Pastoral Letter on “A Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation”

Dear Members and Friends of Echo Park United Methodist Church:

Last Friday morning, the United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a press release announcing that an agreement had been reached between the Council and representatives from various advocacy groups within the denomination on a Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.

This Protocol provides a framework for the establishment of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination that would have its own Book of Discipline as well as its own boards and agencies. Over the next four years, this traditionalist denomination would receive $25 million from The United Methodist Church in exchange for surrendering any further claim against United Methodist assets.

The Protocol would also allocate an additional $2 million to support other Methodist denominations that might emerge from The United Methodist Church during this time of transition, as well as $39 million to ensure that ministries in communities historically marginalized by racism will not be disrupted.

The Protocol calls for the remaining United Methodist Church to hold a specially-called General Conference after the adjournment of the 2020 General Conference to remove current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, create regional conferences, and repeal the traditional plan adopted by the special General Conference of 2019.

Under the terms of the Protocol, central conferences, annual conferences, and local churches will be given a set period of time to separate officially from The United Methodist Church and to affiliate with one of the newly formed Methodist denominations. Entities that choose to leave under these terms will retain their assets and liabilities. No vote will be required of conferences or local churches that choose to remain within The United Methodist Church. All clergy and lay employees of the church will retain their pension plans irrespective of the denomination with which they ultimately decide to affiliate.

Finally, the Protocol calls for a moratorium on all administrative and judicial actions related to restrictions in The Book of Discipline concerning “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and same-sex weddings until such time as the separation is complete. The Protocol also calls for a moratorium on all church closures until after the 2020 General Conference.

There are a few things that we need to keep in mind as we consider this Protocol and its lasting implications for the Church:

  • First, the Protocol is not in and of itself a solution to the problems that currently face our United Methodist Church. Only the General Conference has power to make decisions concerning the adoption and implementation of major policy and structural changes such as those envisioned by this Protocol. (The General Conference will be meeting May 5-15, 2020 in Minneapolis.)
  • Second, the Protocol has yet to be turned into workable legislation that can be presented to and acted upon by the 2020 session of the General Conference. The devil is, as they say, in the details, and we still don’t know what the details are.
  • Third, the Protocol envisions a specially-called General Conference to be held by The United Methodist Church following separation to eliminate discriminatory language in The Discipline against LGBTQ persons and same-sex weddings, to rescind the traditionalist plan, and to create regional conferences. We must remember that no General Conference can bind a subsequent General Conference. So, there is no guarantee that a specially-called Conference will actually make the decisions that we hope it will make. If we take this route, we will need to remain strategically vigilant and prayerfully committed in our efforts to build a truly inclusive church.

It’s too soon to determine the best way to move forward in the wake of Friday’s announcement. We will need to take time to consider the full implications of the Protocol – both its strengths and its weaknesses – before deciding whether or not to back it. In the meantime, I encourage you to review the attached documents for yourselves. I will be happy to engage your questions and ideas. I will cherish any input that you choose to share with me. I look forward to a congregational meeting in the near future when we can discuss these developments openly.

Before I close this epistle, I want to call your attention to A Christmas Covenant: Our Gift of Hope. This document, which was recently released by delegates from church regions in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, offers an alternative way forward for The United Methodist Church. One of the reasons why the Covenant is important is because it comes from parts of the Church outside the United States. It demonstrates a willingness on the part of the Central Conferences to make room for the wide diversity of theological perspectives on sexuality that are represented in our denomination. As we move forward, it is important that all parts of our global Church be included in these conversations about our future.

I believe that we can be cautiously optimistic as our denomination seeks faithful and practical ways to fulfill its commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And yet, we must be more fervent than ever in our working and praying to make God’s inclusive reign of justice and peace a reality.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Frank Wulf

P.S. Please refer to the following important links:

A Christmas Covenant: Our Gift of Hope:

  1. A Christmas Covenant: Our Gift of Hope

  1. Delegates offer proposal for church unity (UM News Service article by Heather Hahn)

Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation:

  1. Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation

  1. Frequently Asked Questions About The United Methodist Mediation Team

  1. United Methodist Traditionalists, Centrists, Progressives & Bishops sign agreement aimed at separation (Press Release from the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church)

  1. Diverse leaders’ group offers separation plan (UM News Service article by Sam Hodges)