Our pastor at church just received a notice from Shawnee Valley District Superintendent Joe Bishman pretty much commanding his presence at a meeting to discuss the "legacy" of our and other churches. Along with the letter which was very intimidating with phrases like "this meeting is vital to your ministry and future" was a photocopied article about churches dying "gracefully." It appears to me that they are trying to get rid of smaller churches in favor of bigger churches. This is very sad because we pay our apportionments even though they are quite high for a church our size, both the conference and the district. We do just about everything they want in terms of giving, yet they are insinuating that we are not fulfilling our mission. Our church doesn't have plumbing, but the district builds a palace in Vietnam for reaching people in Vietnam. What about helping our country churches reach people here at home? I have asked other churches who didn't like the bishop's hiring of Bill Brownson and who didn't like some other things about how it has been handled and they have received similar letters. So much for free speech and being able to disagree.
The church talks about how they provide us with a pastor, but truthfully, we found our pastor, who isn't a fully ordained Methodist pastor, when they left us twisting in the wind for over a year when our previous pastor left. They don't serve us beyond taking our money and saying we aren't doing enough.
Sounds like the federal government, doesn't it? Really, the smaller churches who are not being served by the larger United Methodist Church need to break away from the church. Now this is difficult because of the rather insidious thing the UMC did when created from the EUB and ME churches. They had deeds rewritten so if anything should happen, the land and buildings belong to the UMC. So, the land you thought belonged to your local church, doesn't, at least according to this insidious rewriting. So, what really needs to happen is for these smaller churches to engage in class action lawsuits to break away from the larger church, especially since the larger church really does little to serve them and especially now as it appears it is not representing the needs of the local churches. Lawyers are out there who would work pro bono with the promise of recompense from punitive damages and fees from a class action lawsuit.
The UMC wants to create networks of mega churches. They don't care about the smaller churches. IN this way, the Superintendents and assistants to same will not have to make as many stops and engage with so many of the little people. It is sad but this is what the descendants of the circuit riders who created many small churches are doing today.
Didn't take long to get more info and thought. This person thinks similar to what I have written above. Again, from the email bag:
Seems to me one of the things that the "large church" is saying is that they do not want to spend time staffing smaller churches -- especially smaller churches that are not "growing". Understandable, really. With older pastors retiring and an inability to fill positions, they've got to do something. They've got to protect their main revenue sources -- that's not the smaller churches, even though smaller churches probably pay their full-apportionments more diligently than many large ones.
Then there is the matter of health insurance. The more the pastors, the more the cost. Of course, cost per pastor goes up with a smaller base, but I'm certain the total overall cost is less. And, the eventual outcome of a lower average pastoral age should bring costs down somewhat.
Then there is the number of DS's to properly look over all the many smaller churches -- so called "overhead costs". If the number of churches goes down, the number of DS's goes down, then the "overhead costs" of DS's goes down.
Laddie, daddie, da. It all boils down to $$$$. The UM Church could cut a huge number of smaller churches and not see a very large percentage decline in overall membership. Slightly reduced revenues would result, but would be more than offset by decreased operational costs. It would be far easier to fill vacant positions.
Now, If I were in you shoes, pastoring a small church that the DS wanted to talk about "dying gracefully" or "merging", I would go to the meeting and sit mute, taking very good notes. No need to argue until all the facts are on the table. No need for emotion -- let rationality prevail. No need to act unilaterally without congregation backing.
If it turned out the DS did indeed suggest "dying gracefully" or "merging", I would call a congregational meeting and propose offering to withdraw from the UM system and having the congregation vote on it. Part of the proposal would include the large church ceding land and building title to the local congregation at no cost to the local church.
Now historically, this has not worked. There have probably even been lawsuits about it. Worth some research, there. So, assuming the large church knows that it can use several means to squeeze out the smaller churches, thus lowering costs etc., plus have some $$ roll in from sale of the local church property, they will probably say. "No!"
This is where all the smaller churches would need to band together with a class-action lawsuit. I mean all the smaller churches, not just those immediately threatened. Not just West Ohio Conference churches. Not just Ohio churches. This "thing" is happening all over.
In the lawsuit, I would cite discrimination and breach of verbal and historical contracts. I'm sure a good attorney can be found who will handle the case gratis with potential remuneration based upon punitive penalties built into the lawsuit.
This situation is no different than the classic Federal Government vs. States Rights issue. Big vs. small, central vs. local, unified vs. diversified, powerful vs. meek. Rich vs. poor. Haves vs. have-nots. What is freedom, really? It even comes down to "the right to assemble", the right of "freedom of speech", the right to no "unlawful search and seizure". The lawsuit might have to be in the Federal Courts and perhaps violation of Constitutional Law can be cited, even.
It's a "big deal". It's been brewing. There will come a point of solution -- one way or another.