United Methodist Church proposes a separation of denominations

From right to left, Mandy Eckelman, 13, Sophie Avagliano, 8, director of family ministries Karyn Malchus and Liana Rosales, 7, sing 'He Is Our King' at the beginning of a family Ash Wednesday service at Valencia United Methodist Church on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

A nine-page proposal to separate the United Methodist church into two denominations was presented by a group of 16 bishops earlier this month, and if approved, it could result in the Santa Clarita Valley’s Methodist churches being affiliated with different denominations.

Members with more traditional beliefs will have the opportunity to separate from the church and form their own congregation, under the proposal, allowing the preservation of congregations with more progressive beliefs.

“As a whole denomination, we’re coming to a place where we have to think about what other ways can we really honor deep convictions that others have, and not in a demeaning way,” 

said Pastor Elaine Cho from Santa Clarita United Methodist Church.

Cho said she thinks of the proposal more as a separation than a split, and compares it to a marriage that has done all it can to work, but the spouses decide the best course of action is to part ways.

The proposal will be presented to church officials to be voted on during the 2020 General Conference, which will be held in Minnesota in May. The church will follow the outcome of the majority vote.

The suggested separation came forth with the intention to end the decade-long debate over same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ inclusion in church clergy.

Church officials studied the topic of same-sex marriage during the 1990s, according to Pastor Nicole Reilley from Valencia United Methodist Church, and came to the decision to be welcoming and inclusive.

“It would be great if we didn’t have to split,” said Reilley. “But we understand the members with more traditional views can feel uncomfortable.”

Reilley said she didn’t grow up in a religious household, but became involved with the Methodist church while she was in college.

“I was drawn to it because it had guiding principle, taught the scripture and included a person’s personal experiences,” she said.

Upon approval, a restructuring of the church will take place over the next few years.

The General Council of Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church will provide $25 million over four years “to the traditional Methodist denomination,” according to the new release from the United Methodist Church, and the new denomination will be required to give up assets that belong to the church. An additional $2 million will be escrowed by the GCFA to help any potential new denominations.

As an effort to support Asian, black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander ministries, $39 million will be allocated over eight years to strengthen these communities.  

A special conference will be established after the 2020 General Conference to officially remove current prohibitions against LGBTQ+ members and repeal the traditional plan, according to a news release by the negotiating group.

A new conference will be organized for the traditional Methodist church, if the separation is approved.

When asked about the path Valencia United and Santa Clarita United will take, both pastors say their churches are open and welcoming, but nothing is permanent yet and they are waiting for the decision by church officials before making any definite changes.

“We want to welcome everyone,” said Reilley. “Women, non-English speakers, immigrants, people that didn’t grow up in the faith. Jesus accepts us, so we have to do as he does and accept everyone as well.”

“What we will do is we will focus on being the light in this hurting world,” said Cho. “Our calling as Jesus’ followers is to be the beacon of light in this community and the language that we will speak is love. No matter what happens, we’re not going to stop loving and serving the community.”

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