Pastor Jeff’s Corner for February 2023: “A Defining Moment”

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I pray that 2023 is off to a good start for you and your family. In January, our Sunday morning messages focused on how we can survive and perhaps even thrive through the storms of life. If you are going through such a storm, please let me know so I can be in prayer with you. I look forward to praying with you for safe passage and God’s direction through the storm.
As many of you may know, our church is working its way through a storm. We’ve been through other storms in our 78 years of ministry, some physical and some spiritual. Our world is constantly in some state of flux and with God’s guidance and direction we persevere through the storm. Then we rebuild, renew or recommit to God’s Great Commission to which He has called us in Matthew 28:19.

Soon, the Ad Council of our church will schedule a vote from church membership on whether the church should disaffiliate from the United Methodist (UM) denomination. I am not going to comment on whether your vote should be yes or no. What I will say is that I have been blessed to be the pastor of this church and to be a part of this community. When I arrived I wanted to know more about The Glades, all of you and about the history of our church. Thank you for teaching me!

I would like to offer a history lesson. First Methodist Church of Clewiston was chartered in 1945. In talking with some of the charter members, they shared how they went door to door selling bricks to build the sanctuary for $1. What a great story that is! If my understanding is correct, a Methodist pastor from Moore Haven thought it would be a great idea to “plant” a Methodist church in Clewiston. He went door to door spreading the good news about Jesus and the church came to fruition from the prayers of the people and the divine will of God.

In 1968/69 a few denominations merged and the United Methodist denomination was created and our Methodist Church in Clewiston became a UM church. At that time, a “trust-clause” generated by the UM denomination was presented to be signed by our church leadership that basically states that all the church property and assets are to be held in trust for the use of all United Methodists. So in essence, the property that was bought and paid for by the membership would be held in trust by the denomination.
Fast forward a couple decades and the denominational members and leaders have debated heavily whether or not to 1) ordain LGBTQ+ persons as pastors and 2) marry LGBTQ+ persons in our UM Churches. For the past decade, the majority of voting members of the UM conferences that held these debates voted “NO” to those questions due to Biblical beliefs based on scripture.

The Book of Discipline (provides covenant boundaries for United Methodists to live and minister in) has not been changed over the past few years, but the UM denomination has seen; a) Two openly gay bishops elected b) LGBTQ+ persons ordained as clergy and c) LGBTQ+ marriages performed in UM Churches. All three of these actions are not permitted by the current Book of Discipline (BOD).

Our Ad Council (in 12/21) sent a letter to the presiding bishop and district superintendent outlining their displeasure with the UM denominations’ actions and inactions with regards to human sexuality issues. As one of the only ways they felt they could make their point (The Ad Council), they withheld a portion of the apportionments the church was scheduled to pay to the denomination. The Ad Council did not receive a reply or phone call from the conference/denomination about their letter.

The Ad Council and Transition Team (organized in 2021) began putting articles in this newsletter and had discussions about next steps for the church should this trend toward revising the Book of Discipline with regards to human sexuality be officially changed or unofficially adopted. The later has occurred and the supporting documentation is readily available online and in print from the Transition Team.

The Ad Council voted in March, 2022 to disaffiliate from the UM denomination and in December of 2022 they affirmed using paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline to disaffiliate. At the last General Conference of the UM denomination in 2019, they voted on and passed paragraph 2553 that includes this opening paragraph; “Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”

A defining moment is coming to pass for the church membership and for your Methodist Church in Clewiston. I believe the Transition Team has made a faithful effort to give you solid information on the present and future direction of the UM denomination and the alternatives. I also believe the Transition Team has given you the information you need to make a sound, Biblical decision on how to vote.

As your pastor, I cannot vote. But I promise to be praying for you all and the defining moment ahead of you. May the trust placed in you as a member of Christ’s church, prove you faithful.

In God’s love and peace,
Pastor Jeff Smith

1 Corinthians 4 1This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

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