Here’s an important “must read” for all western Pennsylvania United Methodists:
Despite efforts to keep the news quiet about local churches leaving the denomination, the Trib Live is reporting this morning that an incredible ONE-THIRD of the local churches in our Conference are in the process of leaving!
Upcoming Events at Central:
· Sunday, March 19, 2023, 11 am – DS attends Central’s worship service.
· Thursday, March 23, 2023, 6:30 pm – DS conducts “First Disaffiliation Vote” at Special Charge Conference at Central.
United Methodist congregations contend with process of disaffiliating
– Julia Maruca | Sunday, March 12, 2023 5:01 a.m.
Steps to leaving:
According to the Western Pennsylvania Conference, disaffiliation includes contact with a district superintendent to review the process with congregational trustees. Then, the congregation holds a vote by all church members, with a two-thirds majority required to continue the process.
After that, the conference treasurer reviews and declares how much the congregation that is leaving needs to pay back to the Conference.
Disaffiliating congregations must pay three fees:
- 2% of the church building’s assessed property value;
• a contribution to the UMC pension fund for retired clergy;
• two years’ worth of the congregation’s annual apportionments that would typically be paid to the conference each year.
After reviewing the financial details, church members take another vote that requires a two-thirds majority. If that second vote passes, the request is sent to the full conference, to be ratified during the June 2023 annual conference in Erie.
For more than 100 years, two churches affiliated with the United Methodist Church have held Sunday services in the middle of Scottdale.
If each stays on its current path, by the end of this summer, Christ United Methodist Church and Trinity United Methodist Church will no longer exist in their current forms.
The congregations voted at the end of 2022 to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church.
They are among more than 260 churches in the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church — almost one-third of its 800 members — that have taken steps to leave the denomination. As debates and disagreements continue over same-sex marriage and ordaining gay pastors, the creation of a more conservative Global Methodist Church branch in mid-2022 sped the momentum of congregations voting to disaffiliate.
Over the past year, congregations at United Methodist churches have met, formed steering committees and held votes to decide whether they will stay with the United Methodist faith or disaffiliate, and choose where they will go next. The full number of churches leaving will not be finalized until summer, when the conference meets and approves their departures.
The decision on the next step isn’t always clear-cut, said Tom Brunner, a member of the steering committee at Christ United Methodist Church.
“Christ United Methodist is thinking of going nondenominational because we don’t want tied into another conference that somewhere along the road is going to do what the United Methodist (conference) is doing,” Brunner said.
A majority of Christ United’s 75-member congregation voted in November to leave the denomination over disagreements about the church’s position on LGBTQ people and other theological topics, Brunner said. At the end of February, church members met with the Western Pennsylvania Conference to formally disaffiliate. There will be another meeting this month to approve the final document.
After the congregation disaffiliates, it will develop a new name, seek a new pastor and stop using United Methodist terminology and logos.
“There are enough of us in the congregation in the membership that have gone to lay pastor school, so we can fill in the pulpit until we actually find a pastor to come and fill in and join our congregation,” Brunner said. “But that will be up to us to find the pastor.”
Communicating with conference
When the conference meets with a congregation to discuss disaffiliating, the atmosphere can be emotional, said the Rev. Scott Gallagher, pastor of Garden City UMC in Monroeville. Gallagher serves as a conference trustee and is part of the team of leaders who meet with churches going through the disaffiliation process.
“One of the important pieces for us is to have an in-person meeting, so we can share and answer all the questions they may have and give them the details that they need, so they can take that info back to the church and provide them all of the information,” Gallagher said.
“The most striking thing is there’s anxiety before the meeting on both sides. However, everybody leaves in a completely different place,” he continued. “We’re hopeful that even if a church continues through the disaffiliation process, we’ve started a new bond that can be a benefit to Western Pennsylvania.”
Options moving forward
Paul Huey, who is lay leader for the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, said the conference is looking at alternative options, described as “households,” for churches that stay.
Churches would be able to align themselves with a “traditional,” “blended” or “progressive” household by congregation.
“Regardless if the denomination as a whole remains more traditional, there will be room for more progressive congregations and folks to live out their calling,” he said. “There’s a lot of eyes on us beyond our conference to see how this plays out. We don’t want folks to leave, but we want to give them a place where we can all live in unity with one another.”
Churches’ names would not change, and the potential policy would be more of a self-identification for congregations and pastors.
“Even though it’s in its infancy, the concept in and of itself and the plan on putting it in place has given folks an answer that they need,” he said. “There’s going to be some structure to it, but at the end of the day, we’re not trying to silo three different groups within the conference.”
For Huey, the disaffiliation process has a personal angle. He plans to stay within the UMC denomination, but his home church is moving to disaffiliate.
“It’s something I didn’t take lightly. I thought about it for quite a while, but it was never on my mind or my family’s mind to leave the denomination,” he said. “Being United Methodist in Western Pennsylvania, there’s roots here that we just felt were an important part of who we are.”
He ended up moving his membership to a church that is an hour and 15 minutes away from his Greensburg home.
“I look around Greensburg here, and there’s five United Methodist churches in close proximity. At the end of all this, there may only be one that has United Methodist on the billboard outside,” he said. “I’m hoping to find that home church again, but it’s difficult to know. … The church where I went, and the pastor there (who is) a lifelong friend, too, that relationship is still there, I still consider him my friend, but it has changed somewhat because of what is going on.”
Back in Scottdale, at Trinity United Methodist Church, Joe Leighty is in the midst of the disaffiliation process with the rest of his congregation.
“It’s been a long process, and I have been really digging into it,” said Leighty, chair of council, vice chair of trustees and leader of the steering committee. “We have been staying on top of it probably for the last two or three years.”
The congregation plans to pay and keep their building and has tentatively decided to join the Global Methodist Church.
Trinity was built in 1904, damaged in a 1974 fire, and repaired and rebuilt in 1976.
“We are pretty much staying the same — Trinity Methodist Church. That will keep our identity as a Wesleyan Methodist church, which we don’t have a problem with, and it keeps our Trinity identity,” Leighty said.
He noted that the name is still tentative until the congregation officially leaves later in the year.
“It’s been Trinity since 1968. We’re staying with that and just taking the United out, and not putting Global in, just in case anything happens down the road,” he said. “We have to go through the process now of changing the name and all the tax information. By going with Trinity Methodist, we stay, even if we leave Global Methodist, which I don’t anticipate, then we don’t have to change our name again.”
Of the congregation’s 42 members, 40 voted to leave the United Methodist denomination. Leighty noted he doesn’t expect the experience of going to Trinity services to change much.
“I have told the congregation numerous times that we are Trinity. We are not going to be any different tomorrow than we were yesterday,” Leighty said. “That is one of the reasons I think we will stay with Global Methodist because it is really a spinoff. It is the traditional side of the United Methodist church. We are not looking for any changes in how we worship or anything else. We really feel that we are going to remain pretty much the same as we were.”
One thing will definitely change: Trinity’s pastor plans to retire. The departure leaves the church in slight limbo — the normal time for changeover when a pastor retires is July 1, and Trinity will not officially leave the denomination until Aug. 16.
“Nobody is going to reassign a pastor for six weeks, but we are going to be trying to figure out (who we’ll be) using,” Leighty said. “We are lucky in that we have several lay speakers and we have done it in the past where we pick different Sundays and just cover it.”
Julia Maruca is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at email@example.com.
Mark Your Calendars:
Sunday, March 19, 2023, 11 am – DS attends Central’s worship service.
Thursday, March 23, 2023, 6:30 pm – DS conducts “First Disaffiliation Vote” at Special Charge Conference at Central.