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Exiled Omaha Laity Seek to Form New Church

Press Release 06-17-98

We, a community of United Methodists, continue to affirm our United Methodist tradition, the teachings of Scripture and the policies and procedures of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. Particularly, we affirm the affirmation of the 1996 General Conference Social Principles. Our concerns include, but are not limited to, its statement on Human Sexuality. We seek to be faithful to our Wesleyan heritage of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

We feel it is ironic that those of us faithful to these teachings find ourselves worshiping outside our physical church building. This occurred because of the efforts of a determined minority who gained control and gave direction to the church different from the Social Principles of the 1996 General Conference. This direction does not represent a majority of United Methodist members either locally or nationally. We are disappointed the institutional leadership looks upon us as dissenters. They simply suggest we should return to the First United Methodist Church of Omaha and support a narrowly focused vision of inclusiveness that ignores the spiritual needs and concerns of a majority of First Church members.

As much as we would like to return to First United Methodist Church, we cannot. A recent meeting with Don Bredthauer and some First Church leaders demonstrated the futility of trying to return. The direction of that church has been set and the present leadership - lay and clergy - will maintain that course.

To hold fast to our heritage, the Laity Fellowship has agreed to the possibilities of developing a new United Methodist Church that will have a balanced vision of its mission and ministry and where spiritual needs of its members will be taken seriously. Our vision of a United Methodist Church includes a balanced emphasis on dynamic preaching and worship; evangelistic outreach, an exciting teaching ministry for children, youth and adults; caring ministries; and mission outreach. We intend to be in conversation with District and Conference leaders to explore establishing a new United Methodist congregation.

This action came with much prayer, reflection, and study. It is an act of many families. We, the Laity Fellowship, represent more than 450 members of First United Methodist Church of Omaha. In addition, numerous families have either gone inactive or have joined other churches.

We are a positive, affirming community of faith holding on to the teachings of Scripture and the heritage of the United Methodist Church and reject terminology that describes us as dissenters.

United Methodist Laity Fellowship

"There is still a vision…if it seems to tarry, wait for it." Habakkuk 2:3

I wanted to add a few comments to those made in the press release I sent regarding our Omaha Laity Group.

We had a two-hour meeting tonight in which our steering committee presented the options available to us and why we had decided that pursuing the formation of a new UMC was the path we wanted to take.

A large portion of our current congregation consists of older people...very special older people. I believe it took a great amount of courage and faith for them to break away from a church they built and supported all their lives. It also took a lot of courage and faith for them to fully support starting over from scratch. It took a lot of courage and faith on the part of all of us to freely choose to have the church be United Methodist...considering all we have been through in the name of United Methodism. The main reasons we chose as we did are our rich UM heritage and people like all of you. You need our voices to join with yours in working for renewal and in bringing people to Christ in the UMC.

We believe that we are a strong group...after all, we were strong enough to walk away from something we couldn't believe in and couldn't support. We intend to take that strength and our deep commitment to standing up for God's truth and make it the foundation of our future endeavors together. Unless we set out in faith and give it a try, we will never know what special plan God has for this group.

Additional Comments

Many of us spoke at our Laity Group meeting last night about why we did or did not support the various options available to us. I was one who was to speak in favor of forming a new UMC. Just so you can be a little clearer on our reasoning for taking this path, I thought I would send you what I said last night. Trying to form a new UMC was not an easy path for us to choose. My words were as follows:

The reason I feel that starting a new UMC is the best option, and I haven't come to that decision easily, is because the greater United Methodist Church STILL very much needs our voice.

We have made a strong statement and have awoken many sleeping Methodists all over the country. We are tired, we have been through a lot, but if we don't stay together…our strong voice will be silenced.

The last thing many of us, including me, would want to do is start over. It wouldn't be easy and there would be a huge commitment required of everyone agreeing to walk down this road. But, the reason most of us are here to begin with is because we were strong enough to walk away from something we couldn't believe in.

One thing I've learned during the last year-and-a-half is that being a Christian is not always about being comfortable and settled. It is during the times when we are not comfortable and settled that we experience our greatest growth and sense of Christian fellowship.

Personally, I will not sacrifice any of my strong values and beliefs to be Methodist. That's why I need to remember that where we stand is with the majority of Methodists around the country. If we stand with them, they will stand with us. From what I have seen and heard from many sources and places, they WANT to stand with us - - especially in an endeavor like this.

We have already made changes by our strong actions and statements. If we were to stay together as a group, I would expect that to continue. I wouldn't settle for anything less. At this point, the only way I would remain Methodist is within this group of people. God has given us a special task and a very special witness…looking back, it is easy to see how far He has carried us. None of us know what could happen in the future. But we do know He will carry us through that, too. Unless we set out in faith and give it a try, we won't know what special plan He has for this group.

Over the last months, we have shown that we really stand for something…we are deeply committed to our faith and to standing up for God's truth even when it is not at all easy. If we choose to form a new UMC, that deep commitment can remain the foundation of our efforts and be an example and guide for our future endeavors together.


Diane West, member FUMC

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