Leaving United Methodist Church and Seeking Episcopal Reception

In my mind, the Methodist Church was done for me.  I didn’t consciously know it yet, but the United Methodist Church (UMC) and I had just parted ways.  In the Spring of 2011, I finally took a good hard look at the Methodist church and my place in it and there were too many differences for me to have a future in the UMC.  My consciousness rejected this idea for another month or two because I had two terrific Methodist chaplains in college, and I hated the idea of being in a separate church from them.  However, the writing was on the wall, and as much as I would have liked to keep drinking and pretend it’s not, that does not change the writing’s presence.[1]

One of the reasons that I could shed this affiliation so easily[2] was because it was loose to begin with.  As I described in my first blog post, the United Methodist church that I grew up in was Methodist in name only.  My previous church counts little of Methodist doctrine as beliefs that they hold.  True, Wofford College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but you would be hard pressed to find that affiliation in the day to day life of the students of the college.  I am still friends with both of my Methodist chaplains from Wofford, and I talk to them often.  As I have noted, these two relationships were the biggest tie to the UMC for me.

I had started the first steps of the ordination process with the District Superintendent’s Office of Florence[3], but this was far, far from a pleasant process.  In all of my dealings with the office, I never actually met the District Superintendent.  Every communication I had with the office was through the secretary who was…unique.  The first time I went to the office, I brought along the documentation they needed to get me started in the process:  my high school diploma, my social security card, proof of my confirmation and membership in a church in the district, and my college transcript.  Upon providing this documentation to the secretary, she looked at me and said, “Now we need proof that you’re literate.”

I stared at her blankly for a moment and said, “…I beg your pardon?”

“We need proof that you can read.”  Upon understanding that I did hear what I thought I was hearing, I looked at her and then pointedly looked down at the documents she was holding in her hands.

“No, no you have to take the TABE test to prove that you can read.”  I left the office and later attempted to call the District Superintendent and speak to him about this.  I never reached him on the phone.  I e-mailed him and got a pointed response that taking the test was conference policy and could not be circumvented, so I took the test.[4]  Needless to say, my enthusiasm for pursuit of ordination dropped off.  My intermittent attempts at e-mailing the District Superintendent were never answered, and I still have not met him in person.

Another reason for my cutting ties with the UMC is their polity.  In my opinion, the bishops of the UMC have far too much power, and I could not pursue ordination in a denomination that has that much power over its clergy.  Let me explain, while the bishops of the church have power to affect Methodist doctrine and polity, that is not my qualm.  Let us say that I get a job as chaplain of a school that I like.  I enjoy my work there, and I like the people I am around.  A new bishop is elected to the South Carolina conference.  She is someone I have never met or spoken to before, but the day after she takes office, she can look at her roster of clergy and find my name.  She could call me and tell me she needs me to pastor a church in Ninety Six, SC[5], and I would have to go.  I cannot, after investing so much time in my education, make the commitment to potentially be someone’s migratory, indentured servant.  I applaud anyone who has made this commitment, but I cannot and could not do so.[6]

Undoubtedly, however, the biggest qualm I have with the United Methodist Church is their stubbornness in keeping homosexuality as “incompatible” with the church.  The General Conference that took place a few weeks ago and the treatment of homosexual members and allies there confirmed this for me.  I believe that someday I will be ordained, for I do not expect that God will leave me alone on this point.[7]  I believe that ordination is primarily about being a representative of Christ’s love for the world.  Christ died for the salvation of all, and he did not talk about homosexuality at all.  There is no way that I could bring myself to proclaim God’s love as a member of a denomination that proclaims it is not for some people because of their sexuality.  I can’t do it, and I pray for all of those who feel the way I do but have to do so in the United Methodist Church anyway.

Despite my stepping away from the United Methodist Church, I know that I am still Wesleyan.  I am Arminian[8], and I hold with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral[9].  This year I had been worshiping consistently at Berkeley Divinity School’s Wednesday night worship service and dinner.  The original intention was to show a consistent non-Berkeley presence on Wednesday nights in a show of solidarity.  However, the more I came to know it, the more I realized how much I fit in with the “Mother Church.”[10]  The Episcopal Church both ordains homosexual people and celebrates their marriages in the states in which that is legal.  TEC isn’t afraid or wary of intellectual thought.  Indeed, the position of the Episcopal Church is to struggle and wrestle with the Biblical text.  I am also attracted to the diversity of traditions and theology found in The Anglican Communion, for it is the Big Tent that has a place for many in it.  Obviously, the Episcopal Church has its own set of problems, but so far, these are such that I am willing to take them on to get to the good.  I look forward to continue walking the via media[11] and continuing to learn.


[1] Daniel 5:1-9

[2] While it’s true that my leaving the Church was an easy decision, given my loose ties to it in the first place, I imagine that for some members of the UMC who choose to stay–particularly those who are disadvantaged by the Church’s theology–the decision cannot be easy. I admire these individuals for their courage.

[3] District Superintendents are administrators within the Methodist church.  A DS is someone who represents the larger conference the district is located within but can give a great deal more hands on help since the district is a great deal smaller than the conference.

[4] I kid you not; I went to the adult education center in Florence, SC and took the TABE test.  The TABE test, for those who do not know what it is, is a test designed to determine at what level a person should begin pursuit of his or her GED.  I waited to get my test for 45 minutes among a room full of high school dropouts and their angry mothers yelling at them.  I am not exaggerating.  There were no fathers in the room.  Take that for what you will.

[5] This place exists, I promise.  Look it up.

[6] No, bishops do not have this kind of power in the Episcopal Church.

[7] I have rarely experienced God through revelations and epiphanies.  I do not even have a pretty, turn-on-a-dime conversion story to Christianity to tell.  I have experienced the Holy Spirit moving within me as a persistent annoyance more than anything else.  I know exactly what C.S. Lewis was talking about when he spoke of the “hounds of heaven.”  I am pushed, stretched, and annoyed until I do the Holy Spirit’s will, and when I do in the end, I feel the Holy Spirit’s chuckle run through me.

[8] Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian and the progenitor of Arminianism that holds that salvation from Jesus is available to all who will choose and accept it.

[9] The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a methodology for theological reflection that holds that theological conclusions should be sifted through the sieves of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

[10] Despite being the inspiration and thought behind a new movement, John Wesley never left the Church of England.

[11] John Donne referred to the Anglican path as a “middle way” between the Roman Catholic Church and the newer Protestant churches.

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One comment on “Leaving United Methodist Church and Seeking Episcopal Reception

  1. Rachon says:

    Will, I realize you posted this some time ago. I’m sorry that your DS and conference policy are so ridiculous – you’ve probably heard this, but I want to put it out there that this is not the case in all conferences, both about the literacy testing (hello! seminary should give them an idea that you can read) and about the power of the bishop (legally the same, in practice the situation you describe would never happen in the western jurisdiction). Different areas are also more inclined to break the rules that require discrimination against LGBT folks. Still, I know that you are following God’s call and finding the community you’re meant to be in – and I know that you will be a gift to that community! Blessings on your journey. May you enjoy all the wine and vestments of the Episcopal Church (j/k – sort of. Seriously, there’s a lot of wine.)

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