IT’S OFFICIAL: Wesley Methodist Church holds chartering service

Published 10:59 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The new Wesley Methodist Church in LaGrange held its chartering service on Sunday with 271  attending the service. The charter roll has not been officially set due to some members being unable to attend the service, but it is expected to be around 300.

Many of the church’s members have transitioned from LaGrange First United Methodist Church after the vote on whether to stay a part of the United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience.

Church leaders Bobby Carmichael, Page Estes and Senior Pastor Dr. John Beyers said there was no plan for the new church prior to the vote because they fully expected the majority to vote to split from UMC and they did. However, the vote did not hit the two-thirds supermajority needed for the split.

Carmichael said the vision for the new church started to take place on the night of the vote.

“We had 344 people that voted our way and decided they would like to do something different. So we had a meeting the next day and prayed about it, and God started to open doors. That’s how it started,” Carmichael said.

“This wasn’t something that had been in the works for years,” Carmichael reiterated. “Prior to Aug. 13, we had no vision of Wesley Methodist Church.”

The next Sunday they met in the gymnasium at the Western Heights Baptist, which has graciously allowed them to continue holding worship service and Sunday School. 

Two weeks after the vote, UMC announced that Beyers had been suspended for an undisclosed reason.

Beyers said a colleague had filed a complaint that was forwarded to the bishop, and he was suspended —as is normal procedure— while the complaint was investigated. Beyers left the United Methodist Church and joined the Global Methodist church before the issue was resolved. He did not provide details on the complaint.

Beyers said he had been undecided about whether to remain based on how the congregation voted. 

“It’s clear First Methodist as a majority is a center-right traditionalist congregation,” Beyers said. “The vote was set that it required a supermajority of 67% to disaffiliate. We missed that vote by 13. The congregation knew then and knows now that I’m fundamentally a Wesleyan traditionalist, though I very much love the church. It was a very, very painful process, but when it became clear that First Methodist would remain United Methodist, it’s then that I began to make some important decisions about my conference affiliation.”

On top of the difficult decision to leave the church that he had pastored and loved, Beyers was also dealing with serious medical issues.

“I thank God for the strength of the lay leadership for whom I had the privilege of serving for five years and two months, and the quality, the integrity, the strength, the spiritual vitality of these leaders. Because when I received a very unexpected major cancer diagnosis at the beginning of June, the staff, the lay leadership, they just kept moving forward in the most excellent way,” Beyers said. “I’m still in that healing process. And yet in the midst of that, and then the disaffiliation vote, they still asked me to be their pastor. I will never be able to give thanks for the fact that after that difficult season, and knowing what I was going through, they were gracious and kind to ask me still to be their pastor and for that, I give thanks to the Lord.” 

Beyers said he is continuing treatment as a precaution for the future and is currently doing well. 

“A number of the physicians that I’m seeing are members, and they have just done a fine job looking after me, and I’m very grateful. We live in a fine community. And I’m honored to serve here,” he said.

Carmichael said some voted to disaffiliate with UMC over homosexuality, but it wasn’t the only reason. 

“That’s one of many reasons we left. The Book of Discipline is 400 or 500 pages long. There’s a lot of stuff in there. It’s not just about that. There’s other issues and there’s administrative guidance in the Book of Discipline that we felt like was not being followed as well,”  Carmichael said.

“I think everyone had different reasons. We as members have to prayerfully consider what position we want to take and for some people, yes, the issue of human sexuality was front and center. For many others, there were other underlying issues in terms of governance and accountability and the way that the overall church was being managed and run. So the ballot itself was somewhat misleading in terms of how we had to vote,” Estes said.
“We felt God moving us in a different direction that we are fundamentally true to biblical scripture, and that we wanted to have more local control and management of our church but still be a part of a great connection that is worldwide. That’s where we found a fit with the Global Methodist Church,” she said.

On whether the new church is looking for a new home, Beyers said they are working on growing members for now.

“It’s very important to me that we build the body of Christ before we build a building for him. Right now, we’re simply enjoying being together and seeing newcomers being invited,” Beyers said.

The church has been at Western Heights for nine weeks and does not have any immediate plans to find a new location. The church currently has offices located within the Hammett Building in downtown LaGrange donated by JT Jones and Associates.

The church’s phone and computer system, office furniture, piano and even their hymnals were donated by members and others in the community.

“It’s been amazing the number of people who have asked what can we give, how can we help? What do you need?” Beyers said.

“People have forgotten that we really are starting from scratch. We didn’t even have hymnals until [Sunday],” Estes said.

Beyers said it was an incredibly difficult decision to leave UMC, but he believes they are following where God is leading them.

“People who had made decades —if not generational— commitments to Christ, at the corner of Broad and Trinity were willing to make a decision of conscience for their faith and for their future to make a change. To me, that was a remarkable, heartfelt response to walk away from the place where [they had worshiped] for decades and generations,” Beyers said.