After 35 years dedicated to the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Todd Chancey is making an exit plan and joining a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, along with his congregation at Alcoa First United Methodist.
The church is one of many making that decision nationwide, including others here in Blount County.
The decision for Chancey came down to four factors, the pastor said. The most visible split in the United Methodist Church is along LGBTQ lines. Chancey said for him, the Bible is clear that God created two genders and that he ordained marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The UMC’s own Book of Discipline holds that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings, Chancey said. That same BOD says that no self-avowed practicing homosexual can take a role as clergy or leaders in the UMC. However, this pastor said there are practicing homosexuals who are being allowed to do just that.
“We have had several clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals be ordained as clergy and two elected to serve as bishops in the United States,” Chancey said. He added that some same-sex marriages have taken place in UMC churches, on church property.
The UMC’s 2019 General Conference, held in St. Louis, retained those restrictions against self-avowed practicing homosexuals serving in leadership in the church and against officiating or hosting same-sex marriages.
“I can’t serve in a denomination that won’t follow its own rules,” Chancey said.
Debate over biblical authority
Another issue Chancey brought up for wanting to leave the UMC is biblical authority. He said he and his church have a “higher interpretation of the Bible.” A conservative view takes the high standard, while a less conservative view takes a lower standard, the pastor said.
“For me, I believe the Bible is God’s word for God’s people,” he wrote in a piece titled “Why I am Leaving the United Methodist Church and Why I am Joining the Global Methodist Church.”
“Others seem to pick and choose what they want to believe and what they want to ignore. I simply cannot serve a denomination that cannot agree on biblical authority and allow leaders (clergy and laity) to teach a ‘’watered-down’ theology that more reflects social concerns than theological truths,” he wrote. “I see the UMC going in a director of lower standards (if any) on biblical authority.”
Bishops failing to follow the BOD with no accountability is also one of the issues for Chancey.
The final factor is the UMC Trust Clause, which allows churches to leave the denomination with their property and assets only if they follow the exit plan, called the disaffiliation/discernment process. Chancey said the clause is unfair but is the only way his church can leave with its property. He said Alcoa First UMC has to pay an exit fee totaling $285,000. That fee includes the church’s unfunded pension liability amount.
Alcoa First UMC began this disaffiliation process months ago, and started with a committee of nine church members who studied the issues. David Duggan, who chairs the Alcoa First UMC Church Council and serves as a member on that committee, said he felt like the UMC was headed in the wrong direction.
Wesleyan theology is based on scripture, tradition, reason and experience, Duggan said, with scripture taking primary precedence. He said there are 2,000 years of church teachings and 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian history.
“I respect people who disagree with me,” Duggan said. “I certainly do. I don’t hate anybody. But for me, I am going to come down on the side of tradition and scripture because I think it is a guide to truth.”
St. Mark’s also exiting
Other UMC churches in Blount County are in the process of disaffiliation, including St. Mark’s UMC in Louisville. The Rev. Rowland Buck, pastor of St.Mark’s since July 2019, said his church began the exit process from the denomination in early 2021. Meetings of the church council, conversations with other church members and two congregation-wide informational sessions were held. Buck also did a pastoral address to talk about where the UMC stands.
“It became obvious to us that a majority of our congregation was leaning toward going out,” Buck said. A vote was held on Sept. 11, 2022, with 89% voting to leave the UMC. Then on Nov. 6, St. Mark’s voted by a margin of 92% to join the Global Methodist Church.
He said the same issues causing Alcoa First to leave are also the reasons his church is now disaffiliating. This church will be paying $110,000 for its exit fees so that it can retain its property and other assets.
“For us, it is our perception that the UMC in its leadership levels no longer believes what the Book of Discipline says and has no intentions to follow what the General Conference votes to set our directions. The bishops and other conference leaders have no intention to follow what the General Conference says if they don’t agree with it.”
Buck went on to say they are not splitting because they disagree. “We are splitting because we have negated our means for settling our disagreements,” he said.
Fairview vote set
Fairview UMC Pastor Mickey Rainwater said his church agreed not to talk publicly about its decision on whether to leave the UMC. No vote has been taken yet, he said. One is scheduled in coming weeks.
The Daily Times attempted this week to contact church leadership at Broadway United Methodist and Tuckaleechee UMC but did not receive responses to calls and email by Thursday afternoon.
As for Alcoa First, the vote was 87% to disaffiliate, with all members having the right to vote. They then voted 94% to join the Global Methodist Church, a denomination founded in May 2022. There are about 800 Alcoa First members with an average Sunday worship attendance of 250, Chancey said.
As the debate wages within the denomination, Duggan said those on the other side are painting him and others as if they are the ones challenging authority, which he said isn’t true.
“The Book of Discipline has said what it has said for more than 40 years,” he said. “We haven’t changed anything. We are abiding by the discipline.”
Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church combined in 1968 to create the United Methodist Church, but Methodism dates back to 1736. The Book of Discipline was originally published in 1784 in the Methodist Episcopal Church and has been published every four years thereafter.
There are members of the Alcoa First who have left the congregation because of the decision by the church to disaffiliate. Chancey said new families have also joined.
Reasons to stay UMC
Maryville First United Methodist Senior Pastor Jonathan Jonas sent an emailed statement regarding his church’s decision to remain in the UMC.
“First United Methodist Church is a United Methodist congregation,” he said. “Certainly there are people of differing perspectives — politically, theologically and otherwise in our congregation — but we believe that variety is one of the great blessings of a larger congregation. We often experience our greatest moments of growth in faith, love and perspective in conversation with people who see things differently that we do.”
Jonas went on to say that the apostle Paul compared the church of Jesus Christ to the human body and how necessary the different parts are to each other and the whole. “I grieve the loss of friends, colleagues and fellow followers who feel called to separate from the United Methodist Church,” he wrote.” He added that in his time at Maryville First UMC, the congregation’s desire is to “love alike” despite not always thinking alike, as John Wesley wrote back in 1750.
Holston Conference responds
The Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church oversees 842 churches in East Tennessee and Western Virginia, including those in Blount County. It will meet at its annual conference on April 22 and vote on whether to approve the exit plans Alcoa First and others are preparing. Churches can leave regardless of how the vote turns out, but only those with approved disaffiliate/discernment plans can take their assets.
Debra Wallace-Padgett serves as the resident bishop for the Holston and North Alabama conferences.
The Rev. Tim Jones, director of communications for the Holston Conference, sent emailed responses to questions from The Daily Times regarding the split. When asked about Chancey’s concerns that the UMC is not following the rules set forth in the BOD regarding the refusal to allow self-avowed practicing gay clergy in the denomination, Jones replied, “The Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church is committed to following the Book of Discipline.” He added that he is unaware of any gay clergy in the conference.
Chancey has not talked with other churches directly, but said he has found evidence on social media that at least 55 churches within the Holston Conference are choosing to leave the denomination. Buck said that number is now 70 as votes are being taken weekly.
Jones said the Holston Conference will hold a special called annual conference on April 22 to “celebrate and honor those churches that have voted to leave the United Methodist Church.” There will also be a time where members of the conference will take a vote to allow those churches to leave as spelled out in the disaffiliation protocol, he explained.
When asked if he anticipates the Holston Conference not ratifying any church’s exit, Jones said, “We do not anticipate any church that has voted to disaffiliate and followed the disaffiliation process to be denied their right to exit.”
After serving in the UMC since 1988, Chancey said the process to disaffiliate has been overwhelming.
“You give your whole life to a denomination, and then you watch it fall apart,” he said. “You are the group that wants to stay traditional and yet you feel like you are the one being penalized. It is disheartening, to be honest. I never thought I would be anything other than a United Methodist. I just can’t stay in a denomination that continues to violate its own policies and procedures and won’t follow the Bible.”
Those churches that do leave the UMC are being asked to remain until May 29. On that day they will officially be disaffiliated.
Alcoa First UMC will have a name change when it officially becomes part of the Global Methodist Church. Chancey explained that the GMC will hold biblical authority in the highest standards, will provide term limits to bishops, and will not ask congregations to pledge their property or assets. No same-sex marriages will be conducted on church property or by church clergy. No self-avowed practicing homosexuals will be ordained as clergy.
Duggan described it as a new expression of Methodism for orthodox, conservative traditional Methodist values and Wesleyan theology.
“Our very theology is at stake,” Duggan said. “Progressive values dominate every institution — academia, big business, media, public education, entertainment, which is part of the media and sports. The only institution where they don’t dominate is the church. But, the struggle is taking place in the church.”
Chancey said if there had been no trust clause on the church’s property, it would have left the UMC years ago.
Going separate ways
“We are not mad at anybody,” he said. “We are not calling for anybody’s resignation. Let us be who we are — who God has called us to be. We have been on the bus a long time. We just want to get off the bus. Let us take our luggage. Don’t hold our luggage hostage. We will be happy to separate in peace, grace and love.”
Jones said he believes the churches, those leaving and staying, will welcome a return to a focus on missions and the ministries God has called them into.
“These past years have been hard as we have wrestled with how we interpret certain scriptures surrounding homosexuality,” he wrote in his email. “Many times our focus has been on who is right and who is wrong instead of remembering our call to serve the least, the lost, the last and the lonely. My hope is that all of our churches will refocus attention on what God is calling us to do.”