Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A Lesson from St. Andrews

In the fast-paced environment of United Methodist news, the decision of St. Andrew's UMC in Plano, Texas to leave the denomination and not join another denomination is now old news. It's also not remarkable for a church to take these actions. Two things about St. Andrew's departure are newsworthy. First, they are leaving by taking advantage of an apparent opening in Texas law that allows a church's leadership to simply remove the trust clause from their bylaws. Second, the leadership has made this decision without a vote of the church. To the best of my knowledge, both of these actions are unique in current times. 

St. Andrew's pastor and executive committee chair stated, "The UMC has offered many services during the decades of our affiliation. However, as one of the largest churches in the system, we realized how independent we are, already providing many of our own services. The fact is we can protect our finances, our property and our pastors by going in a new direction.” This is the single most disappointing statement I have read in relationship to the United Methodist Church this year. It represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of our connection, whether we are talking about the United Methodist Church or the newly forming Global Methodist Church. We are not independent churches. We never have been. The quote from St. Andrew's leadership could well be translated, "We have used the denomination when it was helpful to us. Now that it isn't helpful to us, we're leaving." It reminds me of a church in the former Kansas West conference that left our denomination abruptly when St. Andrew's senior pastor's father was the bishop. That church's leadership also believed their mission could best be served independent of the UMC structure. But Bishop Jones, and presumably his son, rightly understood that we are more than a collection of individual churches. That is still true today even though the shoe is now on the other foot.

So I'm disappointed, both at how the leadership handled this decision with the church and, more generally, that the disaffiliation happened at all. So it goes. Life has disappointments. More constructively, there is a lesson to be learned.

St. Andrew's leadership was clear that their departure from the denomination is in no way linked to any of the arguments we are having right now. They are not leaving because of (as traditionalists would describe it) doctrinal disputes or (as progressives would describe it) concerns over full inclusion. They are leaving because they think they are better off without the denomination.

Countless churches who are helped by St. Andrew's presence in North Texas will be directly harmed by their departure - another disappointment. More importantly, in our individualistic society, there will be many other St. Andrews in the years ahead unless we who are in denominations can be clear about the "why' for our existence. To put it bluntly, while Rob Renfroe lobs lies at the UMC and people like me reply with accusations like I just did, churches like St. Andrews will increasingly say they don't want to be like either of us. Maybe this is why it is true that while more churches are leaving the UMC than many of thought would leave, fewer are joining the GMC than traditionalist leaders thought would. 

As I've stated many times before, those who plan to leave the denomination need to do so now so that we can all get about the work of being the Church. Those of us who plan to remain in the UMC are not without responsibility either. We must do the hard work of understanding not only what we are against - namely, the GMC perspective - but also what we are for and how we will live into the future God wants for us.


  1. Great statement as to the purpose and place of the UMC not only in the future - but more importantly in the moment. It is the responsibility of current UM Churches to be about the purpose, place and space of being the church so that there will be a reason for laity and clergy to stay. There are many - some life-long United Methodists that do not understand what is going on and question the current narrative.

  2. Isn't David Livingston saying that the "ones who plan to remain" need to get on with it and not just bombing Rob Renfroe and the others with renewed claptrap? If David is earnest, that's what he needs to do.