Several Baytown area churches will have new affiliations after the first of the year as the fracturing of the country’s third largest denomination hits home.
Several United Methodist churches, including Cedar Bayou Grace and St. Mark’s in Baytown and First United Methodist Church of Mont Belvieu have voted to withdraw from the United Methodist Church in recent congregational votes. They will be joining the newly formed Global Methodist Church.
“The public face of our ministry in Baytown for the most part doesn’t change. We’re still going to be doing the same ministries,” Kenn Munn, pastor of St. Mark’s said.
The most visible change will be a new sign without the word “United” in “St. Mark’s Methodist Church.” Mont Belvieu Pastor William Lucas said that church is making another modification to the name, changing from “First United Methodist Church of Mont Belvieu” to simply “Mont Belvieu Methodist Church.”
Munn and Lucas will be making the transition along with their congregations: both said they plan to transfer their credentials to the Global Methodist Church and remain in their current pastorates.
St. Mark’s Associate Pastor Linda Tolan will also remain with the local church and change affiliation. Mont Belvieu Associate Pastor Clayton Hall will remain with the United Methodist Church, Lucas said, but has been asked to continue serving in Mont Belvieu until July 1, the typical time for United Methodist pastors to move.
Pastor Luis Ramirez of Cedar Bayou Grace said he and Associate Pastor Jordan Czichos will remain part of the United Methodist Church, which means moving to another church and Cedar Bayou Grace receiving new clergy no later than July 1.
“There is a period between now and the end of June where you will see pastors transitioning and you will see United Methodist pastors who will be serving in Global Methodist churches while those churches transition and find another pastor and those pastors are moved to another church,” Ramirez said.
The breakup of the denomination has been building for years, finally resulting in the creation of a limited time option for local congregations to withdraw from the United Methodist Church and keep their church property. This was an unusual move for a denomination that has historically kept central control of property to prevent schism.
Departing congregations had the option of becoming independent churches but were strongly encouraged to join another denomination in the Methodist tradition, which traces its roots to 18th-century evangelist John Wesley. The new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, is a Texas-based group led by persons from several countries who have been on the conservative side of internal disagreements. It is the landing place of many of the departing churches.
While there have been a variety of conflicts, many departing leaders point to a failure of some bishops and church bodies to enforce the United Methodist Church’s policies contained in its Book of Discipline, particularly the prohibition of clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
“The majority of the members that voted to leave felt like the Book of Disciple — our church book of law — wasn’t being enforced or upheld faithfully across the board. Different conferences and different bishops were picking and choosing which parts of this covenant that we all entered into as United Methodists that they wanted to uphold and enforce,” Lucas said. “They felt that that wasn’t where our church was and where our wider Mont Belvieu-Baytown community was.”
He said members of the church like the slimmed-down structure of the Global Methodist Church, the statements of faith that maintain a high view of scripture and the greater accountability at all levels of church structure.
All of the area churches have one more administrative hurdle — approval of their departure by the Texas Annual Conference in December, but that is expected to happen.
Both Lucas and Munn said there is relief that a direction has been decided so the church can turn its focus from internal matters back to ministry.
“It’s painful. There are no winners. We’re doing our best to move forward as a now-wounded body,” he said.
Munn said most things will remain the same, though some United Methodist-related ministries may change.
He said, though, that St. Mark’s is host to a United Methodist Native American Ministry group that meets monthly and has no plans to move. It also shares facilities with a Spanish-language United Methodist Church, San Marcos, which it has invited to stay regardless of its own affiliation.
In a letter to the congregation after the disaffiliation vote, he said, “Our congregation has seen organizational structures come and go throughout her history, but we have remained a strong Wesleyan Methodist congregation through all those years. In other words, while change occurs from time to time, St. Mark’s remains our church home.”