Did the UMC just split?  5 tips on talking to kids and adults about what happened

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As kids and adults come back from break, they will be armed with questions about a new protocol that was released that seeks to end the decades-long disagreements in the UMC that have centered around human sexuality.  Avoiding the questions will likely be impossible. These tips will help:

1. Know what did NOT happen

News of this story broke in every major secular and christian news outlet from the New York Times to Christianity Today, and most led with some headline announcing that the UMC had split, had agreed to split or had announced that it was going to split.  Let’s make it clear:  the UMC has not split and has not announced it would.

The only body able to speak for the United Methodist Church is General Conference.  In this crazy time, it is important to reiterate that. For those of you that need a refresher, the General Conference is a global legislative gathering that happens once every four years unless a special session is called as happened in 2019. They speak by voting on proposals to amend or change the UMC Book of Discipline which is our denomination’s guiding rule book. The next General Conference will meet in Minneapolis from May 5-15 this year.

2. Know What did Happen

If the United Methodist church didn’t split, then what happened?  A group that seems to represent every major lobbying group on every end of the spectrum in the Methodist Church comprised of pastors, Bishops, and lay people met with a professional mediator to come to an agreement on how to finally deal with this problem. Through those meetings they created the protocol that was released on Jan 3 that spells out how they agreed to peacefully end the 47 year fight.

What may be the most important piece of the protocol is that every leader in the group agreed to abandon their group’s own General Conference legislation (often referred to as a “plan” and instead support the legislation that will be created around the principles in the protocol. 

What are some of the principles?  Well, you can read them yourself, but in the most over-generalized terms, the protocol allows for the creation of a new, traditionalist denomination (and possibly other denominations as well). Whole annual conferences will be able to vote to join those denominations.  If a specific church doesn’t like the way their annual conference votes, they can vote to go the other way.  If no vote happens at either an annual conference or local church level, the church will stay within the existing UMC.

That’s the basics. It’s an overgeneralization, but if you don’t have time to read eight pages, it should help give you the lay of the land.

3. Know the Process

Basically, this is far from a done deal; though, it is the closest to a done deal the UMC has ever seen around this issue.  From this point a group of the leaders that created the protocol with the mediator will draft legislation.  That legislation will be reviewed by the Judicial Council (the  Supreme Court of the UMC) to see if it is constitutional.  It will then likely be edited again based on their feedback and brought to that General Conference gathering in May.

The General Conference will edit the legislation and vote on it deciding whether the process will be made into church law. 

From this point everything is based on the protocol and may change based on all that happened above.  But, according to the protocol, the new denomination(s) will have until May of 2021 to register as a new denomination.  Annual conferences will have until July 1, 2021 to vote and local churches until December 31, 2024.

4. Touch Base with Your Senior Pastor

With any sort of major church issue like this, you absolutely have tot talk to your senior pastor to get guidance on how they want you to deal with it.  You won’t be able to ignore the questions, but they will likely have a general answer they are hoping you will offer to most people.

One thing to discuss with them is how they are going to talk about it.  Students (and adults) struggle with this sort of complicated procedure and are helped in that understanding by tying it to things they have heard before. Your pastor may choose like many to use the metaphor of a family that is splitting or of a company that is merging or breaking into multiple smaller companies.  However they are talking about it, it would help if you used the same terms so that it is easier for your people to process it.

5. Keep the Doors Wide Open

Some of the students and/or adults will feel feel hurt, afraid, or excluded based on whatever news outlet they read. Your job is to love them in the name of Jesus and to keep the doors of your youth group open as wide as possible so that they can experience the grace and love of God that is available to them there.  

This is far from the last news story that will break about this, but it can be an opportunity to continue underlining the United Methodist slogan: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.

When he's not with his four children and wonderful wife, Jeremy Steele is a teaching pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He is passionate about engaging people with the movement of God and speaks across the US. He's also the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry. For more about his other books, articles, and resources, see JeremyWords.com.

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