By Walter Fenton-
The largest local church in the Mississippi Annual Conference in terms of worship attendance and one of the 25 fastest growing churches in the U.S. has now officially exited The United Methodist Church. According to lead pastor Bryan Collier, The Orchard Church (Tupelo) reached a settlement with conference leaders that made its departure official as of May 19, 2017.
The congregation agreed to pay 100 percent of its 2017 apportionments and to release the annual conference from all financial and legal liabilities. In turn, the conference has released the congregation from the trust clause. Therefore, The Orchard now has complete and unfettered ownership of its property and assets. (Local UM churches hold their property and assets in trust for the annual conference in which they reside, and would normally have to surrender the property and assets if they decided to leave the denomination.)
“There was just no question among [The Orchard’s] leaders that this was right move for us,” said Collier. “Our departure was not about the homosexuality issue per se, but about the general church’s inability to deal with it. Unfortunately, its failure became an enormous distraction to the kingdom work our congregation is called to do.”
“The Orchard fully embraces, as it does with all people, its need to minister to those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and with their families and friends as well,” said Collier. “But the denomination was not helping us do that. The Judicial Council’s recent, convoluted decision is emblematic of [the UM Church’s] inability to put the disagreement to rest. We didn’t want to let this one issue distract us anymore. We know the arguments on both sides, we’re clear in our hearts and minds where we stand, and we’re prepared to move forward accordingly.”
The multi-campus church has facilities in Tupelo, Baldwyn, and Oxford, and averages over 2,600 in worship attendance. Collier is the congregation’s founding pastor, and he and the church are celebrating 20 years of ministry together this year.
At the same time, Getwell Road UM Church in Southaven, Mississippi, also gave notice of its plan for an exit. Collier and the Rev. Bill Beavers, Getwell’s senior pastor, characterized their negotiations with Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., the episcopal leader in the Mississippi Area, and other conference officials as peaceful and civil.
Collier noted that there was no good model for a congregation that wants to leave honorably and without rancor, so both parties had to be creative. “Everyone in the process has tried hard to be God honoring,” said Collier. “We’re most appreciative of the tone of the conversation between ourselves and the conference’s leadership. It was peaceful because both sides were committed to making it so.” Getwell exited the denomination on June 4.
The Rev. Victoria White, Director of Connectional Ministries and Communications for the Mississippi Annual Conference, said, “We encourage everyone to keep the congregations at The Orchard and Getwell Road, and the entire Mississippi Annual Conference in their thoughts and prayers.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.
The “Trust Clause” is a mute point. It makes no sense to maintain a building that the UMC cannot afford to maintain. I pray that the true Methodist Church will reform under the truth of our Holy Bible.
I fail to understand why congregations think that separating themselves from the body of Christ’s church is a step forward. Consider.the Gospel of John. It is replete with statements affirming unity. The high priestly prayer, Chapter 17, reads,”that they may be one, even as we are one”. (RSV)
. Whenever I hear of a separation, I think that the congregants have not considered the virtues and strengths that abide in wholeness, unity.— The Commission on a Way Forward I believe is looking for a way and ways that can keep the church as the body of Christ whole and one. This is why deliberations are taking so long. Dear friends, it is premature to just leave.
. I hope that the day will come when the aforementioned congregations will see their way clear to reuniting with the United Methodist Church.
There seems to be no way forward when our values are diametrically opposite. Can oil mix with water? The sad truth is that many pastors and leaders have departed from the holy faith once delivered To the saints. Too many seminaries are teaching error and young seminarians are being indoctrinated into a false Gospel. They parrot what they are taught to congregations they are assigned to and lead the unaware and Biblically ignorant into a Gospel that is popular with the world but estranged from what our Lord Jesus taught. We are supposed to rescue the perishing with the hope that when they repent from their sins they can be forgiven by a loving Savior. Jesus died for our sins if we repent and turn away from our sins and follow him in a holy life. We are to love the sinner but hate sin. I am afraid the actions condoned by the world are now being incorporated into our congregations. We are supposed to be in the world but not of it. We will continue to lose more people if we don’t return to true Biblical teaching.
Dear Friend, Outside the Written Word of God, the Spirit of Truth & a willingness to Obey the scriptures in our carnal natures THERE IS NO UNITY….AND NEVER CAN BE. Either the Word of God is Truth or it is a lie. If it is the Truth – then let “every” opinion and voice and opinion conform to the Holy Scriptures and ONLY then can we have unity. The commission on a Way Forward is looking ( in my opinion) under every politically correct rock for the answer. My friend, for a Christian – our answer and guide is the Written Word of God – period!
The theological foundation of historic Methodism is not scripture alone, but rather the “three legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason/experience. Sola Scriptura is foreign to pure Methodist theology. Your statement that the only “answer and guide is the written word of God” fits very well with the more fundamentalist denominations in America, but really doesn’t hold water theologically in the Methodist tradition.
It is, however, the first “foot” forward and the last step that lights the way home!
Hear, Hear! I just graduated from one of “those” seminaries. As I am not “young” their attempts at indoctrination fell on deaf ears. You have used two words that are not in the mainstream of Methodist thinking in our times: “repent” and “sin”. I am afraid that we gave up on Wesley’s notions of a “holy life” a long time ago. Secular philosophy is the new canon of the church. We are thus only devoted now to the “cause” of Jesus rather than the “Christ”. This is the castrated form of Christianity that Wesley rightly feared would become the end of Methodism in both Europe and America.