The United Methodist Church is heading toward a split, but Lisa Petty, the pastor of the Montrose UMC congregation isn’t concerning herself with it for now.
At the 2019 UMC General Conference, the church announced its intention to split after a faction of biblically conservative members known as the Wesleyan Covenant Association differed with much of the rest of the church on LGBTQ inclusion. The conference as a whole voted to strengthen its doctrine on LGBTQ exclusion.
The crux of the disagreement comes down to same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy.
The General Conference was scheduled to meet again in 2020 to debate the issue, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed it back. The 2021 meeting, originally scheduled for later this year, was also postponed, and it looks like members won’t have the split resolved until 2022.
“The big thing the (local) church has gotten to is realizing regardless of what the General Conference does, we have our own ministry here and are concerned with doing what’s right,” Petty told the Montrose Daily Press this week.
When the UMC first announced its intentions to split, Petty made clear the local congregation would remain progressive — a term she doesn’t like to use — when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion.
Property over people
While Petty explained the split is very much about people, the details of the split are less about people and more about splitting up of assets.
“It’s like a divorce,” she said. “Who gets what in the divorce? The church is splitting, and many other mainline denominations have already gone through this split.”
The Wesleyan Covenant as part of the split made a list of assets and accommodations it wants in the split. The association as a whole says the split “frees traditionalists from a dead end debate, and allows them to concentrate on revitalizing local churches.”
Included in the association’s plan to split is a request for assets, though. Some of those assets include all of its buildings as well as $25 million in money to start a Global Methodist Church.
If the General Conference sides with the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which is a possibility, those assets, including the local church’s building.
Petty said if put in that position, the local congregation would have to try to purchase the building back or find other accommodations. Petty said the local building is valued at somewhere around $8 million.
But if the General Conference refuses to budge to the association’s requests, things will likely be left the same.
The conservative faction has some support from the highest rungs of the UMC, including its Council of Bishops.
Petty explained there’s no way of knowing what will happen at this point because there are so many possibilities.
Inclusion or exclusion?
After the original vote for tougher restrictions on LGBTQ members in 2019, Petty wrote a letter to her congregation, the first line reading “This changes nothing.” It went on to detail how the local congregation supports all its members.
But Petty recognizes its impossible to support all its members in the way they want to be supported.
“We want everyone to feel included and loved in our congregation,” she said. “But we realize also that just by allowing LGBTQ members and supporting them, we make those that don’t support that stance feel unwelcome as a result.”
She said the local congregation has lost some members and may continue to lose some over ideological and theological differences.
But she says that won’t change how she and the local UMC handle business. And until Petty knows what will happen with the church as a whole, she said she will continue to focus on serving her congregation here.
Justin Tubbs is the Montrose Daily Press managing editor.