Mount. Bethel Church Member Fears “We’re Torn”

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During his long convalescence from a hiking accident last summer, Donna Lachance stated that the other members of Mount. Bethel United Methodist Church provided food and other offers of assistance to her and her family.

“The community has choked me with love,” said Lachance, identifying herself as the hiker who was assisted off the Gold Branch trails last August after injuring her ankle.

The social and civic bonds of belonging to one of East Cobb’s largest religious communities are an important part of the appeal to Lachance and her husband Frank, who have been to Mt. Members of Bethel for 15 years.

She has also been on the church staff as a photographer and in communications, and has been involved in other ministries.

What Lachance had not done until recently was delve into the politics of a church of nearly 10,000 members.

But in the past two months, Mt. Bethel leaders, clergy, staff and members have been in an uproar over a decision by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference to reassign senior pastor Jody Ray.

Dramatically, Ray refused reassignment and handed in his credentials as pastor of CMU. Mount. Bethel’s Board of Directors announced he wouldn’t accept a new pastor, then declared his intention to disaffiliate from the denomination.

Mount. Bethel leaders also filed a formal complaint against the North Georgia Conference and said Ray will remain as CEO and Senior Minister.

Mount. Bethel is the largest of the 800 congregations of the North Georgia Conference, which has over 340,000 members.

Mount. Bethel leaders spoke of the theological disputes that have rocked The United Methodist Church in recent years and which prompted the denomination to put in place a process to allow conservative congregations to leave.

This year, The United Methodist Church should have considered adopting the “Protocol of reconciliation through grace and separation”. Due to COVID-19 precautions, this process has been delayed until 2022.

Ferrell Coppedge, a member of the Mt. Bethel Executive Committee, also sits on the board of directors of the Wesleyan Alliance Association, a group of conservative UMC churches that formed in 2016. Mt. Bethel was the host of the WCA annual conference in 2018.

In April, in his first sermon since the argument began, Ray addressed his children saying that “your daddy hasn’t bowed the knee, nor kissed the ring, of progressive theology. . . . which is not theology.

“Divisive like we’ve never seen before”

Next Friday, July 1, the pastor has been reassigned to Mt. Bethel, Dr Steven Usry, formerly of Sugarloaf UMC in Duluth, is expected to begin his duties at East Cobb.

As the deadline approached, Lachance, her husband Frank and Mt. Bethel members Bob and Janet Graff distributed an open letter to several hundred other members, fearing the refusal from church leaders to adhere to the UMC’s book of discipline – the denomination’s government and doctrinal document – could trigger legal action and worsen the ongoing battles that are brewing. for years.

“I hope we can come together and stop this before he destroys our 180 year old faith community,” they wrote in the first paragraph of their letter.

“If we don’t accept Dr. Usry, the Bishop will have no choice but to invoke the emergency clause and go on to take control of all of Mt. The property of Bethel which, like all churches in UMC, is held in trust by the conference, ”according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Cobb East News.

“Both sides agree she will likely win.”

The letter, titled “A Different Perspective,” accuses Mt. The Bethel Executive Committee, made up of seven church leaders, tried to “drag this fight out, hoping to run out of time, until the Protocol is passed. . . .

“We don’t know about you, but we didn’t ask for this fight and we don’t want it,” the letter continued. “We don’t know who is going to pay the substantial legal fees. We know that we will pay all the costs in terms of discord, uncertainty and suspicion among people who until this begins loved Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

Cobb East News contacted the North Georgia Conference and Mt. Bethel leadership is looking for comments.

Dr Jody Ray, Mont.  Senior Pastor of Bethel UMC
Dr Jody Ray surrendered his UMC ministerial credentials after declining a reassignment.

In an interview with Cobb East News, Lachance said she had met Usry, who is considered a theological curator, but not on the Main Mountain. Bethel Campus on Lower Roswell Road.

She said he was not allowed to do so and that he had encountered Mt. Bethel members at their request at the nearby mountain. Zion UMC and neighborhood clubs in the East Cobb area.

“Saying that you won’t accept a pastor is not something you can do,” Lachance said, adding that when Mt. Bethel leaders initially announced this decision, she was not aware of. “This is the bishop’s appointment to be made.”

Lachance signed the open letter quoting Romans 13: 1, which said, “Everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. “

After attending a special town hall held by church leaders last month, Lachance said his concerns had increased.

“There was more to this story than what was being said,” she said, adding that she had kept an open mind on the dispute.

‘Not what Mt. Bethel is on ‘

Lachance said she admires Ray, calling him inspiring and saying he has been of great pastoral help to his family.

“I love Jody, he’s been great for Mt. Bethel, ”she said. “But at this point, we’re still United Methodists.”

In addition, the complete mount. Bethel membership did not weigh on the issue, and a congregation vote would be required to disaffiliate. It can’t happen for at least a year.

“Basically we’re torn,” Lachance said. “I don’t know why we are fighting now.”

If this vote takes place, Lachance predicted, “it will be a division like we have never seen.”

Currently, the Discipline Book does not allow homosexual clergy ordination or same-sex marriage, but that could change if a new protocol is approved.

Lachance said, “I don’t believe that’s something our church should leave to the denomination.” “

The Book of Discipline also has a specific paragraph allowing disaffiliation for reasons relating to human sexuality.

“[Mt. Bethel leaders] will say it’s not just about this issue, ”Lachance said. “But that’s how I feel it.”

But she said her concerns were less with theology, but with the procedural steps of Mt. Bethel is now taking.

She said that since her open letter came out this week, she has heard from Mt. Bethel members who agree with her but are reluctant to come forward.

“That’s not what Mt. Bethel is about,” Lachance said. “We fight ourselves instead of winning souls.”

“A great test of our faith”

Church leadership created a petition against Ray’s reassignment that nearly 5,000 people have signed, but Lachance said there was a considerable difference of opinion on how to proceed.

In their open letter, the Graffs and Lachance wrote that while Mt. Bethel leaders “are all good people, doing what they think God has called them to do. . . we don’t think they should take us down this controversial path without a full and transparent discussion of the costs and benefits of doing so, and without listening to those who disagree.

They also pleaded with their colleagues to tell the Executive Committee to follow a different path: “If there are enough of us to speak, maybe it will make a difference. “

Lachance said when she picked up her husband on Friday from an activity at Main Mountain. On the Bethel campus, she saw another member who had been a good friend, someone with whom she disagreed about how to resolve the conflict in the congregation.

“We just hugged and said we love each other and had a very civil conversation,” Lachance said.

This is Mt. The Bethel fellowship which, she says, nourished her for a long time as an evangelical Christian.

She thinks a lot about Mt. Bethel’s divisions would “disappear” if Ray told church members to embrace the new pastor, but she doubts that will happen.

“We are not winning a soul for Christ right now, and that is what we are called to do,” she said.

However, Lachance is also optimistic that Mt. Bethel will not stay that way.

“It’s a great test for our faith, but I believe we will overcome it,” she said.

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