The Pacific Northwest (PNW) Conference of The United Methodist Church met on May 7, 2023, to consider disaffiliation requests from 13 local churches. The meeting took place over Zoom, with members casting their votes through a separate online voting platform provided by GNTV.
The occasion marked the third special session in two days for Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth and his first time presiding over the PNW Conference.
Alaskan pastor Tafa Fulumu’a offered an opening devotion. In March, the Samoan congregation he serves in Anchorage, Ola Toe Fuataina UMC, celebrated chartering as a new United Methodist congregation after years of hard work and steady growth.
After the body approved opening motions from conference secretary Rev. Shirley DeLarme, Bishop Bridgeforth introduced the work before them, helping to frame what the session was called to do.
“This is not our chance to decide if we like the idea of disaffiliation. That’s not what we’re doing,” Bridgeforth said, clarifying the task. “We’re voting on the resolutions and agreements that our board of trustees is bringing before us today, again, in compliance with ¶2553 [of the Book of Discipline].”
Bishop Bridgeforth next invited PNW Conference Treasurer Brant Henshaw forward to share more about the disaffiliation process. Rev. Pat Simpson, chairperson for the PNW Board of Trustees, offered further details, thanking her fellow trustees for their “faithful work, discerning and preparing these disaffiliation agreements.” Simpson would also present the 13 disaffiliation resolutions to members and the trustees’ recommendation.
Before the session, Henshaw shared that the thirteen disaffiliations represent 6% of annual conference churches and less than 5% of the conference budget. Leaders have been reducing the conference budget for several years, partially in anticipation of some separation. “While it is regrettable to see any churches leave, the impact on our shared ministry in the PNW is less dramatic than in other parts of the country.”
Thirteen churches were approved for disaffiliation during the special online session, with a small number still considering the possibility. No church disaffiliations will be considered when the annual conference meets in June. A final opportunity to disaffiliate may come in the fall, pending the local church’s decisions.
Disaffiliations for the following churches were approved to take effect on May 31, 2023:
- In the Inland District: Anatone, Cavendish, Colfax, Colville, LaCrosse, Orofino-Peck, Reardan, St. John
- In the Puget Sound District: Silverdale, Woodinville Community
- In the Seven Rivers District: Connell, Oroville, Pateros
Responding to a question about the spiritual well-being of members not wishing to disaffiliate, District Superintendent Daniel Miranda offered, “Some of the members are figuring out whether they’re going to stay, whether they’re going to leave. [Charge conferences] have been done with a sense of making sure they know they are loved and cared for and that there are future conversations that they can continue to have with us.” Rev. Miranda oversees the Inland and Seven Rivers Districts, where 10 of the 13 disaffiliating churches were located.
After completing its legislative work, the body paused for a moment of silence and a litany led by SeaTac District Superintendent Derek Nakano to recognize the actions of the conference.
“We determined to act today. And we did so with heavy hearts, to honor the desires of those who petitioned to live out their faith and calling apart from the connection we once shared.”
Several members representing disaffiliating churches at the session thanked Bishop Bridgeforth and conference members for their respectful approach to the disaffiliation petitions.
Among them was Pastor Dave McCue, “Speaking on behalf of churches that were considered today, I wish to extend appreciation for the chance for us to follow the road that we feel led to walk, and the release to be faithful to our Lord and Savior in the way that we hear his call.”
Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth closed the session by thanking members for their excellent work and reminding them of the upcoming regular session. “We look forward to the next time we can all be together because we will be focusing on our future.”
The PNW Conference is called to be a community, diverse and united in God’s saving love, sent out in vital life-giving ministry for and with Jesus Christ. Its primary task is to call, credential, equip, send forth, and nurture lay and clergy transformational leaders. Additionally, it strategizes for new ministry development and congregational redevelopment, connects for ministry beyond the local church, and provides support services for congregations.
The PNW Conference is one of three served by the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area and its bishop, Cedrick D. Bridgeforth.