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The Centenary Connextion - May 3

Sunday Worship

This Sunday, May 5th, all three of our pastors will preach and preside at Holy Communion. Join us at 8:30 to hear Reverend Carol Grantham, at 9:00 to hear Reverend Tyler Moore, and at 11:00 to hear Reverend Vann Spivey.

Welcome home to Centenary!

United Methodist General Conference 

Dear Centenary Family:

Today—Friday, May 3—the United Methodist Church General Conference marks the end of a ten-day meeting in Charlotte. General Conference is a quadrennial gathering of elected delegates from all over the world, both laity and clergy. The General Conference is the law-making body of our denomination, the equivalent of the federal government’s executive and legislative branches combined. Decisions made at General Conference are incorporated into our United Methodist Book of Discipline.

The Discipline, as it’s called, contains our official doctrine, known as the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith; our official positions on important issues, known as the Social Principles; and our church by-laws, including our Constitution and Restrictive Rules.

The most recent regular quadrennial General Conference was held in Portland, Oregon, in 2016. The central issue then was, as it has been since 1972, sexuality. The Church’s position on homosexuality, same-gender marriage, and the ordination of LGBTQ persons was debated. GC 2016 resulted in a narrowly decided affirmation that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination are prohibited.

After an in-depth period of dialogue and study, a Special Session of General Conference was held in St. Louis in 2019. The special session was held solely to make a definitive determination of the church’s position on sexuality. In 2019, plans to make the Church more inclusive were railroaded, and the Traditional position was once again narrowly affirmed. But this time, penalties were increased both for openly LGBTQ clergy and for clergy who perform same-gender services. In addition, a paragraph was added to the Discipline, making it easier for congregations to disaffiliate or leave the United Methodist Church.

This doubling-down on exclusion created a backlash in the American Church. At Annual Conference sessions held throughout the United States during the summer of 2019, new delegates were elected for the next regular General Conference in 2020. Majority progressive delegations were elected in about 70% of the Annual Conferences. For example, all but one of our new delegates were progressive or moderate in the North Carolina Conference. This increased the likelihood of a change in the United Methodist Church’s official position on sexuality in 2020.

Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 struck, and General Conference was postponed. A virtual General Conference wasn’t feasible because internet capabilities are severely limited in many places outside Europe and North America. Faced with likely defeat at the next General Conference, Traditionalists within the denomination created their own denomination in May 2020, the Global Methodist Church, and began pressuring Annual Conferences to implement the new disaffiliation measures. COVID held on, and because of travel restrictions and difficulties getting visas, General Conference was postponed again in 2021 and 2022 and finally rescheduled for 2024.

Disaffiliation procedures were implemented in most Annual Conferences in late 2022, and the great exodus of the Traditionalists began. Worldwide, the United Methodist Church has lost a fourth of its congregations. In politically conservative North Carolina, the percentage is higher. New Bern has been hit hard by disaffiliation and the hard feelings associated with church division.

Sexuality was once again on the General Conference agenda in Charlotte.

On May 1, the General Conference removed the restrictive language from The Book of Discipline prohibiting United Methodist clergy from performing weddings for same-gender couples. This change allows churches and clergy to operate according to their conscience, without consequence. The vote was overwhelming, 93% to 7%.

Let me be perfectly clear. Pastors decide when and for whom they will officiate a marriage. Removing the prohibitive language in The Book of Discipline regarding a same-gender wedding does not mean all United Methodist pastors will be required to officiate same-gender weddings. Pastors choosing to officiate same-gender weddings will abide by the wedding policies adopted by the local church to which they are appointed. Pastors wanting to officiate a same-gender wedding whose local church policies prohibit same-gender weddings may partner with other United Methodist churches willing to sharing their facilities.

In the same vote, the delegates of the General Conference also elected to remove prohibitions that prevented a Board of Ordained Ministry from recommending a gay or lesbian person for ordination.

The Traditionalists’ prediction that churches would be forced to allow same-gender weddings and accept LGBTQ pastors did NOT happen. That threat was a lie created and propagated by groups who want—and still seek—to divide the United Methodist Church. As always, churches have the freedom to set their own wedding policies, pastors have the authority to decide who they will marry, and the Bishop and Cabinet will appoint pastors to churches that will accept them. Please don’t believe any new fearmongering you may hear about this.

Many may ask, “What will Centenary do after General Conference?”

First, no action will be taken until after the North Carolina Annual Conference meets in Greenville in June. Our Annual Conference may offer guidelines to help churches address the new situation.

Second, no unilateral decree will come from me. I was appointed as this congregation's administrative officer and ordained spiritual leader, not its king. I’ll consult with church leaders following General Conference to begin discerning a strategy for moving forward. The next Church Council meeting after Annual Conference would be the first at which any official action could be taken.

Third, I’m already praying about a way for Centenary to come together as a church family to discuss General Conference actions that may affect us. To discuss, not argue…to share our concerns and hopes for the future…and to discern a path forward. I don’t yet know what that process will look like, but I pray it’ll look like a loving family seeking to (1) Include all who want to call Centenary home and (2) Keep us all together at the Lord’s table.

In our 252 years, Centenary has weathered the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We’ve survived hurricane after hurricane, a fire in our sanctuary, a fire that burned much of the city, and not one but two global pandemics. We’ve stayed together in mission through economic downturns, racial unrest, and the rapid social changes that began in the 1960s and continue to this day.

The issue of sexuality isn’t by any means the hardest thing we’ve faced. If all those other challenges didn’t break us, this one need not be a source of heartache or division. Like those other trials, this is an opportunity to become stronger, more faithful to the gospel of love, and more united in our convictions and commitment to Christ.

We met the threat of disaffiliation head-on, without fear. Early in that crisis, we decided we wouldn’t draw a line in the sand and force our people to choose which side to stand on. By acclamation, we chose not to hold a contentious vote, trusting that by God’s grace, we’re stronger than the forces that seek to conquer us. We discerned that our witness in the community was too important to damage by entering into an unnecessary and hurtful process of separation from our beloved brothers and sisters remaining in the United Methodist Church. We acknowledged that our continuing call is to love one another as one body of Christ.

And we claimed—and still claim—God’s promise that “No weapon formed against us shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against us in judgment God shall condemn. That is our heritage as servants of the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:17)

Over the last year, many have told me that this season of unity and renewed purpose has been one of Centenary's most exciting and hopeful in a long time. We’ve grown in numbers, outreach, and joy for the Lord.

My hope and prayer for our church is that we’ll continue to move forward TOGETHER in that same spirit. I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

In Christ, 


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