The Education Committee to Discern the Way Forward (ECDWF) was created when HFUMC Council of Stewards determined that it was important for our congregation to be made aware of the fundamental differences that have divided the Methodist Church for decades, to study those differences, and to inform and educate the congregation on these issues.
It is important that we, Hendersonville First United Methodist Church members, engage in a prayerful discernment process as we anticipate further action and denominational divides around these issues.
Latest updates from the Committee
ECDWF Update to the Council of Stewards and Congregation
Since August of 2022 when the Council of Stewards approved the formation of the Education Committee to Discern the Way Forward (ECDWF), the committee has worked tirelessly to accomplish the task assigned— to educate the congregation on the issues facing the United Methodist Church as they relate to HFUMC in an unbiased and factual manner and to facilitate a fair and open discourse so that the congregation is informed.
A number of people in our congregation have asked for an update on the status of the ECDWF’s process and the next steps going forward.
The ECDWF has held 10 committee meetings to date, conducted a congregation wide questionnaire, and is in the process of conducting listening sessions.
The committee elected to complete the listening sessions prior to releasing the analysis of the questionnaire. Those details will be provided here in the church newsletter in mid-April.
Listening sessions for Sunday Schools and Small Groups are ongoing and will be completed the last week of March. A church wide listening session will be conducted on April 23, 2023. The intent of the church wide listening session is to provide an opportunity for those who have not attended a Sunday School or Small Group session a chance to be heard. The session will follow the same format that has been used in all listening sessions to date. Details on time and location will be forthcoming.
The committee will submit its report to the Council of Stewards on May 21, 2023. The Council will reconvene two weeks later to decide what steps will follow.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Education Committee to Discern the Way Forward (ECDWF) prepared this document to educate and inform our congregation of the issues we face. The committee is charged with providing the issues in an unbiased and factual manner based on extensive research and consultation with experts in our denomination.
In the coming months the ECDWF will host a number of informational and listening sessions to both explain the situation and to gain an understanding of our members’ thoughts. We trust this document will serve as a foundation for those sessions.
The issues are complex and often confusing. We ask that each member draw his or her conclusions with prayerful discernment.
The information is organized in the following manner:
- The ECDWF— its purpose, organization, and objectives
- Issues facing the United Methodist Church
- Specific issues applicable to HFUMC
- The next steps for HFUMC
A. What is the mission and who are the members of the ECDWF?
- The task of the ECDWF is to provide factual, unbiased information to our congregation about the issues currently facing the UMC, while also providing constructive forums for congregants to ask questions and initiate in prayerful dialogue together. The ECDWF will share the findings resulting from the questionnaire and listening sessions with the Council of Stewards.
- The members of the ECDWF are:
- Dennis D. Cavin (Chair)
- David Bair (Chair of Staff Parish Relations Committee)
- Ted Brown
- Dave Cleary
- Mike Fussell (Chair of Christian Legacy Committee)
- Kelley Hess
- Don Hutchinson (Senior Pastor)
- Mary Cay Koen
- Patrick Parker (Chair of HFUMC Trustees)
- Tracey Silverman (Chair of Council of Stewards)
- Joshua Strader (Associate Pastor of Connections)
- Rebecca Wells (Chair of Children First Committee)
- The ECDWF is not responsible for making decisions on behalf of HFUMC. Rather, the scope of work within this team will be to educate the congregation on the issues facing the United Methodist Church as they relate to HFUMC and to facilitate a fair and open discourse so that the congregation is informed.
B: What are the Major Issues Facing the UMC?
The UMC has historically been a church of diverse views especially on social issues. Our churches range theologically from conservative to moderate to progressive. Many believe that this diversity makes us better able to make disciples of the world. Feelings about homosexuality are very diverse around the world as are feelings about how literally to read the Bible. We do not differ on the fact that we come to salvation by grace through faith, the triune God, the golden rule, or the great commission, creeds, or other basic tenants of our Faith. We differ dramatically in our view about the church’s approach to human sexuality. We are also being asked if we can remain one with others who think differently.
On the surface of this divide is homosexuality yet advocates on both sides of the controversy agree homosexuality, is just one issue that divides the denomination. The divide is much deeper and more profound than has been addressed in both the media and some parochial publications.
As in most things there are two prominent views to this divide.
One view holds the application of scripture as the most important consideration in determining the orthodoxy of our beliefs. Do we believe in the Bible or not? If we ignore the 6 passages about homosexuality, what will be next? Should we punish ministers/ churches/ conferences that do not follow the UMC Book of Discipline, our constitution?
Another view would say that homosexuality is the one tipping point of the discussion. We have always had diversity in the interpretation of scripture even though we all believe that scripture is sufficient to bring people to salvation. We haven’t come to this talk of splitting over the Virgin Birth or at what point Christ became both fully human and divine. These topics have been around forever and are certainly not mainstream thoughts or concerns. People have historically left the Methodist Church over other important issues such as slavery and civil rights.
The church’s 2016 Book of Discipline recognizes the “sacred worth” of all persons, but also states that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and bans financial support of LGBTQ+-based groups. Since the 2019 Special General Conference, which confirmed the principles spelled out in the Book of Discipline that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian beliefs and that the sanctity of marriage is between one man and one-woman, the divisiveness has only deepened. Given the outcome of the 2019 Conference, progressive churches and conferences have made it clear they will not support the governing rules of the Book of Discipline and that the denomination has reached a position of irreconcilable differences.
There is little question that the US has experienced dramatic division over cultural issues bringing into question shared morals, values, and beliefs.
Below is a simplified look at the issues in point-counter point manner. This is not to suggest that a person resides in just one column or the other. Many people find they agree and disagree with positions in both columns and would consider themselves Centrist.
It is abundantly clear that the Methodist Church is irreconcilably divided over the authority of Scripture, the interpretation of the Bible, and the debate over the church’s sexual ethics, including its teachings on marriage and its ordination standards. This debate can be summarized by the intertwined subjects of biblical interpretation and the church’s understanding of scriptural authority. ***
The United Methodist Church does not recognize or celebrate same-sex marriages. According to the Book of Discipline, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” The denomination’s official policy includes support of laws that define marriage as a union of one man and one woman as reaffirmed in the 2019 Special Conference. **
Nevertheless, many clergy and individual churches have voted to celebrate weddings despite restrictions set by the General Conference. **
One well known prominent Methodist minister has proposed that there are three categories or buckets that the Scriptures can be divided into: (1) some parts of the Bible were never actually true expressions of God’s will, so they do not apply to us, because they reflect only the time and place in which they were written,(( Very Small Bucket)), (2) other parts were true expressions of God’s will at one time, but no longer are, so they do not speak to our current context of God’s will for us has changed, ((Small Bucket)), (3) there are parts of the Bible that were true, still are, and always will be (( Large Bucket)). ***
** “ United Methodist Divided” by Dale McConkey
*** “Are We Really Better Together” by Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton
C. How did the United Methodist Church come to this point in our history?
The Methodist movement began in England in 1738 with the Methodist Episcopal Church formation in 1784. The Evangelical United Brethren evolved from German-speaking religious movements that started in the early 19th century. The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Churches merged in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church.
The history of the Methodist Church is replete with division and splits dating from 1792 when the Republican Methodist melded into the Church of Christ all the way up to 1968 with the Evangelical Church of North America from EUB/Methodist merger. Issues that have caused these splits include:
Bishops Authority to appoint preachers
Discrimination and slavery
Lack of laity representation and elder election
Church government by bishops and pastoral appointments
Loss of Wesleyan standards by “new school” Methodism
Emphasis on sanctifying grace (holiness)
Local Churches ownership of their property
D. Understanding the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, originated over two hundred years ago. It is the instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which United Methodist govern themselves. The Discipline defines what is expected of laity and clergy as they seek to be effective witnesses in the world as part of the whole body of Christ. As of today, during every ordination ceremony at Annual Conferences, prospective ministers are asked if they will abide by and uphold the Book of Discipline once ordained.
The Book of Discipline is a book of covenants that set forth the theological grounding of The United Methodist Church in biblical faith. It asserts that all who are baptized and confirmed are ministers of Jesus Christ. It affirms with John Wesley that solitary religion is invalid and that Christ lays claim upon the whole life of those who accept him as Lord and Savior.
The Book of Discipline contains a constitution that guides churches with a legislative process (General Conference held every four years), an executive process (Council of Bishops, annual conferences, and local churches) and a judiciary process (Judicial Council).
The Book of Discipline states that the mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.
The Book of Discipline
Tables of Contents
- A Brief History of The United Methodist Church
- The Constitution
- Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task
- Articles of Religion of The United Methodist Church
- The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church
- The Ministry of All Christians
- Social Principles
- The Local Church
- The Ministry of the Ordained
- The Superintendency
- The Conferences
- Administrative Order
- Church Property
- Judicial Administration
E. The Methodist Church is governed by a hierarchy of Conferences
- General Conference
The General Conference is the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church and is the only entity authorized to speak officially for the church. General Conference customarily meets every four years to determine legislation related to connectional matters but can meet at other times for special called sessions. Changes to The Book of Discipline can only be authorized by the General Conference. Each annual conference elects pastors and lay people as voting members to the General Conference.
- Annual Conference
The Annual Conference is the basic body of the church (Constitution, paragraph 33). The term dates to the early days of the Methodist movement when founder John Wesley established a conference to instruct and supervise Methodist preachers. We use “annual conference” to reference both the body and the gathering of the body. The annual conference approves candidates for ordination and handles all matters concerning clergy. The annual conference equips its local churches for ministry and provides a connection for ministry beyond the local church (paragraph 601).
HFUMC is in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky (TNWK) conference, which was formed January 1, 2022, as part of the UMC’s reorganization. There are 918 churches in the conference with nine District Superintendents. The bishop is William T. McAllily and the District (Cumberland River) Superintendent is Rev. Jerry Wallace.
- Charge Conference
A pastoral charge is one or more churches to which an ordained or licensed clergyperson is appointed. A charge conference is the governing body of the charge; and the church council, the executive agency of the charge conference, guides the church’s ministry throughout the year. The District Superintendent presides over the annual charge conference as well as any special charge conferences.
- Church Conference
The church conference is a meeting of all church members each who have a vote on decisions placed before the conference.
- HFUMC Council of Stewards
The Council of Stewards is the executive agency of the charge conference and guides HFUMC’s ministry throughout the year. At HFUMC the Council is led by Tracey Silverman. In some UMCs, it carries the title of Church Council. Stewards are paid staff and laity leaders. The paid staff are hired by the Staff Parish Relations Committee. Laity stewards are sought by the Committee on Nominations and Leadership to serve in the committees and ministries outlined by The Book of Discipline. The Committee on Nominations and leadership presents its recommendation at the annual charge conference. After nominations from the floor, laity stewards are elected by congregational vote.
F. Why is it important for HFUMC and other churches to be aware of the denominational issues now?
Thirty-Two United Methodist leaders from traditional, centrist, and progressive caucuses met together after the called 2019 Special General Conference to discuss ways to allow for a "win-win" situation in the continued debate over issues related to human sexuality. The decision by this group was to have an amicable separation within the United Methodist Church. The result of their work produced a consensus document known as the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.
The Protocol allowed for the formation of a new orthodox "traditional" Methodist Church and allowed for the "Post Separation UMC" to repeal the traditional plan adopted in 2019 and remove all prohibitive language related to LGBTQ+ persons in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
For the terms of the Protocol to be implemented, legislation incorporating its terms were to be presented to the 2020 General Conference. With the arise of the COVID pandemic, however, the 2020 General Conference was postponed three times and is now scheduled to meet in 2024
Following the subsequent postponements of the General Conference, there began a widespread withdrawal of support from progressives and centrists for the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.
Given the likely termination of the Protocol, churches who support the current Book of Discipline’s language maintaining that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian beliefs and that marriage must be between one man and one woman can disaffiliate from the UMC under Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline.
Announcement from Bishop McAlilly, TNWK Conference, September 30, 2022
“However, we recognize there are some churches that do not want to wait for the holy conferencing and discernment to take place at the 2024 General Conference. We strongly encourage these churches to have constructive conversations about their future. Then if after a period of discernment these congregations agree they no longer share the principles that have always defined us as a denomination, they may choose to leave the UMC through disaffiliation.
As stated in Para 2553, added to the United Methodist Book of Discipline in 2019, “The choice by a local church to disaffiliate with the United Methodist under this paragraph shall be made in sufficient time for the process for exiting the denomination to be completed prior to December 31, 2023.”
G. Why are some churches choosing to disaffiliate from the UMC now?
Some churches are leaving because of theological differences pertaining to human sexuality, fundamental differences in approach to scripture, fundamental differences in approach to mission, lack of perceived trust in the UMC to resolve the conflict, and their desire to become independent or align with another Wesleyan denomination
Critical to the time discussion is the provisions spelled out in Para 2553 which expires December 31, 2023, as mentioned above. Churches that choose not to disaffiliate will then be subject to any decisions made by the 2024 General Conference which some predict may remove all restrictions pertaining to the practice of homosexuality, same sex marriage, and ordination of gay and lesbian ministers within the UMC.
H. What are the implications of a church desiring to disaffiliate?
Decision Making Process – A church conference shall be conducted in accordance with ¶ 248 and shall be held within one hundred twenty (120) days after the district superintendent calls for the church conference. The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
Process Following Decision to Disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church - If a church conference votes to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, the terms and conditions for that disaffiliation shall be established by the board of trustees of the applicable annual conference, (TNWK for HFUMC). That agreement must be consistent with the following provisions:
a) Apportionments - The local church shall pay apportionments for the 12 months prior to disaffiliation, as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments to include any unpaid apportionments. HFUMC has no unpaid apportionments.
- HFUMC’s 24-month apportionment costs are approximately: $334,891.00
b) Property - A disaffiliating local church shall have the right to retain its real and personal, tangible, and intangible property. All transfers of property shall be made prior to disaffiliation. All costs for transfer of title or other legal work shall be borne by the disaffiliating local church.
c) Pension Liabilities - The local church shall contribute withdrawal liability in an amount equal to its pro rata share of any aggregate unfunded pension obligations to the annual conference. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall determine the aggregate funding obligations of the annual conference using market factors similar to a commercial annuity provider, from which the annual conference will determine the local church’s share.
- HFUMC’s pension obligation is approximately: $410,465.00
d) Other Liabilities - The local church shall satisfy all other debts, loans, and liabilities, or assign and transfer them to its new entity, prior to disaffiliation.
- HFUMC paid off all debt for church buildings in 2021.
e) Payment Terms - Payment shall occur prior to the effective date of departure.
f) Once the disaffiliating local church has reimbursed the applicable annual conference for all funds due under the agreement, the applicable annual conference shall release any claims that it may have under ¶ 2501 and other paragraphs of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church commonly referred to as the trust clause.
g) A local church deciding to disaffiliate must discern if it will become independent or realign with another denomination. Items driving that decision are:
- pastoral assignments,
- ownership of property/assets
- church’s role in making theological decisions on cultural issues similar to those currently facing the UMC)
Disaffiliation is complete only when all payments due are made in full, the annual conference has approved the motion of disaffiliation and the effective date of disaffiliation set by the annual conference is reached.
I. Why are some churches choosing to remain in the UMC at this time?
There is a myriad of reasons churches are waiting for the results of the 2024 General Conference before addressing disaffiliation. Chief among those:
- A desire to avoid conflict and division amongst their congregation trying to get to a church vote
- A belief that the 2024 General Conference will remove restrictive language concerning sexuality and same sex marriage which supports their congregation’s belief
- A lack of financial ability to pay obligations of Paragraph 2553, within the Book of Discipline
- A desire to remain part of the UMC regardless of future changes in the Book of Discipline
- An uncertainty of alignment with another denomination
J. What are the implications of a church desiring to remain in the UMC?
- The Church will not need to come to a decision or vote at this time
- No changes will be made within the local church until next General Conference, if then.
- If changes are made at the next General Conference that the church finds disagreeable, it may forfeit its ability to disaffiliate with the expiration of paragraph 2553
K. What are churches in the TNWK Conference doing currently?
- There are currently a total of 921 churches in the TNWK Conference. Sixty churches disaffiliated at the 2022 Annual Conference and nine churches were closed.
- Many of the remaining 852 churches are currently conducting discernment processes
L. What are the next steps in this time of discernment for HFUMC?
- What will be the next steps in this time of discernment for HFUMC?
- The ECDWF will learn from the recently published questionnaire
- The ECDWF will establish listening sessions and discussion forums (Sunday School Classes, Small Groups, other)
- The ECDWF will continue to publish fact papers relevant to the issues and updated guidance from the TNWK Conference
- The ECDWF will submit a final report of ECDWF’s work to the Council of Stewards for the COS to determine whether the church should take a church wide vote
- Should a vote be desired, HFUMC must:
- Have Pastor Don Hutchinson contact our district superintendent Rev. Jerry Wallace. This is an important step, because exactly how the process will work varies by annual conference. The district superintendent will provide the most accurate information so our congregation can make its best decisions informed by the facts.
- Understands that the denomination’s Trust Clause always remains in effect until disaffiliation. All congregations and ministries of The United Methodist Church hold their property and assets in trust for the denomination, and specifically for the annual conference.
- Pay the cost referenced in Paragraph H above in order to maintain its church property.
What are the important timelines for HFUMC to be aware of?
- The ECDWF will continue to work diligently educating and informing the congregation and provide the Council of Stewards their final report in sufficient time for the COS to make any determination on a potential church-wide vote before the December 31st, 2023 disaffiliation deadline outlined in Paragraph 2553.
- Bishop McAllily has established two special Annual Conferences for 2023 dedicated to making decisions for churches wishing to disaffiliate. These two conferences are in addition to the normal Annual Conference typically held in the month of June.
- The first Special Annual Conference will be held on May 22, 2023. Churches wishing to disaffiliate at this Conference must have all their preliminary work and payments ready by Apr 3, 2023
- The second Special Annual Conference will be held on November 13, 2023. Churches wishing to disaffiliate at this Conference must have all their preliminary work and payments ready by October 2, 2023
M. How will the desires of the HFUMC congregation be heard?
The ECDWF will host several information and listening sessions over the next several Pamphlet is distributed. In addition, ECDWF members will meet with Sunday School Classes, Small Groups, and other groups within the church to listen and learn. Once these actions are completed, there will be additional meetings to address unanswered questions or concerns.
N. What can we do to be helpful to the ECDWF?
- Participate in as many listening sessions as possible and be in continual prayer for HFUMC and the ECDWF during this season of transition and discernment within the UMC.
- Stay current with the discussion by talking with committee members, reading the summary reports of the ECDWF meeting (available at HFUMC.org), and committing to study and pray about the issues currently facing the UMC. Discuss the issues among your groups, friends, and family to discern your personal understanding and beliefs.
- Pray continually that God will guide and move your daily walk with him.
** “ United Methodist Divided” by Dale McConkey
*** “Are We Really Better Together” by Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton
Sources of Additional Information:
“Why the United Methodist Church is REALLY Splitting: The Big Picture History,” John Lomperis, January 21, 2021
“Why We Are Staying in the UMC”, Rev Adam Hamilton, May 17, 2022.
“Methodism’s Division Six-Part Video Series”, Rev Rob Renfroe, June 24, 2022
Adam Hamilton’s Six-Part Video Response to Rev Rob Renfroe
“What Schism Map 2.0 Says about the Future of the UMC”, Chris Ritter, Jul 13, 2017
“A Response to Adam Hamilton’s 3 Buckets Approach to Scripture”, Ben Witherington, March 15, 2014
“Catch Me Up: A UMC Separation Timeline v.1.3.”