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Talmage Church Splits Over UM Seminary's Anti-biblical Teachings And Denominational Unfaithfulness

From: Alan Stambaugh forjesus@afo.net
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2001 6:09 PM 
To: ucmpage@ucmpage.org Subject: 
Re: Church splits and members Leave UMC - unhappy with UMC St Paul Seminary

The Talmage United Methodist Church is dividing. Forty of the church's 96 members have reportedly chosen to establish an independent community fellowship in the town. Talmage is a small community 10 miles north of Abilene.

John Branson, a layperson who has been credentialed as a Local Pastor in The United Methodist Church, has agreed to serve as pastor of the newly formed community church. Branson voluntarily surrendered his credentials to the Rev. Mark Conard, Salina district superintendent, prior to the congregational meeting at Talmage March 18. He and his family are moving from the parsonage to another residence in Talmage.

The Talmage United Methodist Church has been part of a pastoral appointment with the Industry United Methodist Church since 1995. In January, the two congregations formed a committee to review questions, issues and concerns about The United Methodist Church.

The Talmage United Methodist administrative council did not take a formal vote to leave the denomination. Instead, the council members voted to let members decide for themselves if they would stay in The United Methodist Church or leave to form a new community church. Forty members and church attendees of the church have decided to withdraw their membership from The United Methodist Church and establish a community church. This decision was made without prior conversation with the district superintendent, the bishop or any other representative of the Kansas West Annual Conference.

Conard met with people from each congregation earlier this month to listen to their concerns and to respond to questions about the church. He met with people at Industry on March 11 and with some at Talmage on March 18. "Certainly I feel sadness and regret at the decision the members of the Talmage United Methodist Church have made," Conard said. "I had wanted to be in dialogue with them regarding their concerns before they came to a decision, but I was not afforded that opportunity.

Conard said he appreciated the opportunity to meet with the members in Talmage, and described the meeting as calm and free of anger. He said he feels a great deal of concern and compassion for the future of the Talmage United Methodist Church and its members.

"I think those who are leaving are doing so for reasons they consider to be valid and compelling," Conard said.

At the heart of their concerns is what the group sees as a decline in some of the Biblical teachings of the church. Dean Romberger, a spokesman for the group, said members became concerned over the teachings their pastor was exposed to at St. Paul's School of Theology in Kansas City. Romberger described Branson as spirit-filled for the Lord and said Branson was overwhelmed by the teachings at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., that he felt strayed from the Bible and the Biblical teachings of the church.

In addition, some members of the group are concerned about how the apportionments the church pays to the Annual Conference are spent. Romberger said the apportionment issue is secondary to what the group sees as the straying of The United Methodist Church and the seminary from Biblical teachings.

"When I'm asked about the United Methodist Church, I tell people it depends on the preacher," Romberger said. "We do have some Bible preaching pastors, and if you have one of those, you have a good Methodist church." However, Romberger said the denomination has pastors who do not believe the Bible tells the whole story, and he believes these pastors are a sign of the liberal bent the church is taking.

Conard said Branson had not made him aware that he left the seminary as a result of his concerns about teachings at Saint Paul. Instead, Conard said he and Branson had discussed the difficulties with spending so much time away from his family to attend classes and other ways for Branson to meet the seminary requirements of the church.

Conard said he would describe every minister he knows in the Kansas West Annual Conference as people who have a personal faith in Jesus Christ and who are committed to Christ as Savior and Lord.

"Part of the genius of United Methodism is that when we share our different perspectives on the gospel, usually something more comprehensive than anything we started with ourselves occurs," Conard said. "John knew his beliefs would be challenged at seminary, and from our conversations, I thought he was prepared for that."

Lovett H. Weems Jr., president of Saint Paul School of Theology, said the school cannot address Talmage United Methodist's concerns about the school and its teachings because they have not received any communication from the church. Weems said the school also had no record of any complaints from Branson during the short time he was enrolled in the seminary.

"What we can say is that Saint Paul School of Theology stands unequivocally in the heart of the Christian and Wesleyan tradition," Weems said. "All of our faculty are committed Christians who are active in their churches. They see their teaching as a sacred Christian calling and understand they are stewards of the rich gospel of Jesus Christ. There are no exceptions." The community fellowship will not take anything from the Talmage United Methodist Church. The church building, parsonage, financial assets and other assets remain with the Talmage United Methodist Church and its remaining members. Under United Methodist Church law, local congregations hold property "in trust" for the entire denomination. Secular courts have upheld this provision.

"There are also folks who are remaining in the congregation because they find value within The United Methodist Church," Conard said. "I will work with them to the best of my ability to sustain the Talmage United Methodist Church and its ministry in and beyond the community."

The Talmage United Methodist Church will continue to provide ministry to its community. Conard will meet with remaining members Sunday, March 25, and arrange for appropriate pastoral leadership at least for the remainder of the conference year (through June 30). Pastoral leadership will also be named soon for Industry United Methodist Church.

Any decision to discontinue a United Methodist congregation requires approval at several levels, including the bishop and majority of the district superintendents, the District Board on Church Location, and ultimately the Kansas West Annual Conference.

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