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Group seeks bishops' grace in church exits
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A group of United Methodists is urging bishops to allow congregations that want to do so to leave with property now — rather than wait for General Conference.

“We call bishops and annual conferences to use existing disciplinary authority to find grace-filled ways for these leaders and churches to follow their call now, allowing them to take their church property with them where appropriate,” the letter said.

Initial signers include General Conference delegates, lay leaders, pastors, district superintendents, seminary professors and other church members. Signers come from across the U.S. as well the denomination’s central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The group now invites other United Methodists to sign.

Council of Bishops President Cynthia Fierro Harvey told United Methodist News that the letter serves as a reminder of one of the foundational values United Methodists hold — grace.

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“The letter calls us to take a breath, to calm our minds and spirit and respond with grace in ways that will advance the kingdom of God,” said Harvey, who also leads the Louisiana Conference.

The letter calls for “bishops and annual conferences to develop resources to assist local churches in discerning their future, including resources on how to have difficult conversations in ways that reduce harm.”

The letter comes as many United Methodists have grown weary of waiting for General Conference to act on a proposed denominational separation.

The United Methodist Church and its predecessors have maintained a policy since 1797 that all congregations hold property “in trust” for the benefit of the entire denomination.

However, as the open letter notes, the Book of Discipline — the denomination’s policy book — already offers procedures for churches to disaffiliate with property under limited conditions.

The newest of these is in Paragraph 2553, which permits disaffiliation by Dec. 31, 2023, “for reasons of conscience”.

So far, dozens of United Methodist churches have used Paragraph 2553 to depart. Most identify as traditionalists, but some progressive congregations also have used the procedure to disaffiliate.

However, the Discipline has another option: Paragraph 2548.2 allows local church trustees — with conference approval — to join “another evangelical denomination.”

That paragraph might work for congregations to join the still-in-progress Global Methodist Church, but the new denomination has not officially launched.

Many of the letter’s signers are United Methodists who have expressed a desire to stay in the denomination. Many also come from the progressive and moderate side of the denomination’s theological spectrum, but they are hoping to draw more traditionalists to the cause.

excerpt from an story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNews

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