A new senior pastor has been appointed for Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in East Cobb, but the congregation’s leadership announced Sunday it is opposing the move.
A posting on the church’s Facebook page said that the church is informing Sue Haupert-Johnson, the bishop of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, that Mt. Bethel “is not in a position to receive a new senior minister at this time.”
As was shared during this morning’s worship services, the Bishop of the North Georgia Conference has appointed our…Posted by Mt. Bethel Church on Sunday, April 18, 2021
Dr. Jody Ray, Mt. Bethel’s senior pastor since May 2016, was among those reassigned in North Georgia Conference changes formally announced on Monday in what’s called “Clergy Move Day.”
Around 70 clergy were reassigned by the North Georgia Conference, which has 800 churches and more than 340,000 members.
Sybil Davidson, a spokeswoman for the Conference, told East Cobb News that reassignments are made every spring and that this is a lower figure than normal.
Appointed to succeed Ray, who was reassigned to a non-preaching position with the Conference staff in Atlanta, is Steven Usry, the senior pastor at Sugarloaf UMC in Duluth. The appointments are effective July 1, according to the North Georgia Conference.
Mt. Bethel is one of the largest churches in Cobb County with around 8,000 members and is the largest congregation in the North Georgia Conference.
“It’s always hard on congregations to lose a beloved pastor,” Davidson said, but that the appointment of Usry to Mt. Bethel stands.
East Cobb News has left messages with Mt. Bethel seeking comment.
The Mt. Bethel Staff Parish Relations Committee and Administrative Council are urging members to read and sign a petition “that affirms the SPRC’s and Administrative Council’s position. Our goal is to have as many signatures as possible by 5pm on Tuesday, April 20 – time is of the essence.”
More than 3,300 people have signed the petition, which says that having a new senior pastor would be too disruptive as Mt. Bethel is only recently returning to in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that “it is no secret these are very fragile times for our denomination.”
The United Methodist Church was scheduled last year to begin implementing a “Protocol for Reconciliation through Grace and Separation.”
That’s a formal split in the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., in which some churches would pull away over theological differences, including issues involving the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy and allowing same-sex marriage.
The UMC has delayed taking up the Protocol until its 2022 General Conference. Here’s more about the issue from Christianity Today.
During an emotional sermon on Sunday (you can watch it here), Ray announced that he declined his new appointment, and that the North Georgia Conference has not offered him another position.
“To those who helped orchestrate the events of today, I want you to know forgive you and I love you,” said Ray, who was stopped several times by applause.
He also directed a message from the pulpit to his family, saying, “I want you also to remember this day, that your Daddy didn’t bow the knee, or kiss the ring, of progressive theology.”
With that, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
The Mt. Bethel petition indicated that “in the spirit of that Protocol, people of theologically diverse opinions and goodwill are striving hard not to disrupt the mission and ministries of those with whom they disagree. We, the people of Mt. Bethel UMC, are honoring that spirit in word and deed.
“So, in light of the challenges of the pandemic and in anticipation of an orderly and amicable separation of the United Methodist Church, we feel strongly that this is not the time for disruptive change in the senior leadership of our church.”
Mt. Bethel, which also oversees the K-12 Mt Bethel Academy on two campuses in East Cobb, employs around 300 people.