|Holy Mass Procession According to Divine Worship|
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas
About a year ago I wrote an essay entitled "Where Do Episcopalians Go From Here?" It chronicled the demise of The Episcopal Church (TEC), the American branch of the Anglican Communion, which centres around the issue of acceptance of homosexuality. Early in this century, 2003, The Episcopal Church made history by consecrating its first open and practising homosexual man as a bishop. This particular man, Gene Robinson, left his wife and children to eventually "marry" his same-sex partner. Some years later, 2010, The Episcopal Church would make history again by electing its first open and practising lesbian woman as a bishop -- Mary Glasspool. These acts, combined with the general liberal trajectory of The Episcopal Church over the last four decades, have gutted the denomination of its membership, and ultimately resulted in some disciplinary action from the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Now, so it would appear, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has embarked on the same trajectory of The Episcopal Church. In essence, the UMC is about where TEC was in 2003. The biggest difference however is the size of the denomination. The Episcopal Church was a relatively small US denomination when it embarked on its liberal trajectory back in the 1970s at only about 3.5 million members. That number has declined significantly over the last four decades. The United Methodist Church, however, currently has a membership of about 7.6 million members, over double the size of TEC in the 1970s. So the effect of this recent decision will have a much larger impact. What is that decision? On June 15, 2016 the Western Jurisdiction Conference of the UMC elected Karen Oliveto, and open, practising and "married" lesbian, as a bishop. As a result, the UMC has just found itself in a crisis. Where it goes from here is unknown, but it would be fair to speculate that the UMC is following TEC along the same path.
So what is Methodism exactly? Where did it come from? Why does it appear to be following the same path as Anglicanism? From a Catholic perspective, it's not really that far fetched. Methodism is itself a direct offshoot of Anglicanism. Methodism sprang forth from the Church of England in the 18th century, under the teachings of John Wesley, his brother Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. Both John and George were Anglican clergy. What began as a reform movement within Anglicanism eventually became its own denomination apart from the mainstream Anglican churches. The name "Methodist" communicates exactly what the movement was about. They lived the faith according to a "rule" or "method." What was originally a word of mockery was embraced by John Wesley as a title of honour.
Methodists fall under the umbrella of Evangelical churches, and it was one of the first churches to start the Evangelical movement. The distinguishing characteristics of Methodism include...
- Assurance of salvation,
- Priesthood of all believers,
- Primacy of Scripture,
- Works of Piety,
- Christian Perfection.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) has been trending in a more liberal direction for the last couple decades now, and it's clearly following the trajectory of The Episcopal Church. That being said however, it should be noted that while the UMC represents the largest Methodist denomination in the US, it is not the only one. Some alternate examples include: African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), Free Methodist Church (FMC), and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), just to name a few. However, the UMC is the flagship of Methodism in the US, and while this decision to consecrate a homosexual bishop probably won't garner the same media attention as did the same decision in TEC, the long term impact won't be much different.
A great deal of the future depends on what the national leadership of the UMC does in response. If they respond assertively by breaking with the Western Jurisdiction Conference, they may be able to prevent a much wider schism in the long term. However, such assertiveness is not likely. What we can more likely expect is a wrist slapping, if even that, which won't be enough. Our experience in the Anglican Communion tells us that problems like this don't get better. They only get worse, as is their nature. Because once they've gone this far, they demonstrate a completely unwillingness to turn back.
In the long run, this will result in a much wider schism, but its not the kind of schism one would think. Methodists will just "vote with their feet," to use an American expression, and leave the UMC. Some will go to other Methodist denominations. Some might try to start their own. The vast majority, however, will just go shopping for a whole new denomination entirely. Granted, not all of them will do this. Indeed, a good number of Methodists actually agree with the decision to consecrate active homosexuals, and are quite pleased that its finally been done. At the same time, however, sitting in the pews next to them, are fellow Methodists who know this violates God's will, as revealed through Scripture and Tradition, and will not likely be able to abide by it for very long. So what I'm saying here is the type of schism the UMC can expect is the same type we saw in TEC. It's not so much a mass exodus of people in the pews, but rather a slow trickle of people leaving, much like a leaky faucet. Gradually, over time, the congregations will thin out. Those who remain in the pews will get older. Blonde and brunette hair will turn grey. Children will become more sparse, and slowly, the UMC will cease to grow and eventually begin to shrink.
In the city of Springfield Missouri, where I live, there are no less than 14 UMC churches. Some of them are pretty good size. Members of these congregations often fancy themselves as more liberal than the surrounding Baptist and Pentecostal churches. However, while most Methodists might consider themselves more liberal than other Protestants, there are probably a good number who disapprove of the election of openly homosexual bishops. Currently, there are no Free Methodist Churches (FMC) in Springfield, that I am aware of, but I would surmise that it won't be long before one is planted now.
The FMC is generally thought of as more conservative than the UMC. Worship style, however, is much more Evangelical in nature, less liturgical and ceremonial. Some might consider this another step away from classical English Christianity. They would be right.
Might I suggest there is another way? What is transpiring right now in TEC and the UMC is a tragedy, and usually tragedy results in schism, but there is a way to turn a tragedy into triumph.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI created a means for Christians to be reunited in ecumenical unity, under the doctrinal protection of the pope, the Bishop of Rome. The provision was originally designed for Anglicans, but Methodists were kept in mind too. In fact, the provision can just as easily apply to Methodists, and a good number of Methodists are already starting to take advantage of it. The provision is called Anglicanorum Coetibus, which means "groups of Anglicans," and it is an apostolic constitution that allows Christians of English heritage (Anglican Patrimony), which is a heritage that Methodists share, to come into the Catholic Church under their own canonical jurisdiction. While still under the Roman Rite, and the Roman Code of Canon Law, these converts have their own bishop, their own parishes, and their own English traditions, as well as their own unique pastoral approach. Many of the priests in this jurisdiction (called an "ordinariate") are married and have children. They were former Anglican clergy who have been ordained as Catholic priests now. All of this functions directly under the pope and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Could Methodist individuals, groups, or entire congregations take advantage of this? Yes, they most certainly could. So far it's just been individuals, but groups and congregations could as well. For example; it is certainly possible for a male Methodist minister, who is married and raising a family, to take advantage of this apostolic constitution, along with his entire congregation. The whole congregation could come into the Catholic Church together, as a unit, and be made a parish within this ordinariate. The minister could then be ordained a Catholic priest.
Is it possible? Yes, it most certainly is, as this was the very thing Anglicanorum Coetibus was designed for. Granted, it was originally foreseen that Anglicans would be the first to take advantage of this provision, and they most certainly have. Three ordinariates have already been created: the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for the UK, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter for North America, and the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross for Australia and Oceania. Within these ordinariates we are not only seeing the reunification of Protestants with Catholics, but also the reunification of Protestants with each other. Anglicans and Methodists now worship together under the same roof again, united with Baptists and cradle Catholics, all within One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is the completion of the ecumenical movement -- realised! The ordinariates were specifically designed for Christians of English heritage, which is something that Anglicans and Methodists share in common.
Six years ago I embarked on this mission to bring the ordinariate to my home in the Springfield Missouri area. Today that dream has materialised in the form of Saint George Catholic Church. This is because I used to be an Anglican, and my wife was baptised Methodist. We loved the liturgy and tradition of English Christian heritage, and we didn't want to see it lost. We understood that the only way to preserve it was within the doctrinal safety of the Catholic Church. It is a doctrinal framework that is merciful and compassionate to people struggling with homosexual temptations, but at the same time does not cave in to the pressures of sentimentality and moral relativism.
What I'm saying is this. It can be done. There is hope. All is not lost. The Catholic Church has given us a way. We can turn tragedy into triumph. We can turn schism into unity. We can turn crisis into serenity. We can put aside this sexual revolution and get back to the business of preaching the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God. It can be done. There is hope. We now have the tools. And to be quite honest with you, it's a whole lot of fun too. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing God's plan for this world and your place in it.
So I'm encouraging those Methodists in the UMC, who are discouraged by what they see going on in the national denomination, to take courage and be strong. There is hope. You don't have to sacrifice your beliefs and principles on the altar of political correctness. Nor do you have to wonder off into another Methodist denomination, or some other denomination. Nor do you need to start a new Methodist church under the "Free Methodist" banner or some other banner. You can turn this whole thing around and do something positive with it. You can use it to help heal the divisions in Christianity, rather than further them. This is especially true if you are male clergy within the UMC. There may even be a place for you within the Catholic priesthood, and you can lead your congregation to greener pastures in the process.
You'll never know until you investigate and see for yourself. I would like to encourage my Methodist brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly those in the UMC, to look into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter discretely. You can rest assured your privacy will be protected. Find out what the process is, then pray about it, and maybe even tell a friend.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'
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