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A fresh start


WORLD Radio - A fresh start

A Texas church works on maintaining accountability and community

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 6.

This is The World and Everything in It and we’re glad you’re along with us today. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next: life after a church split. [pause]

More than 5,000 congregations left the United Methodist Church last year. That made it the biggest church schism in U.S. history.

Many of those who left joined the Global Methodist Church. The worldwide denomination was founded in 2022 and includes congregations from Angola, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Addie Offereins visited a new Global Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. Its members left the United Methodist Church last year. Here’s WORLD executive producer Paul Butler with the story:

PAUL BUTLER: Randy Berry and his wife were among the 100 members who left Bethany United Methodist Church last year. At first they didn’t have anywhere to go.

RANDY BERRY: The biggest challenge we had was finding a place to meet. Obviously, we couldn't, we had too many people to meet in someone's home, you know, and that's the way a lot of small churches start by just meeting at home.

A local Baptist church opened their sanctuary to the group.

Every Saturday evening, a group of about 70 people gather in the cloth-covered wooden pews to sing hymns and recite the Wesleyan liturgy.

AUDIO: [Crowd reads scripture together]

Six candles glow on a table covered in a white cloth that sits in front of the stage bearing a Bible and the communion bread.

The new congregation doesn't have an official pastor yet, so pastors and worship teams from around Texas have been filling in. Tonight, the volunteers traveled 45 minutes from Bertram, Texas.

To officially disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, a supermajority of Bethany’s members needed to approve the motion.

BERRY: So we had 57%, vote to disaffiliate and 42 to not disaffiliate Well, in any structure, organization, business, whatever. 57%. That's a pretty big majority. And but it wasn't enough under the protocol set out by the bishops.

So the members said goodbye to the sprawling church building with its large windows and brick accents and left on their own.

BERRY: It drifted away from what the doctrine and beliefs of the original Methodist Church was. So that was the reason that we decided to leave and form the global Methodist Church in Austin. And it's been wonderful.

Sterling Allen, a Global Methodist Church pastor from Houston. He made the three hour drive to preach to the new church during all four advent services in December.

STERLING ALLEN: When I heard about their issues, coming up on a vote, and then how the vote went, and then the formation of the new church, I felt called by God to reach out to some of the folks that I know and say, I'm here if you need me and use me however you want.

Some Methodist congregations decided to remain independent after leaving the UMC. But the Austin Global Methodist congregants didn’t want to lose the accountability and community of a larger church network.

ALLEN: An important thing to remember is to be Methodist. To be Wesleyan means that you're connected by DNA. It is in our DNA that we are a connected people. And so when we venture out on our own, and we walk away from denominational connection, we put ourselves in a precarious situation that opens ourselves to sinful behavior. And there are lots of different ways you could do that. There's heretical teaching, there is misrepresentation of the gospel. There's also a lot of personal things when you lack accountability that you can veer into that leads you to a sinful path.

United Methodist Church leadership failed to prevent a slide into liberal theology. But Allen is confident the Global Methodist Church is committed to scripture and willing to discipline a wayward church if necessary.

Berry said practical concerns also motivated the Austin congregants to join the Global Methodist Church network.

BERRY: We wanted the support that the Global Methodist Church could give us in a lot of ways. And a very important aspect is they help us find pastors. So there's a lot of structure there that helps us. We're not out here, just really doing a new startup on our own trying to just invent everything from scratch.

It wasn’t easy to leave Bethany. But the disagreement had been brewing for years. Tom Deviney was the lead pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church for more than 20 years.

TOM DEVINEY: There's been a fair amount of animosity toward the GMC from some of the folks in the UMC. And I suspect from some of the GMC toward the UMC. So there's some tension there between those two groups.

Deviney was set to retire right as the split took place. He faced a choice: retire with the UMC or transfer his retirement to the Global Methodist Church.

DEVINEY: I saw the decisions the United Methodist Church was making. There was a lack of integrity in some of those decisions, I felt. I also felt like the future direction it's going—to me—is not consistent with my understanding of Scripture. And what I think God calls us to, and I thought, I don't feel I can, with integrity, stay a part of that any longer.

The whole process raised questions about Church unity.

DEVINEY: The unity of the church has been argued and discussed forever. And if you start drawing like a tree of all the divisions and stuff in almost any denomination, it gets very confusing very rapidly.

Deviney says unity in itself isn’t the primary goal. What matters more is who and what brothers and sisters in Christ are unified around.

DEVINEY: I think there is a confusion between unity in the institutions of the bureaucracy of the church, and unity in Christ. And what we are called in Scripture is to unity in Christ as THE church, the universal Church. And that has nothing to do with, you know, what denomination label you have, or what institution you're part of, or any of that.

Randy Berry and his wife expect the Austin Global Methodist church to continue to grow. In mid February, the congregation started meeting Sunday mornings at Concordia University chapel.

BERRY: We believe that we will have a lot of other folks that will join us that just just doesn't work out for one reason or another on Saturday evenings.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler. WORLD Reporter Addie Offereins wrote and reported this story.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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