Mt. Bethel UMC Updates
Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church has faithfully served the Marietta region for more than 175 years, transforming countless lives through its many ministry programs and in partnership with many other churches and organizations within our community. Sadly, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference has recently attempted to push Rev. Dr. Jody Ray out as the current pastor of Mt. Bethel without due process and has created an unbridgeable chasm between the Church and the conference. Due to the Bishop's failure to competently engage in the UMC’s prescribed consultative process, she has threatened the
vitality and mission of Mt. Bethel, the North Georgia Conference's largest congregation.
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Good News Magazine
"In a dramatic and unprecedented move, the North Georgia Annual Conference has initiated action to seize control of the assets of the largest congregation in the conference, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia..."
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Wesleyan Covenant Association
"She needed the Rev. Dr. Jody Ray to assume a very important position at the annual conference regarding racial reconciliation – one that did not exist. That was Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson’s first reason, on April 5, for why she wanted to move him..."
The Bishop claims a false declaration of exigent circumstances, which has been refuted in complaints that are presently under review by a higher authority within the Southeast Jurisdiction College of Bishops of the United Methodist Church (UMC). As such, her actions are in disobedience to the order and discipline of the UMC.
Contrary to the Bishop’s claims:
- Mt. Bethel is a thriving congregation with consistently high average weekly attendance and total membership that has grown over the past five years under the leadership of Senior Pastor Dr. Jody Ray. Additionally, sacrificial giving to Mission partners at home and around the world has exceeded $1 million year-to-date. In fact, Mt. Bethel is consistently the top church in the North Georgia Conference for attendance, membership, and giving.
- The May 24, 2021, Mt. Bethel/Mt. Bethel Christian Academy (MBCA) lease is a renewal of an expiring Facilities Use Agreement from 2013.
- Mt. Bethel’s Administrative Council properly created by a unanimous vote its Executive Committee on April 14, 2021, with powers vested by the UMC Book of Discipline. This Committee has not usurped or altered the responsibilities of the standing committees.
- Despite an unresolved formal complaint, Mt. Bethel has agreed to accept “appointed” clergy under protest given that said proposal has been approved by the North Georgia Conference and is now official.
- Mt. Bethel has not refused the Bishop’s interim pastor appointment, which nevertheless could not have created any exigent circumstances now that the interim assignment has been mooted by the North Georgia Conference’s (NGC) approved Senior Pastor appointment—which Mt. Bethel has accepted under protest – despite a formal complaint still in process with the Southeast Jurisdiction College of Bishops.
- Mt. Bethel has not violated the Discipline by hiring its “preaching pastor,” nor has it allowed uncredentialed use of the Pulpit. Moreover, any prior unauthorized or uncredentialed use of the Pulpit could not constitute future exigent circumstances now that Mt. Bethel has accepted the appointment of Senior Pastor Dr. Steven Usry.
- Mt. Bethel operates within its means, which includes its permissible use of approved lines of credit. Mt. Bethel is on solid financial footing per a recent third-party audit and has made no plans to sell or transfer valuable assets.
- Mt. Bethel properly filled its SPRC Chair vacancy.
Mt. Bethel has filed three formal complaints against Bishop Haupert-Johnson with the Southeast Jurisdiction College of Bishops according to the process outlined in the Book of Discipline, which she repeatedly attempts to bypass. As we have been waiting on complete and just resolution through proper channels in the appropriate manner, Church leadership has also recommended a civil mediation process with the Bishop, which she has continually refused or ignored.
Bishop Haupert-Johnson has repeatedly sought to scare and divide our Church and congregants through her public campaign of accusing Mt. Bethel of "illegitimacy of leadership." She has also gone as far as threatening to padlock the doors of the Church (which she cannot do as she lacks such authority under current circumstances). Her revisionist narrative and spread of falsehoods have caused great anxiety and fear in the hearts and minds of our staff and members.
In contrast, Mt. Bethel leadership is committed to continually communicating truth and following the commands of Jesus in Matthew 18 to resolve conflicts between Christian brothers and sisters biblically, through meetings and mediations as mandated by Scripture, including appropriate processes as outlined in the Book of Discipline.
Mt. Bethel has always been and is a healthy, vibrant Church, serving our community by meeting critical spiritual, mental, and physical needs. We remain committed to the leadership of Dr. Jody Ray, who has helped to grow and guide our congregation over the past five years, and to our mission to “love like Christ so that our lives, our city, and the world will be transformed for the glory of God.”
Mt. Bethel’s vital ministry to the community of Marietta, North Georgia and the world continues under our current Church leadership.
Enrollment is strong and the administration and faculty at Mt. Bethel Christian Academy are encouraged by the prospects and excited for the 2021 - 2022 school year.
Contrary to recent communications from Bishop Haupert-Johnson, exigent circumstances do not exist and Mt. Bethel is not closing. We continue to work through the proper channels to address these complaints with the Bishop, according to the process outlined in the UMC Book of Discipline. If at any time she chooses to take legal action, we are prepared to defend our rights through the Georgia courts.
Bishop Haupert-Johnson originally claimed she wanted to move Dr. Jody Ray, the Church’s senior pastor, to a conference position dealing with racial reconciliation. Since this announcement in April, she has changed her story at least twice since Mt. Bethel announced its intent to disaffiliate, in long, rambling, and defensive videos posted to the North Georgia Conference website.
The Bishop repeatedly asserts her illegitimate claims are not related to disaffiliation. However, her move to declare “exigent circumstances” (bypassing protocols in disobedience to the UMC Book of Discipline) was not made when the appointment process concerns arose; but instead, the claims were made only after Mt. Bethel began to push for its right to disaffiliate.
The Bishop’s current “exigent circumstances” maneuvering is an ill-fated attempt to “transfer” all of the Church’s assets. These properties, which were held in trust by Church leadership on behalf of members, shall be the property of Mt. Bethel: “A disaffiliating local church shall have the right to retain its . . . property.” The Bishop is purposely delaying and frustrating that process.
On April 14, 2021, the Mt. Bethel Administrative Council voted unanimously to enter into the disaffiliation process and notified Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of Mt. Bethel’s intent. Our notification to and acknowledgment from the Bishop to disaffiliate began a clear process as outlined in the Book of Discipline, which includes a church conference. The decision to disaffiliate must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference. Bishop Haupert-Johnson is intentionally delaying this process, now indicating a church conference cannot take place until 2022.
Under the disaffiliation process outlined in the Book of Discipline, the disaffiliating church is allowed to “retain its real and personal, tangible and intangible property.” This includes its buildings, real estate, and assets, free from the trust clause of The United Methodist Church.
By falsely claiming exigent circumstances, the Bishop is attempting to circumvent the disaffiliation process outlined in the Book of Discipline, through her use of an inapplicable provision to seize the sizeable and valuable property of Mt. Bethel, the largest church in the North Georgia Conference.
No. Bishop Haupert-Johnson has yet to respond to any communications and requests for mediation from Mt. Bethel leadership, despite multiple attempts over the last few months. Since our first meeting with the Bishop’s representatives on April 8, we have only sought biblical solutions to this dispute according to the commands of Jesus in Matthew 18 for conflict resolution among Christians, through meetings and mediations as mandated by Scripture and the formal complaint process outlined in the UMC Book of Discipline.
On numerous occasions, our leadership has requested, often pled, for meetings with the Bishop to discuss these issues, to find common ground, and to work toward a win-win solution. Further, we have encouraged Bishop Haupert-Johnson to seek a mediated resolution with the employment of an agreed-upon mediator. All of our requests have been rejected or met with silence.
The Mt. Bethel Human Resources director was available to meet with Dr. Steven Usry on July 1, which we understood to be the first date of his appointment; to process paperwork and onboard him to our Church staff. Yet, we still have yet to see or hear from Dr. Usry regarding his appointment.
Over the course of 10 weeks, the SPRC has also requested three meetings with Dr. Usry. He originally confirmed the last request for a meeting but subsequently canceled. Therefore, despite repeated attempts by Church leadership to connect, Dr. Usry has yet to meet with any Mt. Bethel leadership body regarding the current situation.
The Church continues to be governed by our elected Administrative Council that convenes, as needed, to make all major decisions. The Administrative Council unanimously elected the Executive Committee, which serves to make minor administrative decisions, as necessary, in between Administrative Council meetings.
Comprised of the heads of four Church committees, the chair of the Administrative Council and two lay leaders, the Executive Committee has affirmed it will not make any major decisions and that any decisions that are made will be reported back to the Administrative Council. The Executive Committee has been re-chartered by the Administrative Council each month since its formation, and has not made any of its own unilateral decisions.
As a bishop, while Bishop Haupert-Johnson does have the sole power of appointment; but rather context, is an absolute predicate for her authority and the power that she’s granted by the Book of Discipline. She is duty-bound to a process of consultation with both the Pastor and the SPRC and a process that is marked by integrity and fidelity. The UMC Judicial Council has made it clear that mere notification violates both the integrity and the fidelity of the appointment process. Bishop Haupert-Johnson did not consult with Dr. Ray or the Mt. Bethel SPRC before her abrupt notification of a re-appointment of Dr. Ray.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson unexpectedly and surprisingly informed Dr. Jody Ray and the Mt. Bethel UMC Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) on April 5 that he would be removed from his role as Senior Pastor at Mt. Bethel UMC for appointment to a then still-evolving assignment on the Conference staff related to racial reconciliation.
The Bishop made it clear that Dr. Ray’s options were to accept the move, take a leave of absence, or surrender his credentials. The Bishop’s action did not involve consultation with either Dr. Ray or the Committee – as clearly prescribed in the UMC Book of Discipline – but rather was merely a notification that violates both the spirit and letter of the covenants that bind us together.
Instead of following the course of action nearly all UMC bishops take regarding pastoral changes at large churches, Bishop Haupert-Johnson hastily initiated an ill-timed and an ill-considered move that not only jeopardizes great ministry and missions at Mt. Bethel, but also the health and reputation of her entire annual conference.
The SPRC initiated the proper process to appeal the re-appointment of Dr. Jody Ray. Mt. Bethel’s 49-member Administrative Council informed the Bishop we were very happy to have Dr. Ray continue to serve as the senior pastor at our Church, and therefore were not in a position to receive or in need of any pastor she intended to send us. Despite her false and misleading statements to the contrary in denominational and secular press, the vast majority of the Mt. Bethel congregation is completely supportive of this decision, as indicated by a petition signed by more than 4,800 congregants and friends of Mt. Bethel.
Despite both quantitative and qualitative evidence in support of Dr. Ray, the Bishop remained insistent on his removal – for reasons on which she has yet to be forthcoming or transparent.
When Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson informed Dr. Jody Ray of his re-appointment to a yet-to-be-determined Conference position, his options were to accept the move, take a leave of absence, or surrender his credentials. Both Dr. Ray and the Mt. Bethel UMC Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) have repeatedly expressed their desire to have Dr. Ray continue to pastor the Church, but the Bishop is insistent on removing him from this church and replacing him with another pastor more loyal to her agenda.
Believing the Bishop undermined her credibility with the people of Mt. Bethel and jeopardized the health and vitality of the congregation that is a beacon of hope and light in this community and beyond, Dr. Ray felt he had no other choice but to surrender his credentials.
Dr. Ray currently continues to faithfully serve as Mt. Bethel’s lay preacher and senior administrator.
All of these actions and public statements by the Bishop – as well as Dr. Usry – are harming not only the members and ministries of Mt. Bethel and distract us from our mission but are also embarrassing to the Body of Christ.
Nevertheless, Mt. Bethel’s leadership remains undeterred in their trust of the Lord’s providence and protection, and faith in the protocols and processes of due process afforded the Church by the UMC Book of Discipline, and are grateful for the prayerful support of members, local ministry partners and community faith leaders.
Equally important, Dr. Jody Ray, the Administrative Council and the Trustees continue to be resolvedly committed to Mt. Bethel’s longstanding mission to “love like Christ so that our lives, our city, and the world will be transformed for the glory of God.”
Town Hall Update | May 7, 2021
As we wait for further direction from the North Georgia Annual Conference regarding the disaffiliation process from the United Methodist Church (UMC), we are committed to our mission to love and serve our neighbors here in Marietta, the greater Atlanta area, and around the world as Jesus would have us do. While we know there are still many questions regarding the process, here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- The Administrative Council’s vote to disaffiliate is a result of
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson failing to abide by our denomination’s mandatory requirement regarding a bishop’s good-faith effort to engage in robust consultation with our senior minister and Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) regarding pastoral moves.
- The Bishop acknowledged Mt. Bethel’s intent to disaffiliate, which now begins a clear process as outlined in the Book of Discipline.
- The decision to disaffiliate must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
- We have communicated our desire to speak with the Bishop regarding this situation and to engage in a civil dialogue about Conference appointments.
- We remain committed to love like Christ so that our lives, our city, and the world will be transformed for the glory of God.
Important News from Mt. Bethel UMC | April 25, 2021
For more than 175 years, Mt. Bethel UMC has been a staple in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. We are a thriving and growing congregation motivated by the love and grace, and the life and teachings of Jesus, to love and serve our neighbors here in Marietta, the greater Atlanta area, and around the world as Jesus would have us do.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson announced on April 5 the removal of Dr. Jody Ray, who has faithfully served as our senior pastor for nearly five years, for appointment to a still evolving assignment on the Conference staff related to racial reconciliation.
Despite Dr. Ray’s decline of the newly created position and multiple requests from church leadership to have him remain in the Senior Pastor role at our church, North Georgia leadership was insistent.
On April 26, Dr. Ray surrendered his credentials as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Our pastor’s actions were done with a heavy heart, but also with a clear conscience.
Dr. Ray is not ending his relationship with Mt. Bethel UMC and the people he dearly loves. The Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) has hired Dr. Ray to be chief executive officer and lead preacher, and he looks forward to joyfully serving in this new role.
Further, under a provision outlined in our denomination’s governing by-laws, the Administrative Council of Mt. Bethel unanimously approved a resolution directing the leadership of the church to proceed with the disaffiliation process from the United Methodist Church as outlined in the Book of Discipline.
Given the recent actions of our Bishop and the direction of the United Methodist Church, it is time for us to part ways with the denomination. It is our hope that our disaffiliation will be amicable, orderly, and timely. We long to go our separate way in peace so we can give our full attention to being the church God has called us to be.
- "Three Bishops Stir Controversy" -- Written by Walter Fenton - Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference
- "A United Methodist Lament" -- Written by Timothy Tennent - Ordained United Methodist Pastor and President of Asbury Theological Seminary
- "One Has to Wonder" -- Written by Rob Renfroe - United Methodist Clergyperson and President of Good News
- "An Episcopal Fiasco in North Georgia" -- Written by Walter Fenton - Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference
- "The Ill-Conceived Plan to Seize Mt. Bethel’s Assets" -- Written by Steve Beard - Editor in Chief of Good News