(RNS) — The United Methodist Church has delayed its General Conference meeting for a third time due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. In response, some conservative United Methodists have announced they will preemptively leave the denomination rather than wait for the long anticipated meeting.
Delegates to the General Conference were expected to take up a proposal to split the denomination over disagreements on the full inclusion of its LGBTQ members at the meeting of its global decision-making body scheduled for Aug. 29 to Sept. 6 in Minneapolis.
But General Conference organizers announced Thursday evening (March 3) they are postponing that meeting to 2024 because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Obtaining vaccines and travel visas remains a challenge for delegates traveling outside the United States, according to the Commission on General Conference.
“We engaged in a fair, thorough, integrity-filled discussion of the alternatives,” said Kim Simpson, chairperson of the Commission on General Conference.
“The visa issue is a reality that is simply outside our control as we seek to achieve a reasonable threshold of delegate presence and participation. Ultimately our decision reflects the hope that 2024 will afford greater opportunity for global travel and a higher degree of protection for the health and safety of delegates and attendees.”
But one group of theologically conservative United Methodists said Thursday it is not willing to wait any longer to discuss a split and announced plans, through its Transitional Leadership Council, to launch the Global Methodist Church on May 1.
“Many United Methodists have grown impatient with a denomination clearly struggling to function effectively at the general church level,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council that has been guiding the creation of the Global Methodist Church for the past year and president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
“Theologically conservative local churches and annual conferences want to be free of divisive and destructive debates, and to have the freedom to move forward together. We are confident many existing congregations will join the new Global Methodist Church in waves over the next few years, and new church plants will sprout up as faithful members exit the UM Church and coalesce into new congregations.”
Meantime, the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates the full inclusion of LGBTQ United Methodists, said Thursday it supports the commission’s decision to once again postpone the General Conference.
“Let us be honest here: holding a pandemic-era General Conference with myriad barriers to safe and equitable participation would not have been a Christ-like way to be the Church,” the group said in a written statement.