At a community church in Manheim Township, this Easter has special meaning.
For the first time in its 77 years, Grandview and its 500 congregants are celebrating Sunday services as a new church, after an emotional separation from the greater United Methodist denomination that has lasted years.
It is now Grandview Church and wants to welcome other like-minded congregations — those that include LGBTQ people as leaders and allow same-sex marriages — under the banner Grandview Methodist Connection.
The announcement follows a worldwide reckoning of the United Methodist Church as it grapples with the issue of sexuality. Its Book of Discipline, which lays out the rules of the faith, declares that homosexuality directly conflicts with church beliefs.
Only a handful of churches in the 12-million member United Methodist Church have broken ties — and Grandview is the only in Lancaster County — but some considering a split have looked to Grandview for guidance. Churches from Maine, Massachusetts, Georgia and Delaware have reached out.
“We’ve had a slew of emails and phone calls since our vote,” said the Rev. Andrea Brown, lead pastor at Grandview Church. “Our taking this first step has allowed others to say, ‘This is something we thought about but had no idea how to do it, so show us the way.’ ”
The way ahead includes the authority to ordain ministers, and Brown and her colleagues in disaffiliating churches will meet in May to begin collaborating on new processes.
“We want to make a path for people who are Methodist-hearted, Wesleyan in their theology, to have their calling recognized,” Brown said.
Methodism extends back to mid-18th century evangelists John and Charles Wesley, who taught that God loves everyone; salvation comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and that faith should be shared by helping those sick, marginalized or victims of disaster.
For Grandview, to create a path for like-minded individuals means setting up boards, establishing criteria and other details related to ordination.
“It seems fundamentally unjust that someone clearly called to ministry cannot be ordained,” Brown said, and this was a driving force behind disaffiliation.
“I watched this conference take ordination credentials from my friend Beth Stroud and Rev. (Frank) Schaefer,” said Brown, who sat through the church trials of those Pennsylvania pastors. Both lost their credentials: Stroud in 2004 for living with another woman and Schaefer in 2013 for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding. Schaefer’s credentials were reinstated in 2014.
“I feel a personal sense of relief to be free to live out the faith that I think is the true expression of my own Christianity,” Brown said.
A ‘heritage of Methodism’
Though the institutional bond with Methodism officially ended March 31, the theological bond continues.
“We’re very Methodist,” said Associate Pastor Liz Fulmer, who is gay and can now freely pursue ordination. “It’s in how we operate, how we think, the way we value social justice and incorporate that into the life of faith. The heritage of Methodism is built into Grandview.”
Congregant Micah France, a lifelong Methodist, said Grandview “is the most Methodist, Methodist church I’ve ever been to.”
France led a team of researchers looking for the best way to navigate the challenges of Grandview’s beliefs that were in obvious opposition to those of the United Methodists. The team formed in 2019 after the United Methodist Church voted at general conference to adopt a “traditional plan” which upheld anti-LGBTQ principles.
“We were hurt because we had the hope there would be a movement toward a more inclusive church,” he recalled. “It felt like a betrayal to us.”
The road to disaffiliation
COVID-19 canceled follow-up conferences and hope of change dimmed. The general conference had declared that churches with moral objections to the traditional plan could leave and keep their property for a fee. However, there was no guarantee that recourse would always be there, so Grandview voted Feb. 10, 2020, to begin disaffiliation talks.
As they journeyed through the year researching all options, France says, one principle guided them: How do we let Grandview be Grandview?
Even though the pandemic prevented in-person gatherings, congregants knew what was happening. The church held congregational meetings on Zoom, held special services on social media, sent emails and letters, and used its website to keep people informed.
Exactly one year later, Feb. 10, 2021, members voted to officially disaffiliate, with 90% in favor.
“I was thankful that we had solid direction,” France said. “It’s great we have such agreement on the direction the church is going. The votes have not been close. We feel we have broad support.
“If we’d stayed (United Methodist), we’d have to change more than if we’d left,” France said. “Now we can let Grandview be Grandview. That means being an open and welcoming church, keeping the staff we have which includes LGBTQ, allowing them to participate as ministers. We want to be the same church, very strongly rooted in our Methodist tradition, but not with these offensive parts we couldn’t live under.”
The break with UMC
In her Easter sermon, “From Grief to Relief to Alleluia,” Pastor Brown will talk about the path forward and the years of discernment that led to this point.
“You can’t get to Easter without Good Friday. You’ve got to deal with the grief,” she said. “We took the time to grieve. Now we can consider what’s new and possible.”
A lifetime Methodist, but new to Grandview, Patricia Kameen said she is looking forward to masking up, social distancing and sitting outdoors for Easter service. Straight, white and with no LGBTQ family members, she and her husband Patrick demographically represent most of the congregation. Members span all ages and are mostly middle class.
“I embrace disaffiliation 100%,” Patrick Kameen said. “This isn’t a celebration. This is a family breaking up.”
Now separate from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, Grandview will be missed, said its bishop, Peggy Johnson.
“Churches doing missions will always live forever. They’re involved in so much community and worldwide mission,” Johnson said. “The ones that have free abandon to love and give and share and be the presence of Christ for people who have no love, those are the churches that will thrive forever. I wish them well.”
Johnson, who is also the bishop for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, said she knows of no other United Methodist churches, traditionalist or progressive, seeking disaffiliation in Lancaster County. There are over a dozen United Methodist Churches in the county, and Johnson also sees growth for traditional churches.
“People that have traditional values and interpretations of the Bible gravitate toward these churches and serve God,” she said. “They’re doing good work, too — the ... outreach that’s happening in all my churches but including my traditional churches, has been keeping people alive.”
Local First United Methodist Church Pastor Joe DiPaolo regrets the schism and said his church “will have to discern what future structure to align with.”
“The departure of Grandview is but one more sign of the deep theological divisions which exist within the global United Methodist Church,” DiPaolo said. “Several plans have been proposed to find a way for progressives and traditionalists to either divide amicably or live within separate structures in the same denomination, so that all can do ministry in accord with the dictates of conscience.”
For now, the Lancaster church plans to monitor the process.
“We wish Grandview well in its new journey and will be happy to work with them in areas of common concern as we serve the hungry, homeless and most vulnerable in our city,” DiPaolo said.
The way forward
Disaffiliation “is not an easy step,” said 25-year Grandview member Ruth Daugherty, who is a leader in United Methodist circles locally and nationwide. “A lot of work still needs to be done.”
Daugherty hopes the ministry of Grandview, which is “as close to what I feel is the fulfillment of the Gospel,” will be an incentive to grow exactly this kind of ministry, a ministry “as inclusive as Jesus’ ministry was.”
Day to day, much about Grandview will remain the same, but change will come.
“Grandview will still be Grandview,” Brown said. “But I think there are some wonderful surprises ahead. The possibilities of some wider connections is really exciting. At first, we thought we would be lonely out here but we're starting to see that’s not so.”
Sierra Hrubochak, a church trustee and music ministry member, remembers her disappointment last year when Easter services couldn’t be held at the church because of the pandemic. Today is the first time the congregation will be together since COVID-19 forced services to be virtual.
“Being able to celebrate on Easter the first time as Grandview Church will be a highlight of this church for years to come,” Hrubochak said.
Grandview didn’t select the March 31 disaffiliation date; the United Methodist conference did. The parallels with the Easter story emerge time and time again, the pastor admits, but Jesus is the focus.
“The Resurrection story is much bigger than our rebirth as a church,” Brown said. “I would hope people hear that more than the story of the church.”