Feb 12, 2021 | John W. Coleman

Grandview UMC in Lancaster, Pa., will become Grandview Methodists on March 31, no longer a part of the Eastern PA Conference of The United Methodist Church but a new church serving “a wider Christian community.”  Church leaders announced that carefully arranged disaffiliation from the denomination in a news release Feb. 10.

In its historic vote, Grandview finalized its decision to “re-form as a new congregation that will no longer be a part of the United Methodist denomination.” The resolution passed with 90 percent approval, as 295 members cast ballots. It was announced during a livestreamed worship service Feb. 10.

The move was pre-approved by the 2020 Eastern PA Annual Conference at its Oct. 13 session, with a March 31 deadline for the church’s final decision. That is when a legal agreement with the Eastern PA Conference Trustees will be finalized, as agreed.

Temporary rules adopted by the 2019 Special General Conference, in effect until December 2023, allow for churches to disaffiliate and retain their church properties—which otherwise are held in trust and typically would revert back to the annual conference—if their decision is prompted by objection to the denomination’s disciplinary laws regarding the rights of “self-avowed, practicing” lesbian and gay members. Such disaffiliation requires fulfillment of financial obligations arranged with the Conference Trustees and an Annual Conference vote of approval.

Grandview will retain its property but is required to pay a $607,000 fee, mostly to help sustain the conference’s clergy and staff pension fund. The church says it will borrow funds to pay the fee “so that it can continue to accomplish the vital ministries it supports.”

The Grandview congregation legally voted to seek disaffiliation for reasons of conscience in February 2020, as it awaited hoped-for legislative changes in the UMC’s Book of Discipline that might be made by the 2020 General Conference. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that General Conference was postponed until Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2021. And now even those dates for a global, onsite, in-person General Conference are so far uncertain.

The church writes that it will function “very much as it has been—retaining a Methodist identity, using Methodist hymnals and teaching materials, among other curricula and resources and responding with joyous hospitality to all people. The church will do so as a growing, theologically diverse body with a biblically committed faith in Jesus Christ.”

Grandview leaders say they will continue to offer a broad array of local ministries and will “continue to treat all couples who want to be married at its altar equally, regardless of the gender of the people forming those covenants. However, now the church will not need to fear discipline from the UMC or its Eastern Pennsylvania Conference when it does so.”

The active, growing, 400-member congregation, whose members come from near and far, will now invite other congregations, clergy, and laity to connect with it under the banner of Grandview Methodist Connection.

“Grandview will take authority to ordain and license people for Word, Sacrament, Order, Service, Compassion, Justice, and other leadership roles,” the church’s statement reads. “It is preparing to receive ministerial orders from United Methodists and others who feel the need to break or expand their present denominational ties because of discriminatory policies, and who don’t want to go it alone.”

The church’s statement further reads:

In 2014, Grandview decided, as a whole, to do what many within the congregation were already doing: to be transparent and active in its efforts to change UMC policies that are discriminatory toward LGBTQIA+ people. Over time, this commitment on the part of the local congregation strengthened, even as the denomination made its policies more harsh and punitive. The 2019 vote by General Conference in support of the Traditional Plan was a last straw. Grandview found this to be in conflict with Jesus’s teachings of love and in conflict with its Christ-centered calling to minister to all people, especially the marginalized.

With COVID and ongoing conflict within the denomination heightening the likelihood that the denomination is unlikely to adopt a fully inclusive stance any time soon, Grandview felt a need to act now.

The Rev. Andrea Brown, lead pastor, said she intends to “remain with Grandview, as seems only right to me as this justice-minded congregation disaffiliates for reasons of conscience.” The Eastern PA’s 2019 Annual Conference elected her as a delegate to the now-postponed 2020 General Conference.

Bishop Peggy Johnson has written to the pastor, requiring that she withdraw her conference clergy membership. Meanwhile, Grandview can recognize her ministerial credentials. “I am seeking other avenues for trying to maintain ecumenical status, which is important to me,” Brown said.

“This is a time of sadness for all,” said Bishop Johnson in response to Grandview’s decision to disaffiliate. “Our connection has lost a faithful and deeply Wesleyan church. We go our separate ways because it is an option, and this is Grandview’s statement of justice for the LGBTQIA community to the world. But we are still ‘one’ in the Lord; and we will continue to pray for each other.”

Read the Grandview church’s full announcement of its decision to disaffiliate.

Read the Rev. Andrea Brown’s statement about this decision. (To be posted by Feb. 13.)