A Message from Rev. Judy Zabel, Senior Pastor of Hennepin Avenue UMC
When the 2020 General Conference was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were grateful that protecting the health and safety of everyone involved was made top priority. At the same time, we were disappointed to have to wait even longer to find a loving and just way forward for the United Methodist Church.
The General Conference has been rescheduled for August 29–September 7, 2021, and will be held here in Minneapolis. Legislative proposals that were ready for consideration at the (now postponed) May 2020 General Conference will be considered at the rescheduled General Conference. Below is an explanation of some of the key proposals and what they might mean for Hennepin and for the larger United Methodist Church.
Why is there a proposal for a split?
Disagreements over human sexuality have been a source of conflict, pain, and division in the global United Methodist Church for too long. Last year, delegates from all over the world met in St. Louis for a Special Session of the General Conference, where we aimed to resolve this dispute. At that session, the Traditionalist Plan which prohibits gay marriages and the ordination of the gay clergy discriminates against LGBTQIA+ persons and imposed severe penalties for disobedience to these policies passed by a thin margin. Resistance to the Traditionalist plan has been widespread and heated in the United States and in Western Europe. This new proposal for an amicable split seeks to provide a peaceful resolution to an untenable situation.
Can a split be avoided? Probably not.
Although we grieve whenever we must part ways with those we have long partnered with in ministry, there is growing agreement across the United Methodist connection from all sides that a split is inevitable. If there is no change at the General Conference of 2020 to overturn the Traditionalist Plan many churches and individuals from across the UMC from all theological perspectives will simply leave and the UMC will splinter apart. This proposal for splitting the United Methodist Church will open a clear path allowing the Traditionalists to leave the United Methodist Church and start a new, orthodox denomination, with the blessings of those who will remain in the UMC. The goal is amicable separation.
What is the plan?
The Traditionalists will start a new denomination. Many years ago, the conservative caucus groups formed an association to promote an orthodox expression of Methodism called the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). The WCA has been planning and promoting a split for many years. The WCA has worked with Wespath, our UMC pension organization to prepare for Wespath to service multiple denominations. The WCA has done the legal work to register a new denomination in 50 states. They have produced a new Book of Discipline and Doctrine for a new Traditionalist denomination. They are ready and anxious to launch this new expression of Methodism. They are actively recruiting churches in every conference of The United Methodist Church. If the proposal for the split passes, they will be freed to birth this new orthodox denomination of Methodism will receive $25 million for start-up costs from UMC General Church apportionment dollars over the next quadrennium. Churches who vote to leave will be able to take their buildings and clergy pensions to the new denomination. Once a church or conference votes to leave the UMC, they will have no further claim on any other UMC assets moving forward.
Would the proposed split dissolve The United Methodist Church? No.
This proposal provides a way for the Traditionalists to birth a new denomination. It would not dissolve The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church would continue as a global church and the prohibitions against ordination of LGBTQI persons and marriages of LGBTQI persons in our churches would be removed from The Book of Discipline.
Would Hennepin Avenue UMC be required to vote to stay or leave The United Methodist Church?
If this proposal passes, only churches or conferences who want to leave the UMC will be required to vote. The default position for all United Methodist Churches is to continue as a global United Methodist Church. If we stay in the UMC we will be free to live into our vision of being a fully inclusive church where all are welcome to receive the blessing of Christian marriage. This would be a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit as many Hennepin Avenue UMC members and friends have prayed and worked for full inclusion for decades.
God is doing a new thing among us! This proposal is gaining support across the theological spectrum. Pray for our delegates to General Conference as they make these decisions. Pray for congregations across the whole UMC global connection as each one discerns their way forward. Let’s keep our hearts and minds open to the Spirit of God. God is stirring and shaking up business as usual and that can create anxiety. God is with us always. Do not be afraid. Let’s move forward with a holy curiosity. God is making all things new.
In Christ’s service together,
Pastor Judy Zabel
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Reconciling Ministries / LGBTQ
Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church has been identified as a Reconciling Church since 1994. In those 22 years, there have been a lot of advancements made towards reconciliation, both within the Church and in society in general.
Statement of Welcome and Reconciliation
(revised by Committee in January 2016)
We, the members of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, take seriously the importance of an open communion table. With that sacred encounter as our vision, we claim that as a congregation we are welcoming and open to all peoples. We embrace as a gift the diversity of our neighborhood and the world. We celebrate all the ways that the human family of Christ lives its diversity, including marital status, sexual orientation, faith history, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, economic status, physical or mental ability, and education. We affirm that all people are created in the image of God, and we know that all, as beloved children of God, are worthy of God’s love and grace. We welcome the full inclusion of all people in the life and ministries of the United Methodist Church as we journey toward reconciliation in Christ. We believe in the vision of John Wesley that we can love alike, though we may not think alike.
We proclaim this statement of welcome to all, including those who have known the pain of exclusion or discrimination in the church or in society. As members of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, who seek to be agents of social change, we covenant to work together until all are fully embraced in our church and we live into our dedication to “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.”