Saturday, July 2, 2011

Renegade UMC Clergy, Bishop, and Conference

Imagine if your United Methodist pastor, who had been serving your church, resigned his/her position, but stayed in the area. Then imagine if half your church left to follow the previous pastor in a new ministry AND somehow received endorsement by the bishop even though all ties of the church and clergy had been severed with the UMC. Doesn't make sense, does it?

A couple of years ago I met Revs. Mike and Sherri Morrissey who are elders in the Kentucky United Methodist Church. They were serving as General Board of Global Ministries missionaries (the sending agency for the UMC) in Thailand. I met them in the late summer of 2009, and by the fall had them sharing the exciting opportunity with my international mission team of ways our church could support new United Methodist congregations in Thailand.

In April 2000, while exchanging e-mails in hopes of an upcoming visit to our sister church in preparation for them to receive a work team from my congregation, I found out that the Morrisseys were finishing up their time as GBGM missionaries. They said they'd remain in the country and begin work on the Thailand Methodist Mission. This was effective in June 2010. But as I soon found out TMM had no relation to UMC work in the region, and had no connection to Methodism other than the fact that two ordained, full connection United Methodist clergy were starting a new ministry.

I have tried to work through conversations and e-mails with GBGM and others to make sense of this. You can imagine the challenges with a church mission committee trying to "get the picture!" How do we work through GBGM and a connectional mission approach when a US bishop and annual conference seem to be facilitating ministry outside of United Methodism and the established structures? While missions is often a messy business this was becoming more complicated than most situations I've encountered over 15 years of international experience.

Through the first half of 2011 my international mission committee and I learned much more about the United Methodist work in Thailand. It turns out that some of the churches "split off" and are no longer associated with the United Methodist mission. Apparently the new Thai churches weren't very United Methodist! This is offensive to me as my church, and others, have lost funds we have invested in those churches and clergy thinking that certain typical United Methodist protocols would be in place to protect UM assets. It turns out that, once again, international missions is risky business.

Now I realize there is plenty of work in the Kingdom, and we don't all need to belong to "my" denomination, but this just isn't the way to do business.

I've just returned from 9 days of medical missions in Togo, west Africa, and in catching up on the United Methodist annual conferences news round-up was saddened to see an added layer to the story. I had posted an earlier blog, and reached out to GBGM hoping the Kentucky UMC would be dissuaded from taking up a mission offering at their annual conference in partial support of the Morrisseys. I would have been happy for all the proceeds to go to the good work in Venezuela to a seminary that trains Methodist clergy and is working in partnership with that conference! Sadly I see that $82,000 is going to the Venezuela Methodist church planters AND to start a new church in Thailand ( KY UMC Annual Conference Report ).

So many questions... Why is the KY UMC and bishop actively supporting efforts in direct opposition to United Methodist ministry? If a full connection clergy is serving in some other location in the world beyond their annual conference, and the supervision and accountability of bishop, district superintendent, and conference Board of Ordained Ministry, shouldn't they fall under some similar shared structure of the umbrella of United Methodism? Why can't we all get on the "same page" on this and act as a connectional church? Is the distrust of GBGM that deep or is this merely entrepreneurial missions gone haywire? Where is the "check and balance" in the larger UMC if there is no supervision and if no one in KY UMC is going to do anything about it?

If this were occurring in a US annual conference you know a District Superintendent and Bishop would be all over it! It all seems contrary to our United Methodist ways of holiness, of ministry, and of mission. Perhaps General Conference 2012 should take up such matters as a case study of how NOT to be in global mission and ministry. Also, can we change our ways so that bishops aren't bishops for life?! They sure seem to lose their edge after a few years, and similar to Methodism in other parts of the world, likely need to rotate back into the everyday realities of life and ministry in the local connection.

On second thought, maybe this isn't so bad. Perhaps I'll get the North GA UMC to back me up as I start a new Methodist church in Louisville KY. I've always loved that town and have a lot of friends there!

Rev. CherLue Vang, GBGM Thailand Missionary

Gary & Cindy Moon, GBGM Thailand Missionaries at orphanage

UM clergy/missionaries establishing churches outside UMC auspices

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