Over the past few weeks much has been developing in the Mountain Sky Conference (MSC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Their recent annual conference meeting voted to both reject the Traditional Plan and to create a committee to look into ways to separate from the rest of the UMC. Pursuant to this, a brochure sent out to the clergy of the MSC detailed various aspects of a potential separation such as what would happen to pensions, church leadership, and apportionments.
This brochure claims that the MSC would become its own denomination with a Book of Discipline based on the current one but with significant revisions if the 2020 General Conference does not turn out in the liberals’ favor. The brochure claims that after such a separation there would still be guaranteed appointments for elders and Wespath would continue to provide clergy benefits and pensions.
UMAction and MSC clergy have taken this brochure as evidence that the top leadership in MSC is actively planning a separation from the UMC. A week ago, Rev. Karen Oliveto, bishop of the MSC, began efforts to relieve the stress and panic of her clergy created by this surprise revelation. On July 22nd, Oliveto released a letter ostensibly only to the clergy of the MSC, though it was quickly leaked.
In this letter, Oliveto explained that the brochure was created in light of petitions passed by the MSC’s recent annual conference gathering to both break from the UMC and to resist the Traditional Plan. According to the letter, the brochure was created for use in private conversations between clergy and their district superintendent and was not intended to be released to the general public. In the letter, Oliveto lamented how many lay members were insufficiently informed about General Conference 2019 and the possible repercussions of it, and the brochure was meant to remedy this by informing clergy, who could then inform their congregations in due time.
Despite the institutional response that the leak of this brochure provoked, social media reactions have been muted. Chris Ritter, a noted traditionalist pastor, posted about the response letter on Twitter without further comment. He also added the letter to the “UMC Fallout” post on his blog. Annie Rigo Arnoldy, the Director of Connectional Ministry at the MSC, posted on Facebook about the brochure saying, “The brochure… is one piece of the deeper conversations we are having with our clergy…”
While very little has been said on social media regarding the letter and the brochure, Oliveto and her leadership team are clearly seeking to downplay its importance and reassure the laity that no drastic actions are being taken. However, this rings somewhat hollow in the light of the pro-separation resolution passed by the recent Annual Conference of the MSC. In all, while the brochure was not supposed to reach the laity broadly speaking, it has caused less outcry than it otherwise could have.