Mt. Bethel to leave United Methodist Church; pastor staying on

Mt. Bethel UMC, Dr. Jody Ray
Dr. Jody Ray has been senior pastor at Mt. Bethel UMC since 2016.

Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church of East Cobb—the largest congregation in the North Georgia Conference—will be leaving the denomination.

Rustin Parsons, a lay leader of the 8,000-member church, said during a news conference Monday morning that Mt. Bethel was doing so over the North Georgia Conference’s decision to reassign senior pastor Dr. Jody Ray.

“We have begun the process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church,” Parsons said in reading a statement in the church sanctuary.

“It’s time for us to part ways with the denomination.”

Ray also said at the news conference (you can watch it and read statements here) that he is surrendering his credentials as an ordained minister in the UMC. He will continue serving Mt. Bethel as CEO and lead minister.

The announcements come a week after Mt. Bethel leadership said the church “is not in a position to receive a new senior minister at this time.”

Ray had been reassigned out of the ministry to a role with the North Georgia Conference staff in Atlanta involving racial reconciliation. The North Georgia Conference has 800 churches and more than 340,000 members, and every spring routinely reassigns clergy.

Steven Usry, the senior pastor at Sugarloaf UMC in Duluth, was appointed to succeed Ray at Mt. Bethel, starting in July. Usry was not mentioned at the Mt. Bethel news conference on Monday.

Parsons said that he was “dismayed” by the “abrupt” decision of Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference to remove Ray from Mt. Bethel.

“Despite our repeated requests to reverse course, she has refused,” he said, “or provide a reason or rationale for her capricious action.

“We have no intention of accepting another pastor.”

Ray, who came to Mt. Bethel in 2016, said he was told by Haupert-Johnson on April 5 of the reassignment, and said that her “hasty and ill-conceived action” has “undermined her credibility with the people of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church and jeopardized the health and vitality of this great congregation that is a beacon of hope and light in this community and beyond.”

More than 4,000 people signed a petition started last week by church leaders to oppose Ray’s reassignment.

He said he was not given a reason for his reassignment. In the United Methodist Church, ordained ministers are subject to what’s called the “itinerant ministry,” in which they are reassigned at the behest of the denomination.

“Unfortunately, my options were to accept the move, take a leave of absence, or surrender my credentials,” Ray said. “That’s not consultation, it is merely notification, and it violates both the spirit and letter of the covenants that bind us together.”

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, North Georgia Conference UMC
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson

In a statement issued by the North Georgia Conference, Haupert-Johnson said that “while it is painful for any church or pastor to leave the denomination, there are protocols in place to allow clergy and congregations to depart. These protocols include having at least two-thirds of the congregation vote for disaffiliation and the regional governing body approving the measure.”

In a pastoral letter she issued on Monday, Haupert-Johnson said Ray hung up on the North Georgia Conference superintendent who called him about the reassignment, saying he was interested only in staying at Mt. Bethel.

With more than 12 million members, the UMC is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, behind the Southern Baptist Convention.

Before the COVID pandemic, the United Methodist Church nationwide was in turmoil over a number of theological issues, including the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.

The denomination was to have met in 2020 to begin a “Protocol for Reconciliation through Grace and Separation.” That process has been pushed back to 2022.

During his sermon last week, Ray addressed his children by saying that “your Daddy didn’t bow the knee, or kiss the ring, of progressive theology. . . . which is no theology.”

In her pastoral letter, Haupert-Johnson said Ray’s sermon “cast this as a ‘hostile takeover’ by an evil, ungodly woman bishop and denigrating The United Methodist Church.

“This reckless behavior has caused a great deal of pain to the congregation and threatens its covenant with The United Methodist Church.”

She further said that Mt. Bethel leaders:

“Refused to have any meaningful conversation, and instead threatened that $3-4 million would walk out of the church if they were not allowed to deviate from the appointive process and keep their pastor. When asked to further the consultation by submitting written concerns to the Cabinet, they gave no missional reasons against the appointment. The leaders wrote that they would withhold compensation, benefits and any reimbursement for a new pastor. They warned that upon his arrival the church, its ministries, and its school will ‘most certainly be unstable and likely hostile.’ “

Some UMC churches have made similar disaffiliation decisions as Mt. Bethel, including seven congregations in South Georgia last August.

In recent weeks Mt. Bethel, which is more than 175 years old, has changed some of its branding, calling itself “Mt. Bethel Church” on its website and social media channels.

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30 thoughts on “Mt. Bethel to leave United Methodist Church; pastor staying on”

  1. I don’t know anything about this church, but the bishop appears to be divisive and I can’t understand reassigning a successful minister AWAY from the ministry to work on a racial reconciliation committee, unless it was vindictive or she just wanted to get rid of the pastor. The bishop claimed in a video that ALL white people are racists and if they don’t admit it they are liars. What a blanket and judgmental statement for a bishop to make.

    • The UMC, via the covenant of itinerant appointments, strives to prevent the ‘worship’ of the pastor(s), the difficulty of transitioning to new pastoral leadership when inevitably that change will happen, division of the congregation over appointment decisions, and pastors remaining in an appointment at their own discretion and comfort rather than ‘going where sent’ when their pastoral gifts are needed elsewhere.

      I think I will leave my opinion off, except to say this. Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it!

  2. The people who sowed into Mt. Bethel over the past 175 years prayed, tithed & worked for the building of a United Methodist congregation. The pastor is free to leave and take whatever members wish to go with him – but the property belongs to the UMC Conference and was paid for by the blood, sweat and tithes of 175 years worth of United Methodists.

    • Nope, liberaliam never built a church. The church was built by Christ followers who followed clear teaching of Scripture. It is this pastor and his church that want to continue to serve the Lord according to His commands. Serving Jesus faithfully does not include women preachers or perverse homosexual behavior in leadership or anywhere for that matter. When they exit, the building and all its ministries should be theirs. By God’s grace they will be sustained until September 2022.

      • No. When the pastor accepted the United Methodist Church’s ordination, he took an oath before God to accept the United Methodist Church’s doctrine, discipline and rules – including the rule that all real property belongs to the United Methodist Conference. Not only is it a matter of this pastor’s integrity – it’s a matter of settled law. He can give the ordination back – but he cannot take the property of the Conference. The folks can leave the congregation and form a new one, but they cannot keep the property. That’s called theft.

        • But when Sue Haupert-Johnson took her vows, she pledged the same. She is attempting to change the Book of Discipline and will not enforce action against violations of the BOD as long as it fits her views. Traditionalists are not trying to change the BOD, progressives are.

          • Then the people can file charges against Bishop Haupert-Johnson. But trying to keep property that generations of Methodists tithed and deeded in trust for the UMC is the same as stealing a laptop from your job when you quit. The pastor (and people) joined a church where the polity and discipline give the Bishop the authority to move pastors. They were fine with it when the Bishop moved that pastor to that charge. To whine about it and rebel after the fact is spiritually and emotionally immature. If God is on the pastor’s side, then God will provide the resources for a new campus. Stealing one, however, is not of God.

  3. As a child growing up as the son of a Pastor in the North Georgia Conference, I moved 6 times in 8 years from 1st to 8th grade. I can tell you it is devastating for a child to move that many times. It was definitely not the Lord’s work. Many times it was the Pastor Parrish Relation’s Committee who ruled the church but not necessarily with the hearts and minds of the congregation in consideration. To have a Bishop move an uber successful minister without consulting the Superintendent or church governing body is just ludicrous. And if that church is the largest and most successful ministry in your organization, it is just plain bad business. The UMC is coming up on a split and I have seen many say this is what the Bible says or what Jesus said. Jesus never said anything about same sex couples. He did however command you to “Love One Another”. You cannot Love One Another while actively showing contempt and hate for your fellow man. I commend Mt. Bethel for standing their ground. After all, the Bishop is not God.

  4. I’m glad to see Mt Bethel stand up to the Bishop and the conference. I hope more churches follow in their footsteps. Good for them. The divide is coming….the UMC better wake up.

  5. Is Jody Ray related to Scott Ray, the former Senior Pastor at Sugarloaf Methodist who sexually exploited women on his staff and in the congregation while gathering big time SugarLoaf Country Club folk into the church for years? The one who was allowed by the district superintendent at the time to give a “cover sermon” for his need to leave and received thousands of dollars in “prayer wishes” from the congregation that was mostly clueless of his abuses?

  6. That certainly is the right decision, I think, and the Bible backs up that decision. There
    Are too many liberal leaders in in the Methodist Church that want to please the world, but not follow after God and the scriptures.
    I was raised in the Methodist church, but left many years ago. After I left I truly got “born again”

  7. It is shameful for a pastor to lead a church astray. Dr. Jody Ray signed up for this. You go where you’re sent anytime anywhere. No one is above this covenant!

    • Your statement is not true. Many U. Methodist C. pastors stay with congregations for long periods of time, particularly large congregations who desire the pastor to stay. Rev. Ray’s predecessor, Dr. Randy Mikeler was at Mt. Bethel for close to 20 or more years, and brought the church from a very small congregation to what it has become today. I can name many UMC pastors and churches where the same has happened, particularly where churches are growing, and their ministries are flourishing. And, even in some small UMC churches, pastors are left for many years over and above the 4 to 6 year normal rotation. And, usually when there is a reassignment, it is not just a decision by the bishop, but the District Superintendents as well, and the churches, like Mt. Bethel, and pastor are discussed about the possiblity before hand. It’s evident exactly what is happening. There has been an ongoing assault in the UMC for almost 50 years over its position on various forms of sexuality from gay to LGBQT, now. They have tried their best to get the denomination to allow same sex marriages, to accept actively practicing members of those communities into membership into UMC churches, and to also be allowed to become ministers and leaders in the church. They have employed devious methods to accomplish this when they have been unable to accomplish it at the UMC Global General Conferences by vote. In one attempt, they even tried to separate the African Conference, the 2nd largest geographical conference, from the Global General Conference in order to gain a majority of votes in the remaining conferences. This led to a proposal at the 2020 GC for a plan to split the entire UMC, into “traditional” churches and “progressive” churches. It’s fairly apparent that Mt. Bethel is a prize member of the current UMC, and the bishop’s action is setting the stage to try to keep it with the “progressive” group. And bishops are not saints. A former one lied to me directly in front of a group of N. GA UMC men when I asked if same sex marriages were being allowed, or overlooked, at a downtown Atlanta UMC Church. He stated “no”, when there was video proof on an Atlanta TV news channel that they were.

  8. I’m just happy that Reverend Usry will not be stepping unaware into this snake pit. Best wishes to him, wherever his new assignment may be.

  9. Oddly enough I watched an old movie last night called One Foot In Heaven about a Methodist Minister who has to move his family many times. I was going to a small Methodist Church here in Canton that had one of the most wonderful Ministers I’ve encountered and boom he was gone. I don’t understand it. It can’t be good for their families, it’s unsettling for the congregation especially the elderly. I could see if a vacancy opened and they were given a choice. In the Lutheran Church where I was brought up our Pastors stayed. They became like a family member you knew and turned to for all spiritual needs. I don’t blame MT. Bethal on little bit.

    • The system more often than not works but in this case the SPR committee made it very clear they wanted this pastor to stay and they could not reconcile with the Bishop. Sad that it came to this and I wish Mt. Bethel the best and pray that they can move on and continue their journey bringing Christ to everyone

    • See my comment above. That policy is not cast in stone in the least, and usually both pastor and pastoral committee are brought into discussion before hand, especially in a huge vibrant church, like Mt. Bethel.

  10. Someone should hire a forensic accountant to inspect Mt. Bethels books pronto. Sounds desperate for status quo, indicating somethings fishy.

    • It’s the UMC conference who needs auditing, not Mt. Bethel. Some proposals in the split want to take all the churches and some of their property, regardless of what the members who have paid for it want. And, it is true that the Conference holds deeds on most of the church buildings, but is it fair to take those when the congregation paid for them and their upkeep over the years, and the vast majority of a congregation no longer want to stay, as well as a vast majority of all the churches at least in the south, and most other areas. Back in the 80’s one of the General agencies held a lot of funds various people had donated and bequeathed for missions. That agency would not release the funds except under certain social conditions having little to do with mission work. So, what happened. They had to create a new agency to receive and fund badly needed missions.

  11. I was raised in this church. I was an employee for several years. Mt. Bethel UMC stopped “spreading His glory” and started “manipulating His word” sometime in the mid-1990s. I’m glad Mt. Bethel won’t be a part of the UMC anymore and go their own way to do their own thing, all while saying “look at me! Look at me!” instead of simply being a beacon on a hill.

  12. Good for them. It will entail some pain, but standing up for Christian beliefs and honoring the tenets and teachings of Jesus are more important if the church is to maintain its mission. As a Christian, but not a Methodist, I stand with my brothers and sisters at Mt. Bethel on this.

    This was bound to happen sooner or later as the UMC HQ organization had been moving to a more popular acceptance of the secular progressive world views on key areas of abortion, marriage and the pastorage. At their last national convention 18 months or so ago, they nearly passed the resolutions to change the bylaws and permit these activities that violate the teachings of both God and Christ, going back 4,000 plus and 2,000 years respectively.

    And, if my info was correct, it was the Black members of the UMC that had backbone and stood up to block it then. Their witness should be a force for good.

    The UMC is heading for a world-wide divide on this matter. Mt. Bethel is just getting out early. The split will happen. And UMC as a denomination will continue to fade into the dusty pages of history. Because they caved to secular pressure.

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