in the skull of someone with whom you have a difference of opinion. “The first casualty is truth”.

    • The whole story? The truth? When will there be an all out effort by the present UMC to actually allow the practice of “open doors, open hearts, and open minds” and allow it, encourage it all to be put on the table for a full vetting for all Methodists who are interested and willing to listen to the whole story, the truth?

      Place the two emerging denominations, the Post Separation United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church, “on stage” in church charge conferences or whatever format that works, even requiring it of annual conferences, and have them present their visions for their expressions of Methodism based on Scripture and Wesleyan Theology followed by questions and answers.

      I would be in a front row seat.

      • I find it interesting that while you proclaim “Open Doors Open Hearts Opens Minds” you choose as a traditionalist to only practice that when it’s convenient to your view. Seems to me that some of you folks need to take a good look in the mirror. What you are actually practicing is Closed Doors, Closed Hearts and Closed Minds, and the more closed off the better. It’s just a typical case of following the “rules” that suit you and ignoring what you don’t like.

        • JLA,
          How would placing the visions of both emerging denominations side by side — the post separation UMC and the Global Methodist Church — for ALL Methodists to compare and contrast be convenient to my view unless you’re fearful of defending the liberal vision based on Scripture and Wesleyan theology? How could that be considered closed doors, closed hearts, and closed minds unless you’re fearful of having to use Scripture and Wesleyan theology to defend the liberal vision?

    • Wil,

      I’m concerned based on your comment that you either haven’t been following the actions of progressive bishops across the country, or you’re a supporter of those actions. One doesn’t have to look further than bishops appointing gays as ordained clergy, or sanctioning same-sex weddings to see their gross violations of the discipline.

      If a bishop is willing to publicly break church law and doctrine in furtherance of their own social agenda, what else might they be doing behind closed doors? Where does it end…

      While bishops openly violate law and doctrine, they are on a witchhunt for those they believe oppose their social justice warriorism. These bishops sin in the open and without repentance.

  3. That is the game plan. Make life miserable for traditionalist pastors and churches. Quash any discussions about separation. Force people and pastors to leave. Do it right and the Conference can seize the real estate and liquidate the assets. By the time the protocol comes around, if ever, there will be nothing left to separate.

  4. Peter Pillinger says

    “the Discipline prohibits him from conducting any ministerial activities outside of the local church where he holds membership, unless the bishop or district superintendent gives permission.”
    Mr Wesley, for whom ‘the world is my parish” would have been stopped from ministering by the Discipline!

  5. I’m glad to see the writers at Good News finally taking a hard-line approach to covering the evil and blatant sin inside the UMC. The actions we’re seeing taken by progressive bishops are in line with those we see in communist regimes. There is no shame in their actions, and they seldom try to hide behind them. I have seen bishops use a heavy hand against those who don’t hold their lines firsthand. Before I started digging several years ago into the practices of bishops (progressive), I couldn’t understand why so many pastors refused to discuss schism with their congregations. I later learned it was out of fear, that they remained silent.

    [Post edited for content]

    These folks are not repentant of their sins, but rather brag about them, and embolden others to sin as well.

  6. Reverend Jim Wolfgang- Memphis Conference says

    “Truth” is this pastor was forced to surrender his credentials for reasons that are not “chargeable offenses”. The truth of that is as obvious as the fruit borne by a tree reveals the type of tree. It is clearly obvious this pastor was unjustly treated and just as obvious this bishop and Board of Ordained Ministry persecuted him. That is “a heart of war” regardless of the hypocritical statements of Bishop Carter.

  7. Gary Bebop says

    Speaking truth to power in this time of extreme hostility toward anything traditional (in both scriptural and Disciplinary terms) will be costly because the crowd washes its hands of any understanding, any accountability. The crowd feasts on these stories while remaining undiscerning, undecided, and indifferent.

  8. Reynolds says

    They will not honor the protocol. The sooner you realize that then you can plan accordingly. I suggest you learn about the frog and the scorpion. It doesn’t end well. WCA needs to change tactics quickly or it will be the frog next year

  9. Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth says

    In May, Bishop Carter winsomely led a discussion of the Protocol and its ramifications for local churches, via Zoom, for a congregation beyond the boundaries of his Florida Episcopal Area (in the North Carolina Conference, to be specific). I find it baffling that the bishop would engage in such ministry, while denying or restricting one of his pastors from the ability to do the same.

    • “for they do not practice what they preach”.

      And, in the UMC polity, they are the emperor wearing no clothing as that hierarchy closes ranks and pretends they’re actually modeling what they’re preaching. As Jesus continually confronted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, the more entrenched, angry, and reactionary they became.

      Our liberal bishops must have inherited the same DNA, now on steroids, from those ancient Pharisees.

      Matthew 23:2-3
      2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

  10. jean lash says

    When is the UMC vote to separate? Was it postponed from a few weeks from now?? How can congregations retain their real estate? Or can they not?

    • Thank you for your question, Jean. The General Conference was postponed from May 2020 to August 2021. Then because of continuing pandemic, it was postponed again until August 2022. That is when the vote on the Protocol to allow separation will take place. Churches who separate under the terms of the Protocol will retain their real estate, buildings, and assets.

      Tom Lambrecht

      • John Loughry says

        I left the UMC because I was hearing more about what the Discipline said than the Bible. The Bible has to be the Guiding force.

        Have a Blessed Day,
        John W. Loughry

  11. The UM Church needs to ask itself these questions:
    1. How did the church get in this situation?
    2. Who elected the Bishops?
    3. Who authorized the electors to cast their ballots?
    4. Why has there been no outrage from the lay person.
    5. Why don’t the laity know the magnitude of the sin that has been allowed to fester in the church?
    6. Why aren’t the local pastors teaching and preaching about sin.
    7. Why are pastors preaching psychological sermons. The Word alone will help a person.

  12. Tom,
    You state —- “The way forward for The United Methodist Church is not to be found in heightened confrontation and conflict. Instead, it is to be found in mutual respect, transparent leadership, and facilitating individual congregational and membership choice. The whole point of the Protocol is to provide a fair and amicable way for United Methodists to decide whether they want to continue being part of a Methodist church that is evolving away from Scriptural Christianity and toward cultural affirmation, or whether they want to be part of a Methodist church that maintains the bedrock doctrines of the Christian faith and a traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality.”

    It has become obvious that far too many of our liberal brethren DO NOT AND CANNOT comprehend what you are talking about. They just do not play by those Christian, mature, and reasonable standards. That is, indeed, a sad reality.

  13. Mik Thundercloud says

    As a former Florida UMC lay speaker, involved in Conference level ministry, I learned (the hard way) that much of the FLUMC is dominated by some very well meaning Bureaucrats. They seem to be very protective of their “TURF” and appear fearful of lay members trying to influence the direction of the ministry. Unfortunately, I had fairly extensive professional experience in the work, and was not sufficiently willing to follow the Conference leaders. I also was trying to find my way to better follow Scripture, and had to better understand the Book of Discipline.

    In hindsight (always 20/20), I handled the minor conflicts with an arrogance from my “knowing” how to do things better. But I continue to believe the FLUMC Conference Leadership has an arrogance and personal NEED for control that is suppressing ideas and suggestions from various directions. It serves to reduce speech, and innovation. It is antithetical to Christian Ideals and progress toward a meaningful walk closer to Jesus.

    The RIGHTs of Speech, Thought, Prayer, and Assembly all come from GOD. Only POWER comes through election and position.

    This is ONLY my opinion as a Lay Member of the UMC. I am NOT a Pastor, have NOT attended Seminary, am NOT a Biblical Scholar, nor do I have ANY degree in such issues. I AM a believer in Jesus Christ, the embodiment of GOD on earth, and my personal Savior.

    I now live in the Holston Conference, but have not found a local church that feels comfortable nearby. So my family attends a Free Will Baptist church on occasion, or drives over an hour to Munsey UMC in nearby Johnson City, TN. I am no longer involved in UMC ministry. I volunteer my time in local charitable events and programs that allow me to follow my own calling.

    I have 1 son, who is Gay and another currently in Prison. I also have a son who served our country in the military, was injured, and rose above to become an Elite Police Officer, Husband, Father, Christian and a generous person, friend to many. I love each of them deeply, but I am not blind to the issues that they, and I struggle with. We all SIN daily, but as a Father and Husband, I try to teach my family what the RIGHT (Scripturally) way for which we should strive.

    Teachers (including Pastors, Bishops, Speakers, Fathers, Husbands) have a responsibility, given to them by those who look to their guidance to make every effort to teach the Jesus Way. We must all strive to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

  14. In our fine church, under exemplary leadership, we have heard and seen a good number of videos and presentations supporting the established denomination but nary a word explaining or defending the “traditional” position, and that won’t change.

  15. I find if wrong that the focus seems to be on a congregation not being “welcoming”. Our controversy is clergy who take ordination vows to a church and arrogantly manage a church however they see fit. The Oath and the laws of the UMC mean Nothing to our clergy, yet other countries are shocked by how little respect they give the Book of Discipline. In their country, it is NOT an out-dated piece of literature with “suggestions” of how to manage a church. Nor is the Bible a piece of archaic history, an irrelevant piece of literature, that is inapplicable to today’s society.

    UMC clergy have openly and Intentionally broken their vows to lead as United Methodist Clergy. The sheep that they are leading are blind to the real truth and disobedience which they flaunt. There should be discussion classes being held in every UMC right now, so the church can make an educated decision on whether or not they want their church to remain in the UMC or take it and walk after division. Now is the time!! However, I have yet to see Ken Carter make a video presentation for all congregations to watch and discuss (I am in Florida). If Carter put it on the table, in a truthful manner, he would have extreme disorder in Florida. So many members have no idea what is happening, and the decision for their church will be made by a few, under the influence of whatever Bishop leads their conference. Pastors don’t want to lose their jobs, so they are sheep as well!

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