Some of you have received a letter from incoming Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Steven Usry (while others of you may receive your copy shortly). Given the letter’s many misstatements of fact and inaccurate assumptions, we wanted to make sure you knew the truth.
As an initial matter, Rev. Dr. Usry mistakenly states, as it concerns his appointment at Mt. Bethel, that Mt. Bethel, “[has] now rejected that appointment,” and further, that, “[it has] . . . rejected the Senior Pastor.” This is inaccurate. In an SPRC letter which was sent to Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Jessica Terrell and to Rev. Dr. Steven Usry on Monday, June 28, Rev. Dr. Usry’s appointment was accepted, albeit under protest. Our letter also confirms, “As Mt. Bethel UM Church is a gracious and welcoming congregation, we will receive Dr. Usry accordingly.”
As to the other matters and issues raised by Rev. Dr. Usry’s letter, we are disappointed by the inaccurate statements on matters beyond his personal knowledge. We attempt to correct those inaccuracies below (with apologies for the level of technical detail which was made necessary in case anyone wanted to further corroborate our assertions):
First, Mt. Bethel did not violate the Discipline by hiring Dr. Jody Ray.
Discipline ¶258.2(g)(12) provides that the Staff Parish Relations Committee (“SPRC”) shall recommend to the church council (here the Administrative Council), after consultation with the pastor, the work of the church.
On April 26, 2021, Dr. Jody Ray surrendered his credentials as an ordained elder in the UMC. Subsequently, he was hired as Mt. Bethel’s Lead Preacher/Senior Administrator in conformity with ¶258.2(g)(12) and with the approval of the Administrative Council.
¶258.2(g)(12) further provide that the SPRC shall recommend to the church council a written statement of policy and procedure regarding the process for hiring, contracting, evaluating, promoting, retiring, and dismissing staff personnel who are not subject to episcopal appointment as ordained clergy. The SPRC has done so; placing all such processes with respect to staff personnel under the authority of the Lead Preacher/Senior Administrator, and providing that such functions with respect to the Lead Preacher/Senior Administrator shall be performed solely by the SPRC.
Second, Mt. Bethel’s Administrative Council properly created its Executive Committee on April 14, 2021, with powers vested by the Discipline.
Simultaneous to its April 14, 2021 actions—unanimously approving Mt. Bethel’s invocation of the Discipline’s ¶2553 Disaffiliation process—Mt. Bethel’s Administrative Council created an Executive Committee to handle its time-sensitive day-to-day affairs, subject to Administrative Council oversight and approval.
¶ 258.5 of the Discipline provides that, “The church council may appoint such other committees as it deems advisable.” The Executive Committee was initially chartered on April 14, 2021, under the provision of ¶258.5, in order to make any decisions on behalf of the Administrative Council that were required in-between Administrative Council meetings.
The Executive Committee is required to timely report all actions taken to the Administrative Council.
The Executive Committee charter requires renewal at each Administrative Council meeting; thus, unless affirmatively extended, the Executive Committee must cease all activity.
The Executive Committee has operated within its stated charter and has made no major decisions, in keeping with its mandate.
All Mt. Bethel standing committees (finance, SPRC, trustees, missions, etc.) continue to function unaffected by the creation of the Executive Committee.
Third, Mt. Bethel properly filled its SPRC Chair vacancy.
Under Discipline ¶252.4(b), the Church Council is fully empowered with the responsibility to “fill interim vacancies occurring among the lay officers of the church between sessions of the annual charge conference.”
Due to the resignation of Lindsey Hill as SPRC Chair (though she continues as a member of the Committee), on April 26, 2021, Casey Alarcon was duly elected by a unanimous Executive Committee, whose action was subsequently ratified by the Administrative Council.
The interim replacement of a committee chair under these circumstances by the Administrative Council is in compliance with the Discipline.
Finally, it is most painful to the committed staff and lay leaders of this church serving in their financial management and oversight roles, to have echoed in Rev. Dr. Usry’s letter, non-specific, yet disparaging suggestions about the handling of church finances. We cannot emphasize enough that vague aspersions are not only offensive to this group, but that any specific accusation (of which there are none!) would be entirely and easily refuted by the recent Independent Auditor’s Report completed by Brooks, McGinnis & Company, LLC. We welcome anyone to view and consider this report and its conclusions about Mt. Bethel’s solid financial standing, and also its strong internal controls. Such aspersions appear to be part of an unfortunate effort to sow distrust in the Mt. Bethel community.
Hopefully, this clarifies some of the misunderstandings in Rev. Dr. Usry’s letter. We recognize Rev. Dr. Usry has been given a difficult task, but we remain hopeful that Rev. Dr. Usry understands our concerns over his appointment against the overwhelming consensus of Mt. Bethel’s members. Dr. Usry has been invited multiple time to meet with the SPRC, which would be the most productive action he could take in this season. We also hope and pray that District Superintendent Terrell will soon schedule the Church Conference which will enable us to move forward along the path to disaffiliation as specifically allowed by ¶ 2553 of the Book of Discipline.