The splitting of the United Methodist Church continues apace even during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Over 2,000 churches have left the UMC this year. Many more are debating it and others will soon vote on it. By the time the approved disaffiliation process ends in 2023, it is likely that many more thousands of churches will have left.
But far more important than counts of churches leaving or staying are the hundreds of thousands of people who will be directly affected by the split up. The whole event is taking a deep human toll that will only increase as more churches and people debate and vote on the matter.
And this toll is not limited just to those within churches debating and voting on the matter. It includes just about anyone active in the denomination, especially in those states where disaffiliation is widespread. Other Methodists are not just idle observers but very much involved in what has become an increasingly grueling and sometimes brutal debate.
Help us, Lord, help us!
As the sides have hardened their positions, and those in the middle pick decide whether to “go” or “stay,” pastors are separated from pastors, friends from friends and families from others in their family.
For example, one of those on the “winning” side when the Huntsville (TX) UMC vote was taken lamented how empty the church felt the following Sunday and tearfully added that was a small thing compared to the friendships that were ruptured.
Similarly, one UMC megachurch pastor in North Carolina found himself on the receiving end of a hostile email from a friend and colleague in another state. The writer essentially accused him of abandoning our historic faith.
The pain of these two people is being multiplied by thousands across the nation.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy.
So it is that a good number of Methodists on either side of the vote find this Christmas to be a time of grief and mourning instead of joyful anticipation and celebration.
I am one of those, a liberal who has found a church but who grieves as my storied but flawed denomination breaks apart.
Like many others, I also am saddened by our widespread inability to deal in a godly manner with the serious issues that have been involved.
In the end, we jointly have more resembled Democrats and Republicans engaged in an ugly, drain out campaign instead of the Body of Christ called to renew and transform the world.
Lord, forgive us for we know not what we do.
A Prayer for Redemption:
Good and gracious God, we need a redeemer. This year, open our hearts and minds and eyes and ears to the beauty, wonder and joy of the season.
Move us to relish Mary saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Lead us to marvel when Joseph wakes up and then follows the dream.
And when the baby comes, may we fall to our knees in worship, wonder and praise.
Lord who saves, come and save us.