Pastor's Notebook: A Statement on Church Disaffiliations

Dear Church,

In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples and all believers to be "one as we are one" (v. 12). This verse is part of Jesus' Farewell Discourse as he prepared for his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus was preparing his followers to receive their mission of being his body on earth after he ascended to be with the Father. The unity of that body is part of our witness as Christians.

Unfortunately, throughout the history of the Church, our witness has often been one of division, not unity. For more than forty years The United Methodist Church has been divided over our doctrine of human sexuality. In 2019 the General Conference (our denomination's highest body), recognizing that our divisions were increasingly irreconcilable, made a temporary way for local churches to leave the denomination if they desired. Some churches have left because they disagree with our Discipline's (rulebook's) prohibition against same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQIA+ clergy; their departure was an act of conscience and a statement of justice. Other churches have left because they are frustrated that not all members of our global connection are abiding by and enforcing the Discipline's prohibitions; their departure is also an act of conscience. Still other churches, including our own, have chosen to remain, to change the Discipline and find a new way forward together. This, too, is an act of conscience.

I used to fall squarely in the camp of unity above all else. I wept bitterly when the 2019 General Conference formalized a process for dividing our body. But sometimes unity can be an idol that distracts from the hard work of learning to love our neighbors. As my study of Scripture has deepened and my theology of human sexuality has changed, I have come to recognize that the harm our Discipline causes our LGBTQIA+ siblings also divides and dismembers the body of Christ. I believe that Jesus' prayer for unity is based in the expectation that we are actively growing in love and understanding of each other. Unity is worthless if it is not grounded in love. I am proud to serve a congregation that has chosen to wrestle with the complexities of our global connection AND grow in love for our LGBTQIA+ neighbors.

On May 7, clergy and laity from across Washington and north Idaho will gather to vote on a group of thirteen churches in our Annual Conference who have discerned they would like to disaffiliate from our connection. You can watch a livestream of the vote here. In the interest of transparency, I want you to know that unless compelling evidence is presented that convinces me otherwise, I intend to vote to approve these disaffiliations. The number of disaffiliating churches in our conference is very small relative to other annual conferences; even so, I do not relish this task. Any division in the body of Christ is an occasion for weeping, not rejoicing. Still, while I grieve their loss, I trust that God remains at work and in His infinite wisdom will redeem this time of sadness. And so I have chosen to bless these churches on their way, believing that God can and will work through us both, even as we acknowledge our theological differences. Our mission as a congregation remains the same: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

One of my favorite Scripture verses is Colossians 1:15-20:

"15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross."

This verse gives me great comfort. Even as we struggle to be the body of Christ in the midst of our differences, Jesus is holding all things together. Jesus is teaching us the way of reconciliation. Jesus is making peace through the blood of his cross. One day his Church will be healed and whole, and ALL people will have a seat at God's table. In the meantime, let us not grow weary in doing good as we grow in love, transformed and transforming in the image of Christ.

In Christ,
Pastor Amanda
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Jan Brackett - May 4th, 2023 at 8:25pm

I support you in your vote and your reasons for that vote but I am so sad we could not find a way to avoid this divorce. As tiny Tim says in the Dicken's novel, God bless us everyone.

Amanda Nicol - May 5th, 2023 at 3:10pm

Thank you for your support. It is very sad. One of the churches disaffiliating is the church where I was baptized as a baby. I pray that there will be new life for our church, our conference, and our denomination on the other side of this divorce. We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!