The Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Bentum, who serves Gales Ferry UMC in Connecticut, shares this report on the Wesleyan Covenant Association formation event, which took place Oct. 7, 2016 in Chicago.
On Oct. 7, I traveled to Chicago, along with at least 10 others from the New England Annual Conference, to attend the initial meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). We joined 1,800 other people from around the country and also Africa to form a new organization within The United Methodist Church that unites evangelicals across the connection.
The meeting was a one-day, fly-in event to set the vision, purpose, and standards of this new effort for renewal and reform, as well as to inspire and encourage those who came.
Read UMNS stories about the association:
Evangelical group plans for ‘new day’ in church
Group: Accountability needed to avoid church split
Why is this group forming now and how is it different than other renewal and reform efforts in the church? That was a question on everyone’s mind I am sure as the formation of the WCA was announced early in the summer and as the meeting approached.
At least two important reasons for its formation are important to me. One is the increasingly open opposition to the doctrine and discipline of our church and the need to connect and encourage those who hold to our traditional standards. The second is the need for evangelicals to form a stronger bound to prepare for whatever future the Bishops’ Commission recommends to the general church.
The WCA is different from groups like Good News and the Confessing Movement because it is member based to build a connection between individual clergy and lay people as well as congregations.
The best description of who is the WCA was given by Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, lead pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church, when he said we are, “like-minded, warm-hearted, Jesus-loving, spirit-filled, Wesleyan, evangelical, orthodox, covenant-keeping Christians who are committed together in mission.”
In my experience as a leader in the evangelical community, evangelicals tend to focus heavily on their local church ministry and find their connections outside the denomination. Now is the time for evangelicals to come together to be faithful to who we are and impact the future of our church. We do not know what change is ahead, but the WCA is formed to help evangelicals move into it together.
At the meeting founding documents were approved and a council was elected. We affirmed the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church along with the ancient ecumenical document the Nicene Creed. It was moving for me, personally, as we read the creed together as a group.
Rev. Rob Renfroe, one of the pastors at Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church, said in his presentation that the WCA is really a centrist organization affirming the central beliefs of the church through history.
Those who I know attended the conference from New England include: Bob Gerseny, Rev. George and Vivian Hodgkins, Pastor Bob Jackson, Rev. John and Terry Marshall, Rev. Glenn Mortimer, Pastor David Ouellette, Rev. Jim Proctor, and Spencer Shaw.
The Evangelical Renewal Fellowship will be forming district networks of members of WCA or like-minded folks. To join a network, contact Rev. Jim Proctor at firstname.lastname@example.org