Some of the many questions pitched to North Georgia Methodist leaders Sunday night reflected members’ bitterness and frustration over the denomination’s controversial Feb. 26 vote over sexual orientation.
But the March 24 session at Hamilton Mill United Methodist Church in Dacula was otherwise low-key, as leaders spent a lot of time breaking down the mechanics and structure of the denomination’s special conference in St. Louis before fielding questions from members.
The event, billed as a “regional information session,” drew clergy and church members from the North Georgia Conference’s Gainesville, Atlanta-Roswell and Atlanta-Emory districts.
At issue in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination is the special conference votes to strengthen church bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.
The church actions were clearly a concern at the Hamilton Mill meeting as church leaders addressed submitted questions from congregants.
“What happens to those who have been in candidacy and studying theology for eight years but now can’t be ordained?” one person asked.
Under the church’s Book of Discipline, rules that guide the church, “they may not be ordained in the United Methodist Church, but that does not mean they may not be ordained in another church,” said the Rev. Doug Thrasher, district superintendent of the Atlanta-Roswell District,
“And so we will see some of our good candidates … end up as pastors in other denominations,” he said.
Several people asked for more details about the votes.
Conference delegates initially voted down the One Church Plan, which would have allowed churches and pastors to make decisions based on their specific congregations and conferences.
That would have meant that United Methodist pastors could — but weren’t required to — perform same-sex marriages. And marriages could not be performed in the church unless the congregation voted to approve them before the first ceremony.
The Traditional Plan, approved by a vote of 438-384, basically called for enforcing current LGBT bans.
The plan, which will be reviewed by the church’s Judicial Council at a meeting starting April 23, had support largely from conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa.
At Sunday’s conference, one person asked if U.S. churches could split from the global church.
“That’s speculation,” Thrasher said. “There’s no answer to that, at this point. That’s something yet to be seen.”
Area Methodists also heard from Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson in a videotaped statement.
She talked about how the church’s debate of the issue has reflected more of the world’s harsh polarization on sensitive topics and less of what should be expected in the church.
Church infighting “must stop here,” she said. “Christ demands better of us. Let’s go back to the work of the church.
She also had a message for the LGBT community.
“I acknowledge here that great harm has been done. You’ve been singled out and picked on for too long,” Haupert-Johnson said. “I invite our churches to recommit themselves to a radical welcome to all people.”
The meeting also was much like a church service, with prayers, hymn singing and communion.
Afterward, the Rev. Alice Rogers, district superintendent of the Gainesville district, said she was pleased with how the event went.
“I felt like everybody came to get information and clarity,” she said.
Rogers said church leaders and members now will wait to hear from the Judicial Council, but in the meantime, “The local church is where great mission and ministry is happening, and we have to continue to focus on that.”