Nine of the sixteen French local churches will leave the worldwide United Methodist Church. This was the result of votes in early October, which have now been confirmed by an assembly of all local churches in France. The reasons for leaving are the different views on questions of sexual orientation.
The United Methodist Church in France (UEEMF), at the general assembly of its local churches on October 14, 2023, confirmed the results of the church votes that had been held at the beginning of October. On October 1, each local church had voted on whether to remain in the UEEMF or to separate. A two-thirds majority was required for a legally valid separation, which was achieved in nine local churches.
Nine will leave, seven will stay
Nine of the 16 French local churches located in southern France and northern Alsace are leaving the worldwide United Methodist Church (UMC). They are seeking to form their own association. In the seven local churches remaining with the UEEMF, mostly located in the Paris area and southern Alsace, either the required quorum was not reached, or a majority of church members were in favor of staying.
Decades of discussion
The background for the decision to separate is the intense discussion that has been going on for decades within the UMC, especially in the U.S., about whether to allow pastoral ministry to persons professing homosexuality and blessings of same-sex couples. The departing local churches reject such an opening and also did not accept a compromise proposal that was adopted at the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe in November 2022. This allows that within the Episcopal Area – depending on the conviction of the church in the country and according to the legal and social framework in the different countries – both a traditional and a liberal view regarding sexual orientation can be lived in a worldwide Methodist Church.
Painful and sad
In a UEEMF communiqué, the separation is described as painful. However, it was done by mutual agreement and in a spirit of respect. Bishop Stefan Zürcher, who is, among other countries, also responsible for the UMC in France, noted the separation decision with sadness. "Based on the discussions, however, the withdrawal of part of the local churches was expected and unfortunately unavoidable," Bishop Zürcher said. "Separations are always saddening, but they can end conflicts and resolve blockages." The respectful way in which the separation process was handled, which also included the division of assets and other legal aspects, makes him confident that selective cooperation between the separating and remaining local churches is not out of the question in the future. "And after all, there are seven local churches remaining, all of which have a traditional view," Bishop Zürcher notes.
For his episcopal area, which includes eleven countries in central and southern Europe and two countries in North Africa, the decision in France has no direct consequences, "except that nine fewer Methodist local churches in France are associated with us," Bishop Zürcher added. "The task of respecting different convictions, refraining from exerting mutual pressure, and seeking common ways to carry the good news of the Gospel remains."
In addition to France, the relevant Annual Conference (Synod) also includes Algeria, Tunisia, one local church each in Austria and Belgium, and Switzerland. In this regard, Bishop Zürcher said: "In this diversity of countries and situations, it is important to treat each other respectfully and carefully and to support each other in carrying out the common Church mission." The UMC in Switzerland lives with different views on issues of human sexuality, he said.
The local churches in France and those in North Africa that remain with the UMC have decided to stay with the previous traditional view. The French churches that are now leaving could not imagine remaining in a common Church with different convictions on this issue. "This also causes concern in Switzerland. But this decision has no major impact on the cooperation with the remaining local churches," said Bishop Zürcher.
Erik Senz (Source: UEEMF)