Step by Step: Some Holy Week Reflections

posted on April 04

Step by Step:
Some Holy Week Reflections
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3
(Epistle Reading for the Wednesday of Holy Week, 2023)

For all of us in The United Methodist Church, this is a season of journeys. We have the journey of the Lenten season, which is almost complete. The celebration of Easter is upon us, and we give God thanks for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  Yes, we still have some hard days ahead, but Sunday is coming!

In our denomination, we are also on our journey to the future church. When the pandemic first changed our lives in March 2020, all our churches were already courageously dealing with change, primarily through trends in worship attendance and the loss of our faithful and generous senior leaders through life transitions and deaths.

Then the pandemic. While some churches were able to pivot quickly, and many churches have restored (and increased) their pre-pandemic worship attendance, many have not fully recovered. It’s as if COVID-19 hit churches just like it hit people – unevenly and unfairly. Some struggled for a bit and recovered completely. Some have not been able to spring back. It feels unfair and unjust. So we have been on those journeys, too. Add to that…conversations about disaffiliation. Unfortunately, it’s a 1-2-3 punch for many churches.

Misinformation has been distributed, wrongly accusing The United Methodist Church of not believing in Jesus, not believing in the resurrection, not believing in the ancient creeds, etc. People have borne false witness against us to cause fear and a false sense of urgency.

In our Northern Piedmont District, 13 churches have voted to disaffiliate, which is 10% of our total number of churches. Most of those churches had less than 50 people in worship, and many were not full-time appointments. Most have been small for many years. Nonetheless, we will still miss them. So that’s a journey, too. For most of these churches it is a journey to an unknown future, and there will likely be some chaos. We are already seeing signs of entropy, as some of the leaders don’t quite know what to do next.

Each day we get calls and emails from persons who are asking that we help them fight off “the misinformation campaign” that is going on in their churches. They tell stories of their church feeling more like a war zone than a place of warmth, welcome, and love. They want to remain United Methodist and they do not want their congregations to be seen as places where all are not welcomed. As you know, the ONLY reason a church can disaffiliate under Paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline is “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”

Another journey (this one a great one!) that is rapidly unfolding is the journey to become a LIGHTHOUSE Congregation. We are proud to say that 10 of our Northern Piedmont Churches have already made the decision to be Lighthouse Congregations…churches who are particularly equipped to welcome anyone whose church has closed or disaffiliated. A Lighthouse Congregation is a United Methodist faith community that will serve as a resting place with people who will care for you while providing a haven of peace and grace. This is a current listing (which continues to grow) of our Northern Piedmont Lighthouse Congregations

They covenant to welcome you with open arms, and they promise that they will not be places where conversations about disaffiliation will be taking place. They are using their missional energy to expand God’s Kingdom. They invite you into worship and service with them.

Another group that is rapidly forming for those whose churches have disaffiliated is the United Methodist Collective. This is an online portal which you can go to and learn more. Through this portal, you can join on online group or simply change your church affiliation to the collective and away from a congregation that has disaffiliated. This is another way you can remain United Methodist during this segment of your own personal spiritual journey, even if the disaffiliation conversations have become too painful at your local church. Others have reported a sad sense of being left behind, and this is a place to connect to positivity.

So many journeys. As a Christian leader, I find it to be a very challenging time. It causes me to seek God’s strength daily. I am upheld by the abundant love of God our Father, the sacrificial ministry of His Son Jesus Christ, and the ongoing revival of the Holy Spirit.

I urge you to ask good questions if conversations about disaffiliation come up in your church. Ask to be represented; make your voice heard. It’s so crucial that you speak TO one another about these matters, instead of about one another. Your leaders need to hear from you.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing this holy journey with you. Be encouraged and stay faithful to Christ and choose the new life he offers each of us this Easter season, and always.

Holy Week Blessings,

Rev. Bev Coppley
District Superintendent

Step by Step Some Holy Week Reflections