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Eads & Haswell United Methodist Churches Disaffiliate from the Mountain Sky Conference

By Betsy Barnett

February 22, 2023

It’s a move that more than 2,000 United Methodist Churches across the midwestern and southern parts of the United States have taken since 2022. On February 12, 2023 the congregations of the Eads United Methodist Church and the Haswell United Methodist Church voted unanimously to move away from the governing body of the Methodist Church known as the Mountain Sky Methodist Conference—disaffiliate—and become instead a community church with its own sovereignty.

This move follows another local Methodist Church’s disaffiliation when the Cheyenne Wells United Methodist Church voted in May of 2021 to leave the Conference and go it alone as the Wells of Faith Church.

It also appears that there are now other local Methodist churches in the area that are under consideration of taking the big leap to disaffiliate away from the Conference—or the Mother Ship, if you will.

So what’s going on in rural southeastern Colorado with the Methodists and why are they willing to go it alone instead of being under the wing of the Mountain Sky Conference, the highest body that controls the Methodist churches in the states of Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming?

Marty Miller, Elder of the Eads United Methodist Church and President of the church board says, “The main reason is financially. It costs more to be a member in the Mountain Sky Conference than the local churches in Eads and Haswell can afford.”

Miller went on to say, “There is a major disconnect between us and the higher leadership who are tasked with making all the rules for us. We lack services including the fact that we haven’t had a pastor since the beginning of 2019. But, yet, they expect the church to pay 13% of our tithes to them monthly and we aren’t getting any services in exchange.”

The Methodist Church and its Book of Discipline, generally its belief system, is thought to have begun with John Wesley and was one of the most impactful and long lasting outcomes of the Great Awakening. In February of 1784, John Wesley chartered the first Methodist Church in the United States. Wesley was an Anglican, or of the English Church, but despite that he saw the need to provide church structure for his followers after the English Church abandoned its American believers during the American Revolution.

Wesley emphasized personal piety, evangelism and social service—three legs of the church that are still practiced today, especially in the more conservative areas of the country.

The Methodist Church in America quickly grew in membership. In the eastern United States, the Methodist Episcopal Church was the biggest religious organization in the country. It was successful until the issue of Slavery reared its ugly head. The first split in the Church came in 1844. The immediate cause was a resolution of the General Conference censuring a Methodist Bishop, Bishop J. O. Andrew of Georgia, who inherited slaves and ended up legally possessing them. Before that time, from 1800 to around 1842 the Methodists moved from opposition to slavery to a more neutral policy. In 1804 the General Conference decided to ride the fence and printed two separate disciplines, omitting the section on slavery in the edition that went to the southern states. Eventually, it took a full stance against slavery as the Civil War began.

Then, as pioneers began settling the West the Methodist religion came with them. Methodist Churches were established all over the Mountain Sky area. For nearly 100 years the Methodist Church enjoyed great growth and unity.

Rayetta Addy, board member of the Wells of Faith Community Church in Cheyenne Wells, formerly the Methodist Church, and a local historian said, “Our United Methodist Church was 130 years old in 2018. It was the first church in Cheyenne County and it was established on September 29, 1888.”

The Eads United Methodist Church and the Haswell Methodist Church are not that old, but are both either over or nearing a century of establishment. The United Methodist Church was established in the church building known as the Eads Community Church in 1949. Now, ironically, the church will once again be called the Eads Community Church.

The Eads United Methodist Church board alerted their membership in January of the pending vote to disaffiliate from the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church in a letter that referenced a February 2019 pathway (P2553 of the Church Discipline) established by the Conference in response to an ever-widening political division between the leadership and the more conservative churches it is duty-bound to serve. That pathway (P2553) is the only way a church can be approved for disaffiliation. The letter from the Eads board quoted the pathway (P2553) required by the Mountain Sky Conference to be agreed to. It states:

“[The Eads United Methodist] Administrative Council approves applying for disaffiliation from the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church 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.”

The Eads letter simply stated that the above “pathway” required by the Conference in order to be able to disaffiliate was “the issue the Church Conference has chosen to focus on.” However, the letter went on to describe the true reasons for leaving the Methodist Conference including the financial issue, the fact that they had not provided a pastor for four years, and the fact they have not provided religious materials except to direct them to access the Internet—which they have already been doing since COVID reared its ugly head.

The letter also informed the Eads membership of the consequences of disaffiliation. They included, “1. Our church name will change to Eads Community Church; 2. We will own the church building and the parsonage; 3. We will buy liability, Workman’s Comp, and Umbrella insurance coverage from someone other than Church Mutual.”

On February 12, 2023 Chris Carr, Conference Superintendent, arrived in Eads and then also went to Haswell to take the official vote to disaffiliate. In Eads there were 18 present at the moment of the vote with 17 voting in the affirmative and one abstaining. Haswell was unanimous, according to Miller.

The disaffiliation is not complete until the Conference approves the applications from Eads and Haswell. Both churches will have to pay a substantial sum of money to disaffiliate. In Eads, that amount is somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,000 that Miller says they require of the church to help pay the retirement and benefits of their pastors—despite the fact that the last pastor that was shared by Cheyenne Wells, Eads and Haswell was Janita Krayniak in 2019.

The disaffiliation story from Eads and Haswell is nearly identical to what the Cheyenne Wells United Methodist Church went through in 2021 when they disaffiliated from the Mountain Sky Conference.

Their journey toward disaffiliation began during COVID. Rayetta Addy described the situation they faced during those dark days, “We had been losing members as we hadn’t had a pastor for just over a year. The Leadership Conference was going to be held remotely because of the virus so my husband and I decided to attend online. This was something our pastors had always in the past attended and then they would come back and report to us. However, we had no pastor so we attended in 2020. Let’s just say our eyes were opened to how much the Methodist Church leadership had changed. Many of the decisions approved at Annual Conference didn’t match our conservative views and beliefs.”

Addy said at that conference, during COVID, they raised the tithes the churches had to pay the Conference from 10% to 13%. Then they decided without agreement or input from their churches to use the entire 13% coming to them on BIPOC issues. Addy said, “BIPOC was promoting Black Indigenous People of Color and was political and not a mission we would have chosen.”

Between the added expense of the tithes, the lack of services and the ever-increasing political nature of the Mountain Sky Conference, the board at the Cheyenne Wells United Methodist Church decided to disaffiliate and become a community church.

Devin Dickey, church elder and on the board of the newly formed community church known now as Wells of Faith Church described the seemingly radical move the leadership in the local church was willing to take. “The vote was not unanimous as we had a small number that wanted to move to the newly formed Global Methodist Church or the Wesleyan Covenant Church which was more conservative and lined up with our values. However, 36.5 voted to completely disaffiliate and form a community church. 5.5 voted to disaffiliate from the Mountain Sky Conference but to move to the conservative branch of the Methodist Church. No one voted to stay in the current situation.”

Dickey indicated, “It was a scary time for all of us. It cost us $23,000 as they told us we had to pay for the past pastors’ retirement benefits despite the fact we hadn’t had a pastor for two years. We also lost some people who moved to other churches. But slowly we developed our mission which is to be a Bible driven church.”

Just last month the Wells of Faith Church approved their Constitution and they have hired Rich O’Brian as their pastor. Dickey says, “Rich is perfect for us and our numbers continue to increase each week. We are thrilled to see young people with young families coming back to the church or coming to the church for the first time. It is what we dreamed our church could become.”

The Cheyenne Wells Methodist Church, in order to disaffiliate, was forced to use that same pathway (P2553) installed by the General Conference in February of 2019 when the Mountain Sky Conference was inundated by requests to disaffiliate. That means, legally, the church had to profess their opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Dickey said, “I argued with the leadership at the Conference many times and demanded they take that statement out of the application we sent in. But they told us we had no choice in the matter as the requirement of the statement came directly from the hierarchy and it would not be removed.”

Dickey said, “They want us to look like haters of gay and lesbian people, but in reality, we fired them for not doing their part.”

Thus, we get to the main reason why more than 2,000 churches in under one year have applied to disaffiliate from the Mountain Sky Conference. It is about how the leadership got woke to the social issues that are dividing our country.

In the 1960’s during the massive upheaval in social change the Methodist Church decided if it was going to remain relevant it had to change its message. Therefore the leadership added to the Book of Discipline in 1969, “Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are people of sacred worth, worthy of the churches ministries.” This allowed the churches to understand they didn’t condemn or condone LGBTQ+ people.

Then in 1972 a little tiny comma caused a massive rift in the Church when the General Assembly took the 1969 statement and clarified “, however, we do not condone homosexuality and consider it incompatible with Christian teaching.” This major change has been referred to ever since as the Incompatible Clause.

The General Conference in 2016 then made its most radical move of all when it first claimed that the Incompatible Clause was unconstitutional causing a rift between the liberal and conservative churches in the Conference.

2016 also marked the year that on the 17th vote the Mountain Sky Conference elected Bishop Karen Oliveto as the first openly lesbian Bishop who was married to another woman. Oliveto stated in her acceptance speech, “We’re not a church that takes the Bible literally. It’s continually fresh and responding to what’s happening in the world and where we see God at work.”

The climate of the Methodist Conference mirrored the divisiveness of the country, as a whole. When COVID hit, many churches, required to close by leadership, did not agree with the way the situation was dealt with. Many things, such as the actions Addy saw during the shutdown, were upsetting to the more conservative churches.

Finally, 2019 rolled around and the conservative churches, mostly rural in nature who had not been served in years, began to leave—disaffiliate. This caused the Conference to establish the P2553 pathway forcing churches to claim they were against homosexuality.

Dickey and Miller both say, “That couldn’t be further from the truth. We welcome everyone to worship in our church. We don’t judge each other, but rather try to follow the guidance of the Bible.”

The woke attitude of the Conference Leadership also forced a new branch of the Methodist Church called the Global Methodist Church which formed in May of 2022. Many of the more conservative churches, including some in this area of southeastern Colorado, are looking to join the GMC.

In November of 2022, when the Club Q nightclub shooting happened in Colorado Springs, Oliveto added to the divisiveness nature within the church when she wrote, “On Saturday, I watched my newsfeed fill up with announcements of the disaffiliation of churches approved by the Special Conference. These churches were departing under a paragraph in the Book of Discipline that allowed churches to leave because of the conscience around human sexuality, but more specifically regarding ‘practice of homosexuality or ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.’”

She went on to say that the gay nightclub where 5 were killed and 18 wounded was “a place to escape discrimination and harm.”

Oliveto then pointed her comments directly to the conservative churches who were leaving in droves, “There is a blood red thread that runs through all this—that eventually gives rise to violence and death.”

She then concluded her piece by stating, “Will the churches that have chosen to leave the UMC recognize as their kin those who lost their lives in the Colorado Springs nightclub? Will they catch the tears of their LGBTQ+ members who are hurting today?’

It is worth noting that the shooter of the nightclub, Anderson Aldrich, identified as nonbinary and used the pronouns they/them. His gender identity was up for debate, but he was still charged with several counts of hate crimes.

All three local Methodist churches, however, stand with their members. They emphasize ANY community member, of all walks of life, who has a desire to join them in worship in order to learn what lessons the Bible has for every one of us are always welcome.

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