Wesley UMC to disaffiliate over ‘contentious’ climate, LGBTQ issues

Jan 15, 2023

Wesley United Methodist Church has moved one step closer to disaffiliating from the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, citing a “contentious” climate and disagreement with the Conference’s acceptance of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. 

The decision to disaffiliate will have a massive financial impact on the Church, as it still must pay outstanding loans and fund various United Methodist Church projects.

According to Wesley United Methodist Church’s official disaffiliation statement, the Church has a “traditional… understanding of the Bible” and views “human sexuality as an issue of conversation/discussion between pastor and parishioner.”

“We have seen that since the 2019 General Conference legislation,” the disaffiliation statement continues, “the New England Conference has been disruptive, disrespectful and integrity has been in question.”

Paragraph 2553 of the 2019 United Methodist Church General Conference gives Methodist churches the ability to disaffiliate “over issues of human sexuality” and keep their properties, as long as they meet certain provisions.

The eight-month disaffiliation process includes four listening sessions among church members.

The third of these sessions was held at the Church on Saturday, Jan. 14, led by Pastor Ginny Doran and the Rev. Wanda Santos-Perez, District Superintendent for the Seacoast District of the New England Conference. 

So far, Doran has not heard any negative reactions to disaffiliation.

“Some of the people that I’ve spoken to, to let them know that we’re doing this, they’re excited,” she said. “They like the fact that we’re choosing to step away from the arguing, the infighting… Regardless of what happens, we’re still going to be here.” 

One Church member, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she left the New England Congregational Church after it allowed same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.

“Some of us who were really involved in the church work said ‘Uh-uh, we’re not going for that,’” the woman said.

The woman criticized “all these new ideas” coming into the Church.

“I choose to follow what’s in the Bible,” she said. “Do you want a woke church or a traditional church?”

The woman said that she is okay with LGBTQ people being members of the Church, but not marrying within it or becoming members of the clergy.

“We have gay people who come here, and we treat them good,” she said. “We don’t judge them. God will judge them.”

“I feel that [by disaffiliating] we’ll be closer to Christ and closer to God,” said Wesley United Methodist Church Trustee Chair Denise Fisher. “We believe in the resurrection.”

“We can’t deny that the other side believes in Christ,” Santos-Perez said. “Jesus was ‘woke’ for his time. I don’t like labels because we never fit labels, they’re always gray.”

Santos-Perez said that her mission is to create a “tent” of diverse theological views that all New England Methodists can coexist in.

However, the issues of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy have created a wedge between liberal and conservative congregations in New England and across the country.

“We don’t want to bring in a pastor who might encounter harm because the church does not recognize their gifts because of who they are,” Santos-Perez said. 

Doran said that the Church’s Book of Discipline still does not condone same-sex marriage or LGBTQ clergy. 

“We really look at ourselves as a family of Christ,” she said. “Seeing some of the arguing and fighting that has taken place at our annual conference is creating a place for people to question, ‘Why are we being held to standards that others are not following?’”

The Book of Discipline can only be changed at the global General Conference, which will have its next meeting in 2024. Doran said that she feels the New England Conference is ignoring Church rules by bypassing the Book of Discipline.

“Why are we giving [the New England Conference] money when we’re doing something that’s incorrect?” Doran said. 

At its June 2022 conference, the New England Conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the New England Declaration, a blanket anti-discrimination statement including sexual orientation and gender identity. 

During the discussion, Church members were asked to think about what disaffiliation would mean to the local community, and whether or not disaffiliation would have an impact on the Church’s work. 

Doran said that the Church will continue all of its ministries and programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous.

“We’re not moving out of the building saying ‘Hey, stinks to be you, see you later,’” she said.

After disaffiliation, Wesley United Methodist Church must pay $90,000-$95,000 in outstanding loans, along with funding global missionary work and pensions for members of the clergy. 

“It’s going to cost money,” Doran said. “Money is scary, and we all know that, and we’re in a time that is scary. Should people stay if they theologically don’t want to, if they owe money? Those dollar signs are really scary.”

“That is not really a major issue,” said Church Treasurer Barbara McAllister. “Through God’s help, we always pull through. We always have that faith. If we need that money, we will get it from somewhere. God will provide.”

Wesley United Methodist Church must decide whether to disaffiliate prior to the “sundown date” of April 1. The Church will hold an in-person vote among its members, with a two-thirds majority required to disaffiliate.