Friday, April 8, 2022

Recommended Reading: Bulgaria-Romania AC Votes to Leave UMC, Join GMC

The Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference posted a report from their annual conference meeting detailing a vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church and join the Global Methodist Church. This decision was hailed by Traditionalists in the United States, but Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, who oversees the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference, told that body prior to their vote that he did not understand why they wanted to separate.

The report by the Bulgaria-Romania AC is notable in that it makes clear the different understandings between the annual conference and Bishop Streiff on proper procedure in voting to separate from the UMC. The annual conference took the view that, according to Paragraph 33 of the Book of Discipline, it had ultimate authority to make decisions as it wished. Bishop Streiff indicated that the annual conference should follow the provisions of Paragraph 572, which is the only place in the Book of Discipline that lays out a procedure for an annual conference in the central conferences to separate from the UMC (a point reiterated in a subsequent letter). Bishop Streiff regarded the vote of the annual conference as out of order according to UMC rules, but the annual conference proceeded anyway. Bishop Streiff indicated that he would regard the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference as an autonomous church (the result of separation under Paragraph 572), but the conference reiterated that they intended to join the Global Methodist Church.

In the end, whether or not the decision properly followed UMC rules may be moot. The Bulgarian church already changed its articles of incorporation under Bulgarian law. The Central and Southern Europe Central Conference may have little legal recourse to opposing the decision and little incentive to fight a unanimous decision by the annual conference.

Traditionalists in the United States are likely to want to use the Bulgaria-Romania conference's decision as a precedent, but it is worth pointing out the special circumstances of this case. Bishop Streiff clearly indicated that he regarded the move as illegal according to church law. But because of the complexities law involved in resolving disputes about church law across national boundaries and different secular legal systems, that objection is hard to pursue. Within the United States, church law is likely to matter more to secular legal processes.


  1. A few notes: The declaration by the Bulgarian/Romanian provisional conference is vague with regard to the legal status of its Romanian congregations - not least because their legal status in Romania isn't clear, and they have different relations and dependencies in global Methodism. Also noteworthy is that this is a "provisional" annual conference, a status not recognized in the GMC Discipline - which itself is more aspirational that definitional in terms of conference structures and relationships. Finally it is worth noting that the provisional conference has disavowed all UMC support, but hasn't specified how it will manage matters (education of clergy) in which it drew heavily on UMC institutions and financial support. A good guess is that many promises were made by the WCF and GMI prior to the vote, even if they weren't publicly articulated. But since the GMI officially regards missional relationships as strictly congregational and its provisions for gathering and disbursing funds are also aspirational it will be interesting to see how those promises are kept. If anyone thinks this transition is going to be easy they are mistaken.


  2. David,

    I am trying to process the news and implications of the Bulgaria Romania Provisional Conference choosing separation from UMC in favor of the GMC. From its beginning in 1837, the Bulgaria Mission struggled to survive in a religious an cultural context that defies a calling for a successful evangelical witness. Whenever its future was on the brink from failures within or devastation from without, the relationship to the Methodist connection befitted the theologizing of the Ubuntu concept (or African proverb short handed as "I am because we are") that you offered in Wednesday’s post.

    The dominance of Greek Orthodoxy dictated where and how Methodist missionaries would make their entrance and how they would minister to the spiritual and social welfare of the population. The Ottoman Empire succeeded in controlling the heterogeneous groups of Turkish, Greek, Russian and German ethnicities but occasional inter regional warfare and two World Wars sent expatriate Methodist missionaries back to their home countries only to return and try to recover lost ground again, and again.

    In the post WWII period under the cruelest of communist regimes, strict anti Western policies were enforced severing the relationship of the fledgling Bulgarian Methodist churches to the US based Methodist board. The government assigned religious oversight to one of its apparatchiks, confiscated church properties and imprisoned all but a couple Bulgarian pastors on charges of treason and espionage.

    New beginnings were celebrated after the 1989 demise of communism in Eastern Europe. Bishop Heinrich Bolleter was able to make church visits, name a new superintendent and recover key properties. The renewal of ministries included planting new churches with outreach to underserved populations, notably among the discriminated Roma community. A striking new church building located in the Varna city center was erected with funding from across the global connection in Europe and the US, a symbol of the solidarity within the UM connectional family.

    The Ubuntu reality is an affirmation of identity within the community of others that exists to enfolds us. As you, David, further develop that concept in Wesleyan terminology, it is not only our humanity but our very salvation that is realized in the means of grace delivered through our relationships with others.

    Even during the 1844-1939 period of separation between US Methodists north and south over slavery, there was no move taken by Bulgaria to leave its northern church hustings. But now the leadership of the Bulgaria Romania Conference is choosing to find a new spiritual home in the bonds of fellowship within the new separatist Global Methodist Church.

    It is decision time for those in the sustaining connection being left behind as well as the new connectional relationship that so far exists only on paper. Will the future relationship with this sister church be restricted to a single denominational identity / title, or can it continue to be embraced within a connectional ministry of mutuality in which the saving grace of the one body of Christ is fully shared?

    While the agents of mission in the both UMC and GMC wrestle with how's and wherefores of that future relationship, let one spirit prevail to enable the future growth of the kingdom in this place and others where structural division seeks to dominate realization of divine calling in this critical historical moment.

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