It is our conviction that the North Alabama Conference can best fulfill its mission and move forward in history by remaining in The United Methodist Church.
If the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation passes in its present form at General Conference 2021, the North Alabama Conference could then decide to hold a vote at a regular or called Annual Conference session. If held, this vote would decide whether the North Alabama Conference would stay in The UMC or leave to join a new Methodist denomination, now framed as the “Global Methodist Church.” This new Global Methodist Church is being promoted by the WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association) and others.
We realize that many Methodists in North Alabama are wrestling with the issues of our day. So are we. But there is no plan for the post-separation UMC to require pastors to perform weddings they are not comfortable with. Local churches will continue to make their own wedding policies, and the North Alabama Conference will, as always, establish its ordination standards through the regular work of the Board of Ordained Ministry. We desire to be one Church and we are willing to be in ministry in diverse contexts.
Below are some of the reasons we believe our Conference should Stay UMC:
#1 – The UMC is our home.
Not only did we make membership vows (and in some cases ordination vows) to support The UMC, we have countless warm memories and relational connections we just don’t want to sever. Many of us were baptized at a United Methodist font. We have been blessed by a special United Methodist pastor or the influence of a wise Sunday School teacher. We remember when the presence of Christ in Holy Communion first felt real at a United Methodist altar. We felt loved and accepted by a United Methodist Church family. We have made commitments at a United Methodist kneeling rail. Many of us have grown up at Camp Sumatanga or gone on a Walk to Emmaus there. Some of us have gone to Birmingham-Southern College or attended Wesley Foundation while we were at a United Methodist school. These are things that we do not wish to give up.
#2 – We don’t all think alike.
One of the things we love most about The United Methodist Church is that we don’t all think the same. We are conservatives, moderates, and liberals who love to live and learn together. We actually like the fact that we don’t see eye to eye. The United Methodist Church has uniquely connected the head and heart, belief and action, and personal and social holiness. The call phrase, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” ties United Methodists together despite our differences and maintains an inviting presence to our world.
As John Wesley said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”
As we understand it, there are provisions in the new “Global Methodist Church” that depart from this generous Wesleyan spirit, including church trials of lay persons.
#3 – We love the Cross and Flame.
For over half a century, The UMC has built a recognizable brand in the United States and globally that is trusted and respected. Worldwide, people recognize the United Methodist Cross and Flame as a symbol of Christian love and witness. United Methodist clergy are held to high standards and strict requirements through the ordination process that maintain the strength of The UMC’s reputation.
Any new denomination would be strictly prohibited from using the Cross and Flame. Use of the Cross and Flame symbol on signage, stationery, buildings, websites, even stained glass windows, etc. in the new denomination is prohibited and would required removal, according to the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.
#4 – We need bishops that appoint our clergy.
We are blessed to have spiritual leadership and oversight from our United Methodist Bishops (including our own Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett) and District Superintendents. They guide our shared ministry, and they work to keep high quality leaders in our churches of all sizes and in shared ministry through appointments. Our episcopal leadership is chosen by a careful process across the global church.
Bishops are part of the very DNA of the United Methodist Church. John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke to come to America and ordain Francis Asbury. These two bishops spent countless hours on horseback organizing the Methodist movement on the American frontier. Present-day bishops do not set policy or vote at General Conference, but they have a significant spiritual ministry. One of their most important tasks is making appointments, so that each church and ministry is provided the best possible leadership. All United Methodist Churches have a pastor, all the time. Our appointment system would be changed to something else in a proposed new denomination, according to much of their literature.
#5 – We can do more together than on our own.
In the excitement of starting a new denomination, one can forget there is great uncertainty about whether we can still support the things that are important to us. But we believe it is The UMC’s “connection” that has created ministries that impact the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ beyond the ability of a local church or Annual Conference. These ministries include Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), VIM (Volunteers in Mission), General Commission on Archives and History, NOMADS (RV Mission Volunteers), General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Communications, Board of Global Ministries, Commission on Religion and Race, The Upper Room (including the Daily Devotional, the Walk to Emmaus , the Academy of Spiritual Formation, and related programs), Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the United Methodist Publishing House, Wespath, and hundreds of other ministries.
Some of these programs impact people’s spiritual lives and your local church’s vitality directly. Some of these are missions that touch lives for Jesus Christ in ways we just can’t do on our own. Some are part of the important social witness of the church. Could this possibly be replicated in a new denomination with limited resources and geographic reach?
#6 – Good things are happening in North Alabama.
The North Alabama Conference of The UMC and its predecessor conferences have served faithfully for centuries, and leaving the denomination would be separating from our own history. Since the 1968 merger that created The UMC, our Conference has led vital ministries in North Alabama. Together, we have supported Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon colleges; built the United Methodist Conference Center; established the North Alabama United Methodist Foundation; supported countless clergy through college, seminary and the ordination process; built up Camp Sumatanga; supported the United Methodist Children’s Home; supported the work of evangelism in our churches; housed our retired clergy in a large network of Superannuate Homes; supported lots of missionaries throughout the world; built Fair Haven Retirement Home; provided counseling for lay and clergy persons through United Counseling; and brought thousands of people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Despite their hopes that the Global Methodist Church in North Alabama would continue to support some of these things, there is no guarantee that there will be funds or structure to do so.
#7 – We value rural ministry and small-membership churches.
There are over 30,000 United Methodist Churches in the United States located in almost every county and zip code. One writer states that, “We have more local missional outposts than the US Post Office.” Our denomination has a system that provides vital ministry in small and rural communities throughout North Alabama. The UMC calls, equips, and trains licensed local pastors. It facilitates multi-point charges, provides grants that support rural ministry, and supports ministries like the Upper Sand Mountain Parish and Alabama Rural Ministry. Funding for the ministry in rural areas would not be secured in the Global Methodist Church, and we believe many small churches would likely be forced into closure. Local pastors in rural congregations are among those groups whose future is most uncertain in a new denomination.
#8 – Women are vital leaders in the UMC.
Female leadership among the laity in our local churches and the clergy of our Conference is essential for ministry in The UMC in North Alabama. We must continue to provide support to ensure women receive equal opportunity in all aspects, including clergy appointments and compensation. Female clergy often meet resistance and barriers to ministry. Many in our Conference continue to work to improve this.
Our United Methodist organization ensures that female clergy have places to serve, even when there is resistance. We believe the North Alabama Conference of The UMC will continue to grow in its support for female clergy who are called and gifted by God. Though assurances are being made, the Global Methodist Church does not share these same protections for women according to its literature.
#9 – We have important relationships with other denominations, other faiths, and other countries.
We share full communion with several other denominations. We have an important voice in the World Methodist Council, as well as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. At a local level, many United Methodist Churches share ministries with other churches and local ecumenical groups. The UMC promotes interfaith dialogue and participates in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Locally, many UMC’s participate in organizations like the Interfaith Mission Service and the Greater Birmingham Ministries.
The United Methodist Church is also truly a global denomination. Through our Central Conferences, we have an especially strong presence in Africa, Europe and the Philippines, plus many affiliated Churches throughout the world. Our ministries have a global reach and the Board of Global Ministries sends many missionaries throughout the world.
Several years ago, we started and built Africa University, a mission that the entire denomination was very excited about. Our entire denomination also got behind the Imagine No Malaria campaign, which touched the lives of countless local churches who did “Nothing but Nets.”
#10 – We value higher education and campus ministry.
Through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The United Methodist Church supports 112 schools and colleges, including 15 seminaries and divinity schools affiliated with The UMC. We support students through loans and scholarships and the Black College Fund and assist those with a call to ministry with ministerial scholarships. Many in our Conference were supported by United Methodist Scholarships at Birmingham-Southern. Our Conference gives significant financial support to Huntingdon and Birmingham-Southern colleges.
This is our present legacy, but we are also proud that The UMC and our predecessor denominations have started more colleges and universities than any other faith group in the United States. In fact, we started UNA in Florence, Snead State, and Auburn University.
In Alabama (and beyond), college students connect to The UMC through Wesley Foundations. Wesley Foundations, and the clergy and staff who minister through them, provide students in North Alabama with a uniquely Wesleyan spiritual experience. We are proud to support Wesley Foundations at Birmingham Southern, Jacksonville State University, UAB, University of Alabama, and the University of North Alabama within the bounds of our Annual Conference. Many of our students participate in Wesley Foundations and collegiate ministries beyond our conference.
#11 – We do ministry beyond the local church that is important.
Both The United Methodist Church denomination and the North Alabama Conference work with many ministry partners who have come to rely on and value our support. Through these relationships, we extend our ministry. We supply many of our highly trained clergy to such organizations through ATEM (Appointment to Extension Ministry) appointments. These include positions like campus ministers, hospital and military chaplains, counselors, and directors of social service agencies. Campus ministry, military and hospital chaplaincy programs, counseling groups, and other social services have trusted relationships with The United Methodist Church, and it is unknown if such programs would be funded or supported by the Global Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society is a consultant with the United Nations and has offices in our nation’s capital (the only non-governmental building on Capitol Hill). The UMC provides a witness in American and worldwide governance. Our North Alabama Advocacy for Social Justice team extends this important ministry in North Alabama. We are inspired to work for justice by Our Social Creed and the United Methodist Social Principles. Our Social Principles are clearly enumerated, while the proposed new denomination has yet to publish any social principles.