The second meeting of the Wesley Covenant Association took place last week in Memphis.
United Methodist News Service
The United Methodist Church could be on the verge of a Paul and Barnabas moment — where Christian leaders decide to go their separate ways.
“Paul and Barnabas don’t allow their personal disagreement to derail the mission because the mission’s more important,” the Rev. Jeff Greenway said, citing Acts 15: 36-41. “So Paul takes Silas and he goes off to missionary fame, and Barnabas takes John Mark, and we never hear from him again.”
Greenway was speaking to the second public gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a newly formed unofficial United Methodist group that holds church prohibitions against the practice of homosexuality to be part of Christian orthodoxy. Greenway is the chair of the association’s leadership council as well as lead pastor of Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church near Columbus, Ohio.
About 600 United Methodists attended the association’s second public event, titled “We Believe in the Church!” Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis hosted the April 28-29 event.
Throughout the gathering, those in attendance heard from clergy, including Mississippi Area Bishop James Swanson, who discussed how to be a Holy Spirit-filled church.
Bishop James Swanson’s presentation on preaching and his subsequent sermon did not focus on what divides United Methodists but on a common faith they share in the triune God, especially the Holy Spirit.
“The essence of preaching in the Spirit means you are not preaching in yourself. If you are preaching in you, when will God start preaching?” he said to thunderous applause. “The problem for our church today: Too many of us talking and we’re not letting God speak for us.”
They also heard that no matter what happens to The United Methodist Church, the association is preparing to take church in the direction it believes the Holy Spirit is leading.
“We pray every day that our denomination will right itself,” Greenway said. “We don’t know that that’s going to happen. And we believe that the kind of foundational things we’re working on right now will help inform and reform the church if it stays or if it divides.”
The denomination has long been home to a number of unofficial advocacy groups. Some work to end church bans against same-gender marriage and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy while others work to the hold the line.
What differentiates the Wesleyan Covenant Association from similar groups is that rather than relying on donations, it charges membership fees. Association members also must commit to a statement of faith and moral principles and declare a willingness to cooperate in ministry through the association.
Since its official launch in Chicago in October, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has attracted more than 1,500 individual members and more than 100 churches, which altogether have about 50,000 members.
The multinational United Methodist Church has roughly 12.4 million members.
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