WCA Church Plant marketed directly to Virginia UMC members
In December 2018, a new church plant began in Charlottesville, Virginia named Mission Charlottesville. But this one was unlike anything before it.
Usually, new church plants begin either in coordination with or with distance from other churches of the same denomination or network. This one did not. Mission Charlottesville is:
- 4.1 miles from Aldersgate UMC
- 1.7 miles from Wesley Memorial UMC
- 1.5 Miles from Hinton Avenue UMC
- 0.8 miles from First UMC
In addition, the district lay leader of the Charlottesville district advertised this new church on her personal Facebook page. That’s such an inappropriate thing to do for a church that is not one’s own denomination, right? (Incidentally, she resigned her position a few weeks later.)
So from the get-go, the church plant was marketed to United Methodists in Charlottesville by disgruntled United Methodists in the power structure.
And thanks to some investigative work by Rev. Phil Woodson, Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, we know how involved the Wesleyan Covenant Association is in this effort. The rest of this document references Rev. Woodson’s 30 page PDF and other sources.
Connections to the Wesleyan Covenant Association
Mission Charlottesville expressly says that they are a member church of the WCA (PDF page 7). One might think the WCA is a subset of The United Methodist Church, but that would be an incorrect placement of the Venn Diagram.
The WCA says they are “within The United Methodist Church” (PDF page 9) even though their board includes Rev. Bryan Collier who is the pastor of a formerly United Methodist Church called The Orchard (they exited from the Mississippi Annual Conference before General Conference 2019). Since the WCA is not exclusively United Methodist, it makes sense they would accept non-denominational or independent churches as member churches, or, as we will see, even start one of their own.
Mission Charlottesville’s pastor David Ford claims to be a clergy member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (PDF page 10). It is unclear how that is possible when he turned in his clergy orders to the Virginia Annual Conference in May 2018, just under 7 months before the launch worship service of Mission Charlottesville. What organization is his ordination held? Was there an ordination service in the WCA? Was Bryan Collier, when he turned in his clergy orders in 2017, ordained by the WCA? It’s a curious ecclesiastical question: what makes someone “clergy” in the WCA if they aren’t clergy elsewhere?
Finally, the Wesleyan Covenant Association recognizes David Ford’s membership. At the time of the Mission Charlottesville launch, he was the 2nd Vice President of the Virginia WCA (page 11), he was a voting member at the WCA’s Global Legislative Assembly at the same time (page 12), and he even ran for the national WCA Leadership Council (page 13). So the WCA was involved at multiple levels in starting this new church.
From the WCA to Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia
Okay, so the WCA is involved in a church plant in Virginia, directly opposing established UM churches in the area. But how much overlap is there between the WCA (a somewhat national organization) and the local Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia, a caucus within Virginia Annual Conference? It turns out, quite a lot!
The EFVA’s objectives (page 18) include to be a “force within the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church” and to “influence the actions of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church” through “the election of clergy and lay delegates from the Virginia Annual Conference who are committed to” their principles.
That’s fine, but if that’s their objectives, then why are they fiscal sponsors for a church that is attracting disgruntled United Methodists and encouraging them to leave their places of worship? Or maybe they are not: maybe they are keeping their membership in The UMC and coming back on occasion to cause trouble after attending Mission Charlottesville, or to vote at Annual Conference for General Conference delegates.
If the above is true, we see the WCA strategy of “offer an alternative organization to force a fearful choice in the current organization” works at the local level as well.
Finally, there is little doubt of the connections between the local WCA chapter and the EFVA and the new church plant. At the June 2018 EFVA banquet, David Ford was lifted up and named as starting a new church plant (remember he turned in his orders about a month earlier). In addition, when you compare their board members and their positions(page 22-24 of the PDF), you find plenty of overlap.
Woodson concludes the nature of these relationships:
7/9 members of the Virginia Wesleyan Covenant Association Council maintain active membership on the Board of Directors for the Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia.
David Ford is an also an active member on the Board of Directors for the Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia and recent VP of the Virginia Wesleyan Covenant Association .
The above summary concludes that the WCA and the EFVA are coordinating closely in support and promotion of this church plant that is targeting and undermining United Methodist ministry in Charlottesville.
So why is EFVA participating in Virginia’s Annual Conference?
Rev. Woodson concludes his investigation with the following summary:
The Board Members of the Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia are working to solicit financial support for the new WCA affiliated church, Mission Charlottesville.
The WCA is using the Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia as a tax-free financial conduit for the expressed purpose of starting an alternative denomination.
The efforts by the Board Members of the Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia and the Virginia Wesleyan Covenant Association Council, to support this new network of churches are a great cause for concern.
The actions by these clergy and lay members display a disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church because they are facilitating the dissemination of doctrines that contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church and undermining and disrupting the ministry of other pastors in the Charlottesville area.
When we name those things, it becomes clear that the EFVA doesn’t seem to be playing nice with United Methodists by heavily supporting an alternative network of churches, starting with Mission Charlottesville. So if that is the case, then why is EFVA participating in the Virginia Annual Conference?
- First, EFVA and/or Virginia WCA will have voting lists of supported delegates, as they sent out a poll to all eligible people asking for their responses to various doctrinal (ie. Wedge issue) questions. By supporting the candidates on those lists, members of the Virginia Annual Conference are supporting candidates endorsed by the WCA and their aniticipated new network of churches populated by disgruntled Methodists. Be careful who you vote for!
- Special Note: the EFVA also has a “hit list” of nominees who signed one of the open letters opposed to the Traditional Plan. Looks like Virginia folks know who to vote for now 🙂
- Second, EFVA is allowed space to host a banquet at Virginia’s Annual Conference, the same banquet where they celebrated David Ford’s efforts last year. Even though they are supporting a non-Methodist church plant that is siphoning money and people from United Methodist churches in their same square mile. Unbelievable.
So banquet space, a population of disgruntled Methodists looking to undermine the Virginia Annual Conference authority, and the chance to elect delegates that will make it easier to create an alternative denomination. Sounds like a win/win! For someone.
Evangelical organizations within and just outside of United Methodism have operated parallel entities for decades. From creating alternative book publishers to mission agencies to small supplemental women’s organizations to the WCA itself, it’s a common practice to set up “their own” alternative structures.
But for the Wesleyan Covenant Association to be encouraging, supporting, and (perhaps ordaining?) funneling money for a new church plant through a local evangelical United Methodist organization—wow, that’s a whole new level of undermining the institution.
I hope Virginia makes the right choices this week to hold strong and have the leadership elected that will hold off these types of undermining activities before they become widespread.
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