Taylor Swift’s leading single from her 2012 album RED is about an ex-boyfriend wanting to get back together (again) and the empowered response from Swift is the song title, “We are never ever getting back together again.” It is probably no surprise that in the song Swift learned her lesson after trying over and over with the guy and she is now clear; there is no future together. This Sunday, I’ll be teaching Wesleyan History and Heritage in our confirmation class. I’ll show this classic Claymation history of the United Methodist Church (UMC) where we’ll cover in three minutes all the various times Methodists have come together, only to break-up, and then get back together again. I even have a little flow chart to help illustrate the general trajectory our splits and mergers have taken over the past 240 years.
Throughout these fights Methodist have split and come back together – like the Swedish Methodists and the Methodist Episcopal Church who were separate for 120 years (1880s-1960s). Yet with every split Methodists don’t get back together. Denominations continue on their separate paths with a shared history – for example, there are roughly 80 Methodist, Wesleyan and related Uniting and United Churches representing over 80 million members in 138 countries as part of the World Methodist Council (WMC) and dozens of additional Methodist denominations not in the WMC, including the recently formed Global Methodist Church (GMC). Sunday’s lesson serves as one part in a foundation of inviting confirmands to become United Methodists, even as we move toward another formalized denominational split at 2024’s General Conference of the UMC. We even offer a class session for confirmands on the split in the denomination and why, as clergy, we remain United Methodist and encourage confirmands to make firm the vows at their baptism in the United Methodist Church.
So, will our current denominational breakup be like those that lasted for a few generations, or will it be like Taylor Swift’s song and there will be no chance at reunion? I suppose only time will tell and I think we all are called to pray for the unity of Christ’s church as Jesus sets the example in John 17:20-23.
What does all this mean for the future of the UMC as a denomination, the United Methodist Church of Geneva, and for United Methodist Pastors?
For the UMC: I’m not a denominational scholar or strategist but my gut says denominational energy for the next few years will be spent on refining a disaffiliation process (how churches and clergy leave the UMC), right-sizing denominational structure, and regionalizing our polity. Any denomination can only be as strong as its member local churches so energy will also need to be spent strengthening local churches.
For UMCG: I think we need to continue our process of revitalization and devote our energy to that process above all else, as called by Christ. UMCG will be of no help to any denomination if it is dying or dead as a local church. Part of our revitalizing includes clarifying our identity as a local church. Our Moving Forward initiative has helped with this having defined our mission statement as a local church to be “We illuminate our community with God’s grace as we lovingly accept, listen to, and serve all in the Spirit of Jesus.” In the process we’ve also defined our values to be Inclusion, Welcoming, Generous, Compassion, Open-minded and Serving Others. As we perfect and live into these values and as denominations form and reorganize, at UMCG our mission and values will guide our denominational alignment or realignment if or when necessary.
I want to note that currently all local churches remain United Methodist unless they vote to disaffiliate and leave the UMC for another denomination. I don’t think local churches will be forced to vote to remain United Methodist only to disaffiliate. Additionally, to date I have not experienced a desire from a critical mass of persons at UMCG to consider or pursue disaffiliation from the UMC.
For clergy: Clergy have a choice to make, too. Clergy can surrender or transfer their credentials to pursue membership or ordination in any number of denominations– Methodist and non-Methodist alike.
I am United Methodist. I was raised United Methodist, nurtured as a United Methodist, called by a local UMC to purse ordination as a United Methodist and ordained a United Methodist and live as a United Methodist. There are parts of the UMC I struggle with and I participate in the democratic process of refining those parts to better reflect God’s grace. Most of all, I am United Methodist and plan to continue to remain United Methodist because:
- The UMC is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.
- The UMC embraces the fundamentals of the Wesleyan tradition, and we dedicate ourselves to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in the tradition of John Wesley.
- The UMC is a Church where we experience our triune: God in personal and community relationships, transforming our own lives, the lives around us, and the entire world.
- The UMC is a connection church– connected by the power of 12 million souls united, working towards good in the world. We are committed to work for global health, education, creation care, child welfare, disaster recovery and countless other efforts.
- The UMC is a Church built in loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action.
- The UMC is a Church where all belong and will be loved. All will be heard, respected, and engaged. All will be free to develop their personal relationship with God and to serve fully in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
- The UMC is a Church where everyone does not have to agree and where everyone is welcome.
I’ll admit being United Methodist isn’t always easy and we need grace when we fail to live into our own ideals, but being United Methodist is who I am called to be and the United Methodist Church is where I am called to serve and lead. I am not called to any other expression on Methodism or Wesleyanism and would struggle to lead anyone or any church to something I am not.
I’m not sure there is a Taylor Swift song that can wrap this all up nicely. Maybe invoking Swift was all just clickbait or maybe I can’t get that Sunday School song I learned as a child out of my head to hear Swift’s catalogue but I do believe that “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!”
Yours in Christ,
 In my opinion, the GMC has formed as a reformation of United Methodism’s polity and beliefs. Key GMC reformations to UMC polity include term limits for bishops and no trust clause for local church assets and a smaller connectional structure thatn the UMC. Key GMC reformations to UMC beliefs include a traditional heteronormative scriptural interpretation of sexuality and gender (see TBD&D paras. 202.7, 202.8, 808.1. g). Advocates for the GMC promote that with reformation, local churches, clergy and laity who join the GMC will be more effective in the mission to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly’ than if they remain United Methodist. I also want to note the GMC and its affiliated organizations are actively engaged in a recruitment campaign to get local churches to join the new denomination. I have experienced some of these recruitment tactics as propaganda and would happily engage in dialogue about any information you’ve come across on this topic to help balance your base of information. North Texas has a helpful document clarifying protentional misstatements.