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On the Plan to Divide the Church

Dear <<First Name>>,

By now you likely have heard the news that a group of United Methodist leaders has put forward a plan, now supported by the Council of Bishops, to divide the church into separate denominations. The plan, entitled the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, was developed by a group of church leaders representing a diverse array of voices and perspectives on the issues confronting the church, especially on the issue of the role of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church. 

Seeking to resolve the impasse over this issue that has gripped the church for decades, Bishop John Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area invited five representatives each from three constituencies within The United Methodist Church—traditionalists, centrists, and progressives —to meet in Chicago, Illinois to share ideas about the future of The United Methodist Church and how the church might navigate the persistent conflict experienced by the denomination.

The result of those conversations was a process begun this past summer and finalized in December. The process was facilitated by Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, and helped with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, along with a number of other complex matters. At the end of this process, the group unanimously accepted the Protocol and the plan for separation it lays out.

Under the plan, a new traditionalist Methodist denomination would be formed, whereupon it would receive $25 million over the ensuing four years from the UMC. An additional $2 million would be provided to any additional Methodist denominations that may emerge from the UMC. In addition, acknowledging the historical role of the Methodist movement in systematic racial violence, exploitation and discrimination, the Protocol would allocate $39 million to ensure there is no disruption in supporting ministries for communities historically marginalized by racism.

The Protocol must still be voted upon by the upcoming General Conference meeting in May. Once adopted, individual churches and annual conferences can vote to determine which of the Methodist denominations they seek to align with. If a church or annual conference takes no action, it will remain in The United Methodist Church. 

Members of our community undoubtedly have a lot of questions about what this means for Cheltenham. For particulars, I would refer you to the Frequently Asked Questions document put out by the Council of Bishops.

I will be available tomorrow after services and throughout the week to talk to anyone about the process. I’m also looking at who we might be able to bring in to talk more in depth about the process that arrived at this Protocol and its implications for us as a congregation.

But in general I can say this: however this process works out in the ensuing months and years, Cheltenham will continue to be that little church with the big heart. So long as I am your pastor, I commit to helping us to continue to be a place that witnesses to and models the love of Jesus Christ for a broken and hurting world, and to witnessing to the ways that that love can build a community of support for all and transform the world itself. 

Your brother and pastor,

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Pastor, Cheltenham UMC


Sermon: “Who Are These People?” Rev. Mark Schaefer
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 60:1–6, Matthew 2:1–12

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