Reverend Patrick Evans, Senior Pastor

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September 2022

The Pastor's Perspective

Our congregation is currently in a time of discernment. The work of discernment is something we do individually and corporately. As your pastor, I'm a member of the Texas Annual Conference, not of this church, so my discernment looks somewhat different.

My own work of discernment starts with being clear about my commitments. Since I came to faith in Jesus my senior year of high school, I have been committed to aligning my life with his character and kingdom purposes. I've been formed in the Wesleyan/ Methodist tradition, finding it to be a clear expression of the Christian faith. Theology is deeply important to me, not just through my work as a scholar in this tradition, but in my desire to teach and preach it in our local church context. More narrowly, when I was appointed to Hardy by Bishop Jones this summer, I committed to being here and serving as your pastor. I am tying myself to the decision you make in this time of discernment.

As the United Methodist Church divides, I interpret both as expressions of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. Both seek to be biblical in their continuance of that tradition. I see different approaches to reading the Bible and expressing theological accountability within the two denominations. The current and likely future UMC continues to hold theological pluralism as a core value. This is why some of the expressions we see that strike us as unacceptably deviating from our doctrine are not viewed as such by others. Out of this way of seeing things, our
marketing slogan, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors," has become a primary way of understanding our identity. The GMC as envisioned by its founders looks for closer and clearer
adherence to our official doctrine (doctrine shared with the UMC). The span of theological pluralism is less than in the UMC. When it comes to being open minded, they might make
recourse to Chesterton, "Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

The "trust clause" (the legal bit that says that churches hold their property "in trust" for the denomination) in the Methodist tradition originated with Wesley himself in the 1760s. The
purpose was to ensure the accountability of the Methodist "preaching houses" that were being built across England. Accountability at that time was "bottom up." What was not envisioned at that time was the need for "top down" accountability, that those in the hierarchy of the movement/denomination could possibly deviate from Methodist teaching standards. Precisely
that deviance has happened over the past century, but United Methodist polity still assumes that cannot happen. I see no move in the UMC to change the role of the trust clause. In GMC polity accountability is understood as requiring greater mutuality. Pastors, bishops, congregations, and laity are accountable to each other. The GMC will have a clear articulation of its doctrinal vision. Churches and people are openly invited to be a part – but they are not required to be a part, at  the cost of losing their property.

A method of discipleship is at the core of our tradition. Since the days of Wesley, Methodists have met in small groups to hold each other accountable as they pursue maturity in Christ together. The use of the Class and Band meetings faded away in the mid 19th century. The UMC has made efforts to recover these tools; the GMC has a vision to making them central to membership in the church

Discernment is a difficult process for me, with some things (primarily the theological) being easier than others. First, there's the fact that I've been serving in the UMC all my adult life. I continue to value my relationships, even with those whom I consider to be wrong. That's why I consider myself a "traditionalist compatibilist." Second, I fear some might want to leave for the wrong reasons. It might be that we are attracted by the idea of having lower apportionments or more freedom from denominational control. I've heard too many across the connection speak of our conflict over sexuality with what sounds like contempt for those who are different. I don't want to be part of a movement (whether GMC or UMC) that has bitterness and contempt at its heart. I don't want to see our church – or any – make the move motivated by fear or self-righteousness. Finally, I'm committed to holding as much of the church together as we can. I don't know the best and right way to do that.

There is much uncertainty ahead, whether we stay United Methodist or disaffiliate and affiliate with the Global Methodist Church. There is no pain-free way forward. It's going to take deep prayer to come to a godly conclusion. Deep prayer is hard, agonizing work. We have serious work ahead of us to become a church that effectively helps people come to faith in Christ and come to maturity in him. We do not know what either the UMC or the GMC will become in the years ahead. We do have our vision to be "warm hearted" people – even people who appear far from God or who sin differently than we do – so my prayer is that we can move ahead in ever deepening love for each other, free from fear, free from contempt for those who differ from us whether they be near or far.  I pray also that we will be motivated more by the positives of where we're going than by wanting to escape the negatives of the other side."

1 Corinthians 15:58
Rev. Richard Heyduck