Appendix II: Statement from Bishop Leonard Fairley, Kentucky Annual Conference
Sisters and brothers in Christ, I have watched with great sadness as congregations have inquired and voted on disaffiliation. It is out of this sadness that I speak to you now. I know many of you are wondering if I will call a special session of Annual Conference this fall. I will answer that question in this statement, but first you need to hear my heart.
Throughout this season of disaffiliation, the Kentucky Annual Conference Trustees and the Appointive Cabinet have acted in ways that have been fair and gracious toward congregations and clergy who have chosen to disaffiliate or withdraw from The United Methodist Church. That posture will not change.
I acknowledge that there is a perceived lack of trust with the Connection. However, I believe Kentucky’s record of trustworthiness and grace has been exhibited throughout this process. While there is continuing pressure from voices urging our congregations to “get out while you can,” I give thanks for the many congregations and clergy who have decided to remain United Methodist and for the congregations who have decided to extend their season of discernment through the 2024 General Conference.
Last summer, we shared a discernment tool to aid you in this, or in any decision-making process. This extended time of discernment allows you to fully weigh every available option. We are able to make the best decisions when all the information is on the table.
I am deeply troubled for congregations who are making decisions based on fear, coercion, biased or inaccurate information, and without knowing what options may be forthcoming from the 2024 General Conference. Passionate Spiritual disciples and leaders are guided by the Holy Spirit, not by fear.
It is my continued expectation that before voting, every United Methodist clergy and layperson lead with a grace that exhibits fairness for all voices. Please remember you do not need to vote on anything. However, if your conscience around human sexuality makes it necessary, please make sure you are using deep discernment from the whole congregation, not just a select few.
Again, fear is not a good place to start discernment. No one should feel “forced” to leave or stay. Paragraph 2553 states the limited reasons a church may disaffiliate and outlines specific mandates to do so. If you are voting, your district superintendent, in strict adherence to The Book of Discipline, will give this as the sole reason behind the vote. Churches who vote to leave for any other reason are not living into the requirements of this process, and that will be between you and God. We cannot determine what is in a person’s heart when he or she votes.
Amid all the talk of disaffiliation and misinformation, I am concerned we have not reminded ourselves and celebrated the strengths of our United Methodist theology and tradition. In fact, there are abundant reasons to remain UMC. Below, you will find 12 compelling reasons to remain United Methodist, because there is humble strength and beauty in our Connection: We all have benefited from our Connection:
We believe in the Triune God.
We believe in the primacy of Scripture.
We emphasize the sacraments as means of grace and highlight the four dimensions of grace.
Our doctrinal beliefs and articles of religion are in the restrictive rules of our Book of Discipline’s constitution and have not been “revised, altered, or changed.”
We are connectional.
We are missional.
Church unity is a positive witness.
We discover, develop and send quality clergy and lay spiritual leaders.
We are diverse in ethnicity, cultures, perspectives, and ideas.
We build support and accountability for our clergy.
United, we can demonstrate how to treat and communicate differences graciously in a Christ-like way.
We are disciples, making disciples to transform the world.
It is past time that we turn our attention toward fulfilling our mandate to “Make passionate spiritual disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It is my sincere hope that you choose to remain United Methodist. For those considering disaffiliation, my prayer is that you wait until the 2024 General Conference, where I believe another pathway for those wishing to disaffiliate will be made. It is also my hope that, as passionate spiritual disciples, we refocus and rediscover our calling to offer salvation, love, peace, and justice to a world in desperate need of Jesus Christ.
The Kentucky Annual Conference has begun conversation around the pivot toward a Hopeful Future. We are creating teams, ideas, and plans to help follow Jeremiah’s example of planting seeds and gardens in times of upheaval. Our conference New Church Development team and Appointive Cabinet are creating ways of caring for the clergy and laity who wish to remain United Methodist. Our Board of Ordained Ministry is working with candidates who will be commissioned and ordained in June. Our Connectional Ministries teams are discussing their priorities for our continuing United Methodist presence in Kentucky. Our administrative teams are working to ensure our resources are aligned to support our pivot and work in the Hopeful Future. And friends, be confident, there is a Hopeful Future for United Methodists in Kentucky.
I am sure you are wondering why there has not been a called fall session of Annual Conference. The Kentucky Annual Conference was one of the first conferences to discuss and execute the process for disaffiliations pursuant to 2553, having announced the process in 2019 and completing our first disaffiliations in 2020. Including the June 2023 regular session of our Annual Conference, we will have provided five 2553 disaffiliation opportunities. I am aware of the voices and their reasoned desire to call another fall Annual Conference. I have considered thoughtfully and prayerfully what is the best step for our conference moving forward. We have been in this season for too long, and the two extremes fighting each other are crushing “the mouse in the middle” while harming our witness in the world.
Friends, most if not all of our attention has been on disaffiliation, trying to distinguish fact from fiction. Again, we have been distracted from our true mission and ministry for far too long. My Grandma Gladys always reminded me, “You reap what you sow.” Reaping discord and destroying the witness of the church is not what I desire to be a part of. We cannot afford to continue on this path of acrimony. The world needs us now.
Therefore, after prayerful and careful consideration, a fall special session will not be called in Kentucky. We will continue to work with churches pursuant to our previously published timeline and process remaining 2553 disaffiliations at our June Annual Conference. I am confident that this is the decision that lessens discord and harm done to one another. In Kentucky, we are ready to pivot to a Hopeful Future.