Dear Church Family,
It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a year since we celebrated Pastor Mark Rowland’s retirement! I speak for my whole family when I say that we have felt so incredibly blessed to be welcomed and loved by all of you. I can’t even begin to describe how thankful I am to serve as one of your pastors!
One of my favorite experiences last year was the opportunity to meet our remarkable church body through Life Groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, or individually. It was such a joy to hear stories of how Anderson Hills has changed lives, and to hear your hopes for the future. You also gave me a lot of great advice including these recurring themes:
Don’t make changes too quickly, but be courageous in making changes in the future as the Spirit leads. Listen to the Lord and to the church body as you discern God’s vision.
Lead the staff with excellence because they are a strong team whom we love dearly
Keep all our worship experiences strong and vibrant
Buy a lot more sweater vests (OK, that was just one guy. But he said it a lot.)
I’ve spent many hours in conversation, thought, and prayer around our vision for the future. We will be talking about the first phase of that later this year, but our first step is to address a question I have most frequently been asked since I arrived: “What are we going to do about the challenges in the United Methodist Church?”
Anderson Hills’ Church Council, elected by our members, is responsible for major church decisions. The Council has been carefully watching UMC developments over the past several years. We believe that it is time to consider our options as a church by asking the question, “What denominational connection will help us be most effective at fulfilling our mission?” You’ve probably heard that the UMC is dividing over theological disagreements regarding human sexuality. While this is certainly an issue, there are many other troubling issues that we are taking into consideration. Some of these include:
- Our core beliefs (for example, that Jesus is God) have been denied by some Bishops and pastors without accountability.
- The UMC has declined in US worship attendance every year since it began in 1968, but this decline has radically increased in the past 20 years to a dangerously unsustainable level.
- The General Conference (the UMC version of Congress) and the Bishops (the UMC version of the President) have been unable to make meaningful changes to slow this rapid decline.
- The system that sends pastors to churches has become more focused on the needs of the pastor than the needs of the church
- There is a path for churches to leave the UMC, but it will expire at the end of 2023.
- Our contributions over the past 200 years have paid for our church and its buildings, but the UMC owns that property. This is a holdover from the colonial era. If we were to leave the UMC, we will have more control over our property and hence our future.
Because of the importance of this issue, any decision on it cannot be made by me or the Church Council or our collective leadership. It must be made by our church. To that end, we have invited several other people into the Council’s conversation to evaluate the current state of the UMC, and to consider other denominational options that share our Methodist beliefs, because those beliefs are central to our identity as a church. This group is committed to meeting twice a month until we develop a recommendation for our entire congregation to review, discuss, consider and ultimately vote on at a Church Conference. We expect that a recommendation will be made this fall, and between now and then we will provide periodic updates on our progress.
Our Church Council consists of Steve Elliott (Chair), Anna Anderton (Lay Leader), Vic Black (Trustees), Jeff Button (PPRC), Mark Bell (Finance), Nancy Roberts (Recording Secretary), Mark Putman (Executive Pastor), and Jon Ferguson (Lead Pastor). Additionally, the Council invited Becky Costello, Stuart Dornette, Bruce Schindler, Bill Smith, Jake Turner, and Ashley Wilson to join the conversation. This group represents a diversity of age, time at Anderson Hills, time in the UMC, and theological opinions.
Please join me in praying for this team as we seek God’s vision for our future. Feel free to share your thoughts and questions directly with this team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I have full confidence in our Church Council’s leadership. Most of all, I trust the Holy Spirit’s leadership of our church as we seek to live out God’s vision!
Honored to Serve Jesus with You,