E-Note from Pastor Abi
As we move past the joy of the Christmas season, the leadership of your church has already begun looking to the New Year. For St. Thomas and many United Methodist Churches across the United States, 2023 will be a year of discernment around the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion as the denomination as a whole prepares for the next General Conference, which will be held April 23 – May 3, 2024 in Charlotte, NC.
Some of you may be asking, “Why is this discernment process important?”
It is important because St. Thomas is a church body of 850 members who hold a variety of theological perspectives and lived experiences. And, while individuals themselves may be crystal clear on their own understanding of the topic at hand, we have not engaged around this topic collectively.
Furthermore, our denomination itself has wrestled with this topic for nearly fifty years and for some, it has reached a tipping point. A new denomination called the Global Methodist Church (GMC) launched in May 2022. Some local churches have already disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church to join the GMC; others have discerned that they will remain United Methodist, and still others are becoming independent or joining yet another denomination altogether. As you can imagine, there are many implications for us to discuss.
As your pastor, I would ask that you engage this process and the framework that the leadership team has adopted. In order to be faithful to hearing God’s will for our church, we need everyone to participate. Our values of being biblically grounded, relational, mission-minded, faithful, and joyful will guide our work together. We are also committed to the following three components within the discernment process:
Prayer | Study, Education & Formation | Holy Conversations
Our hope is that each of us will grow as disciples of Jesus Christ and our faith will be stronger, regardless of the outcome of the discernment process.
In the coming weeks, you will hear more about our plans from our leaders. For now, please plan to join us for the upcoming sermon series, “Rise Up!” to kick off this process.
Between services on January 15, Rev. Dr. Sarah Calvert will also share about the disaffiliation process with the congregation. We will gather on the 3rd floor and she will share the same presentation that she shared with the Church Council in September. She will also be available to answer any questions that may arise.
Gathering for Video Watch Parties
We plan to host a series of video watch parties on Sunday afternoons at St. Thomas from Jan. 22 – Feb. 26, from 3-5:00 pm. At these watch parties, we will show two videos so that we can hear from two pastors who are well known in our denomination. One will articulate reasons for leaving the United Methodist Church and the other for staying in the United Methodist Church.
The first pastor is the Rev. Rob Renfroe, who is pastor of discipleship at The Woodlands Methodist Church in Houston, TX (they have voted to disaffiliate), the president of the national organization Good News, and the author of numerous Bible studies. The second pastor is the Rev. Adam Hamilton, who is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, one of the largest, most highly visible churches in the country. He is also the author of numerous books and bible studies and is committed to remaining United Methodist.
Here are the dates we will gather and the topics we will discuss together in holy conversations; I encourage you to mark them on your calendar now:
Jan. 22 | “The UMC is Dividing” & “Why UMC?”
Jan. 29 | “Our Differences Regarding the Bible” & “Love of Scripture”
Feb. 5 | “Our Differences Regarding Jesus” & “Committed to Christ”
Feb. 12 | “Our Differences Regarding Sexuality” & “Human Sexuality”
Feb. 26 | “Why It’s Time for Traditionalists to Leave” & “A Future with Hope” plus “Where Should We Go?” & “Moving Forward with the UMC”
Throughout these gatherings, we will discern how God is leading St. Thomas. We may also offer a variety of other gatherings as needed after the watch parties such as bible study, fellowship events, town hall meetings, etc. Please stay tuned in our newsletter, website, and during announcements in worship. Our goal is to keep communication lines open and to listen well to one another.
To that end, there is now a mechanism on our website to email all members of the Church Council to help facilitate even better communication. Please go to this page: https://www.stthomasumc.org/ourleaders, and scroll down to find a large, orange button that says “Click Here to Email All Council Leaders.” Hunter Lenz or Barry Barnard (the Chair and Vice Chair of Church Council in 2023) will respond to your email and follow up as needed.
Our goal for this discernment process together is to accomplish the following:
Exploring our Tradition and Theological Heritage
Listen, Love & Open Dialogue
I hope that you will be a vital part of this conversation and help us draw the best conclusion so that we can accomplish our mission to “reach, nourish, and serve the community so all may experience healing and new life through Christ.”
To God be the glory!