As talk of splitting The United Methodist Church reaches a fever pitch, a theologically diverse group of clergy and lay members of the North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference are signing a covenant calling for unity.
“While our disagreements are significant, we confess our faith in a God who creates out of nothing, makes a way out of no way, and holds the power to bring the dead to life,” says the document “That They May Be One. A Covenant for Unity in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.”
“Though there are some issues about which we profoundly disagree, we are united in our opposition to schism in the United Methodist Church,” the statement continues.
As of June 3, about 460 United Methodists in the North Georgia Conference had signed the covenant, including 191 clergy. It is being shared through email and various social media. With more than 362,000 professing members as of 2012, the conference reports the biggest membership of any in the United States.
The covenant follows a statement by a group of 80 United Methodist pastors and theologians in 30 conferences calling for “traditionalists” and “progressives” to part ways “amicably.” The group’s press release described the debate regarding homosexuality and other issues as irreconcilable.
Most of the 80 clergy have chosen to remain anonymous, but at least one is in the North Georgia Conference. He did not return requests for comment.
The covenant originated with a Facebook post by the Rev. Dalton Rushing, pastor of North Decatur United Methodist Church in Decatur, Ga.
“I realized, as a number of folks have said, that if the church were to split, I wouldn’t have a denomination,” Rushing told United Methodist News Service.
“There is something about the tension between the two traditional camps of the church that feels right to me. I like the evangelical focus of the conservative wing. I like the social-action focus of the progressive wing. And if the church were to split, I realize there would be nowhere for me to go.”
He soon found that many other United Methodists hold a similar view.
Covenant Coming Together
After the positive response on Facebook, Rushing reached out to clergy friends from various theological perspectives to help craft a covenant for unity. Ultimately, about 15 to 20 laity and clergy had a hand in drafting the statement.
Rushing emailed the covenant to pastors on June 1, a week before the North Georgia Conference’s annual session, which is scheduled to meet June 11-15. It was made public to the wider conference early June 2.
Rushing said he and others considered introducing the statement as a proposed resolution at the annual meeting but decided that the point of the statement was not just for the conference.
“The point, at least from my perspective, is to help people realize that the things that connect us are stronger than the things that divide us,” he said.
The Rev. David Allen Grady, senior pastor of Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta, echoed that sentiment. He was among those who helped draft the document.
“It is a more faithful, stronger witness for us to remain together,” Grady said. “I have great hope that we will pause, worship, pray and conference together and discern that is a better witness to the world.”
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