The WCA is using the playbook of the North American Lutheran Church. They have been colluding with the NALC who served as their "counsel" instructing them how to leave as early as January 2016 (even as they've paid what we now know is disingenuous lip-service to being committed to the UMC). While the property issues certainly wouldn't be resolved in sixty days, I would hazard a bet that the WCA has everything they need to start a new denomination:
- Constitution/Statement of Discipline
- Organized Leadership Structure
- State Incorporation
- Working Committees to organize the various denominational responsibilities
- Legal Plan for Local Church Property Transfer
- IRS Blanket Exemption
- Process for Local Congregations To Join
- Process to Recognize Existing Ordination
While the property piece is much more complicated for us United Methodists than the ECLA, if the NALC is any indicator, a core group of WCA churches will step out right at sixty days. The ELCA Global Gathering was in June 2006 while NALC opened for business August 2006 with fourteen congregations. I'd note all that their growth has only reached about 400 congregations total in a world of thousands of Lutheran congregations.
The WCA will most likely begin operation with at least a few congregations ready to leave on their self-imposed deadline. Remember, they have been in the working on this since January 2016. Already inclined to work outside of the denomination (Seedbed, Confessing Movement, Good News, the Mission Society, etc...) the WCA is ready to go.
That means that if you are congregant or staff person in an official United Methodist WCA congregation, or a United Methodist Congregation led by a WCA member clergy or clergy sympathizer, YOUR TIME COULD BE RUNNING SHORT IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR CONGREGATION IN THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.
So, what do you do? Here are six things to do NOW!
1. Talk to your pastor to ask what their intentions are specifically in terms of their ordination and your local congregation.
Some congregations have been holding congregational meetings about the possibility of joining the WCA. Others have key leaders who have been prepped for this possibility while the congregation at large hasn't had a collective conversation about this yet. If your pastor has been openly advocating his or her support for the WCA, or has a history of aligning with conservative evangelical entries, make an appointment to meet with them regarding the WCA. Ask specifically....
- Are you a dues paying clergy member of the WCA? If not, are thinking about joining?
- Are you planning on leaving the denomination at the sixty day deadline after the special session of General Conference, or at some time thereafter?
- Is your District Superintendent and Bishop aware of your intentions?
- What is the contact information for our District Superintendent and Bishop?
- Have you discussed your intentions with the PPRC or Leadership/Administrative Board of my congregation about this, and what has been discussed?
- Has the Leadership/Administrative Board of this congregation discussed the possibility of my church leaving, and what was the nature of this conversation?
- If applicable, when will the information of you potentially leaving the denomination with the WCA, and this congregation's future be discussed in a congregational meeting? Will the District Superintendent be present?
Remember that under our Book of Discipline, the Lead/Senior Elder or Local Pastor appointed by the Bishop to your church is the chairperson of the Nominations Committee which assembles all the various committees and boards in your congregation. There is the possibility that he or she has "stacked" leadership with those aligned with their intentions. If your congregation is theologically diverse (which most of our congregations are) there could be discussion around amongst your leadership about the WCA without greater congregational knowledge. So take good notes or even record the conversation so you'll have a record of responses from your pastor that could be used later, if need be.
2. If there is a WCA contingent in your congregation, make your desire to keep your congregation in the United Methodist Church known, while also looking for others in your pews who are concerned about your church aligning with the WCA.
Certainly if your pastor is affiliated with the WCA, or has been involved with evangelical caucuses at the annual or general conference level, you won't be able to put an announcement in a bulletin or up on the video screen inviting those concerned about the WCA to get together. This will need to take place by word of mouth. You can start in any bible study, Sunday School, class, other affinity groups, or with the people you've sat with in the pews of our sanctuary for years.
Let people know that there is an organization - the WCA - that right now could leave the UMC and become their own denomination. Let people know that the WCA has done all the legal work necessary to make this happen and they have announced their intentions to leave the denomination sixty days after the special session of General Conference if they don't get what they want: legislation that will lead to the full exclusion of LGBTQ persons from the denomination. Let them know that your pastor, if he or she told you they were OR are listed on the WCA website as a member or office holder, is a member of this organization. If your lay leaders have discussed the WCA and are considering joining, or have joined, share that too. For more information for those concerned here are links to educated people about the WCA that are critical of their rhetoric:
3. Hold meetings and work with likeminded members of your church to make public statements supporting your congregation remaining in the United Methodist Church.
In the WCA's material that's being thrown around now regarding "Gracious Exit" legislation from the UMC, know that they are advocating only requiring a 55% majority of a congregational OR leadership/administrative board vote to leave the United Methodist Church and join the WCA. This too is taken from the template of the North American Lutheran Church.
So speaking up and organizing, particularly if you know that your church is theologically diverse, is of greatest important right now. In many conferences the WCA have been sending operatives into local churches to hold meetings, distribute materials, and find allies for their cause. They are actively recruiting United Methodist Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors, as well as local congregations. Yours might be the dissenting voice in your church that could protect it from leaving the denomination when it appears it has no other choice.
The building you had your children or grandchildren baptized in.... the sight of the confirmation of so many young people you've supported in their faith journey.... the sanctuary you, a family member, or good friend was married in..... the place you spent time, energy, and money maintaining for the purpose of facilitating making disciples to change the world..... the location of your congregation's place to gather to worship the Living God.... your congregation and it's building could have a whole different trajectory and mission if somebody doesn't stand up and make it clear that this isn't ok.
In divided congregations in particular, the WCA is counting on people NOT SPEAKING UP. Very few UMC's are monolithic in their theological understanding. The WCA knows that most United Methodists are much more attuned to working out compromises in difficult situations. They know we don't care for conflict and do all we can to avoid it. You and your fellow UM's may need to go against your normal inclination toward "not rocking the boat" in order to make sure that people in your congregation are properly informed and prepared for what is coming. Particularly in churches led by WCA clergy and maybe a handful of lay-leaders, there may not be any access to information that more closely aligns with who we are as United Methodists if somebody inside that congregation doesn't stand up.
Make sure you and those like you voice your concerns to your pastor, lay leadership, District Superintendent and Bishop. Contact members who haven't been as active or have a hard time getting out any more what is going on. Hold meetings in the church building, or if you denied permission in doing so, meet somewhere else and make sure your District Superintendent know the efforts being made to marginalize your voice.
4. If you are sure that your pastor is on board with WCA make sure that you and those who are like minded let your PPRC or Leadership Board chairperson, as well as the District Superintendent, know you want a new appointed pastor as soon as possible.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Your pastor may be better than some of the others the bishop has sent to you over the years. While the United Methodist Church needs talented, gifted, loving, grace-filled conservative evangelical pastoral leadership, these persons must affirm their commitment to the denomination beyond the March 1, 2019.
If your lay-leadership is stacked with WCA sympathizers in a church that is not of one mind, this will give your District Superintendent a chance to come in and help sort out the situation in your congregation. There may be church officers and leaders who's allegiance is more aligned with a "cult of personality" or theology that more resembles other denominations or non-denominational churches, and not the mission of the church to make disciples who change the world. If it becomes clear that your congregation is not nearly as uniformity aligned as maybe affiliated WCA lay-leaders thought, or hoped, it would be, it may cause them to rethink their position on the WCA, or the potential future of the congregation.
If your congregation is not unified one way or the other theologically, but the WCA occupies your pulpit, you need to get your District Superintendent involved. This may precipitate a crisis, but better to start this conversation now than to get caught with your back against the wall as only 55% of your membership, or even just your Leadership Board, can vote to take your church out of the UMC.
If you question if you should really create this kind of potential conflict, remember, it was the WCA who chose a 60 day termination period to force the question of schism on the United Methodist Church. The WCA has made these matters of urgent importance we must deal with right now. Responding in earnest is what is necessary given the situation at hand.
5. Don't believe the lies being promulgated by the WCA about the One Church Plan.
Right now the most effective tool the WCA is using is generating fear among more conservative United Methodists that the passage of the One Church Plan will mean that their church will have to change it's wedding policy to accommodate same-sex ceremonies, and/or take a gay or lesbian clergy person in an appointment.
Those who put together the One Church Plan - the only plan endorsed by the majority of the bishops - know that United Methodists are not of one mind on not just these matters, but plenty of others also. They understand what may be more prudent in more progressive faith communities may not be adaptable in others.
The One Church Plan will not require your congregation to do anything different than it does now. Your PPRC or Leadership Board will be able to tell your DS what you want in a clergy person, and what won't work in your community. While admittedly you might not feel like you were listened to previously, the One Church Plan insures that a bishop will not violate the conscience of a congregation who feels they need to maintain traditional values with a like-minded pastor.
This allows the traditionalist United Methodist Church to maintain it's values, while not making the same mistake as the slave-holding southern United Methodists made prior to the Civil War invoking the history of church tradition over the call of others who believed the Spirit was doing something new toward the cause of abolition. Let's follow the wisdom of Gamaliel, who faced with a growing Christian Church, admitted that if this was of God no amount of exclusion or violence could stop this new work from taking place. And if it wasn't that would die of it's own accord.
If the Spirit is leading us, as many believe the Spirit is, time will prove this out one way, or the other. We just need to make that space sensibly across our connection.
6. Pray for the unity of the United Methodist Church!
In your devotional time, pray for the unity of the UMC. In your Sunday School class, Bible study, share group, or whatever place you gather together with others for the purpose of sanctification, pray for the unity of the UMC. If your congregation takes prayer cards or has a time in the service where prayers and concerns are lifted up, pray for the unity of the UMC. In all place, and all circumstances, whether silently or out loud, pray for the unity of the UMC.
Certainly there will be monolithic congregations who no matter what will not remain in the denominations. The vast majority of these are small "family chapels" that have become very insular in their focus. As for the rest of the UMC, even the large "evangelical" congregations in the southeast and south central parts of the country are hardly unified in their theological understanding, particularly when it comes to being welcoming to all people. While a pathway out for the few monolithic congregations may be necessary, in the rest good people need to start asking questions and talking to one another. They need to make themselves known!!!
So for all who love their church, now is the time for action. As the WCA goes low, largely seeking to scare people into their ranks, don't think that being non-confrontational equates with going high. Rather, at the ready to lift up the vows you made when you became a member of the United Methodist Church, in an attitude of righteousness and humility, as you seek the justice love demands.