Mt Bethel UMC is the latest focal point of the less than amicable divorce in The United Methodist Church. The North Georgia Conference recently moved to seize the assets of the congregation. The reason given is that the UM Church has violated the Discipline of the United Methodist Church by refusing to pay annual apportionments and rejecting a pastoral change. The congregation has a history of getting it wrong. Pastor Randell Mickler balked at the idea of Rabbi Steven Lebow being asked to speak from the pulpit during the baccalaureate service for Walton High School. The reasons given included having a non-Christian speak would somehow dishonor Jesus Christ. Mt Bethel UMC is a symptom of the problem of the denomination.
Mt. Bethel And Apportionments
Local UM churches get upset about the Apportionments they are asked to pay. In other news, water is wet. It is a given. One treasurer asked me every year to explain to her (not to the congregation) why she is writing the check. I don’t believe I was convincing. I think she appreciated my effort.
Mt Bethel UMC is no different except for the continued refusal to actually pay them. There is an unwritten policy in most Annual Conferences that pastors of churches who refuse to pay the apportionments get moved. It is always a possibility. A colleague was moved one year in our Annual Conference. He was surprised. “I always heard it. But I did not believe they actually would.” I was surprised by it too. So many others manage to get away with it. Indeed, Mt. Bethel has for years.
Questioning the apportionment is a healthy act. Debating the Annual Conference budget priorities is a healthy act. Where is the money going? Is that program as important as our local one? What does it mean to be in ministry by giving to ministries outside the local church? These are good questions for good teaching moments. The next question is equally important. What does it mean to have someone else direct where the money goes?
There two classes of people who never understand pastoral appointments. These are pastors and local churches. Why am I being sent here? UM Elders in Full Connection take vows to itinerate. But we almost never understand why we are sent somewhere. Pastors also have concerns about potential moves. Is the clergy spouse being asked to give up a job? What about the children’s schools? The last consideration is salary.
The pastor’s salary though is one of the primary concerns of the church. Congregations like paying pastors little better than paying apportionments. Mt Bethel reduced the salary of its incoming pastor to the Conference minimum even though the new pastor fits them theologically. I take notice of this especially considering my salary has been reduced three times in pastoral moves. It was not because of me. The churches claim they “cannot afford it.” Often that is untrue. Churches use the clergy salary as a weapon. One colleague was threatened this way when our Bishop closed the churches in 2020.
One reason churches reduce salaries is because the new pastor is female. I have served too many UM churches who feared having a female pastor. My female colleagues face hard situations from “traditionalists.” Mt Bethel’s reply that was published on the WCA website says this about Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson “is inflicting on many United Methodist churches that want to do ministry without the drama of her intrusive and threatening actions.” Why is it that only women are accused of creating drama?
Mt Bethel’s own assessment of their stand is interesting. The Bishop has not acted alone in this matter. But she is the focal point of the rage. The action taken “is a strange way for a bishop to show her love for one of the healthiest churches in her conference.” For their own part, Mt Bethel’s lay people “will do all they can to restore the reputational damage Haupert-Johnson is inflicting…” The congregation claims to be among “the healthiest” churches as well as one who among others is having their reputation “damaged” by a bishop enforcing the rules.
Sorry. But this is a congregation with a blatantly narcissistic leadership. It stretches back at least 20 years when Walton High School opted to take the baccalaureate from them to Cobb County Civic Center. Some people can’t help being vicious. It is their nature. The Mt Bethel UMC problem is that separation from this kind of behavior is overdue.