How a United Methodist Pastor became a Presbyterian
Many people ask me how and why I switched from the United Methodist Church to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Usually I just tell them it's a long story and, in short, I found it easier to switch denominations than to switch Annual Conferences within the United Methodist Church. And while that's true, it's not the whole truth.
So I decided for myself, and for others, to record the long story.
In the summer of 2000 my erstwhile wife, Charlotte, decided to move to Duluth, Minnesota. This wasn't a surprise as we had been talking about it for some time, but I had had responsibilities in Indiana in my churches and I was trying to be a faithful member of the North Indiana Conference. She and my two kids departed in August of 2000 and I told the Conference I wanted to go join them as soon as possible.
I continued working at the church I was appointed to until December of 2000. In the intervening months I had worked hard at trying to find a position up in Minnesota within a 100 mile radius of Duluth. I was in close contact with the District Superintendent there and things looked promising, but no promises were made. In the meantime I said my goodbyes to Indiana and tidied things up there. Everything I heard led me to understand that I was leaving with their best wishes and as soon as I found work in Minnesota I should let them know and they could change my status.
Work was not easily found in the Duluth area. I started subbing for pastors in the pulpit and I got to know a lot of the area clergy. A couple of churches decided to hire me as a youth director in July 2001 and, shortly after that, I got an offer to join the staff of an eight church parish of Presbyterian churches. The pay wasn't great on either, but I could cobble together a living and keep going until I found something better.
So I informed my home Conference in Indiana of what had happened and asked for a change of status and to be taken off leave. In the meantime I was still looking for full time work in the United Methodist Church in Minnesota.
Much to my surprise they wouldn't change my status and, further, said I had taken the jobs improperly. I tried to clarify my status and explained I had been in touch with my District Superintendents, both in Duluth and Indiana, this entire time and they'd been aware of my work.
This back and forth went on for a year until I was sent an ultimatum from the bishop in Indiana. I could do one of the following:
a) Quit my church jobs and find secular work;
b) Return to Indiana and come off leave and be placed in a church there;
c) Be accepted immediately into the Minnesota Annual Conference; or
d) Refuse to comply and be brought up on charges and have my credentials revoked.
Faced with those choices I opted for option e) I could become a Presbyterian.
After all the Presbyterian Church had provided a place of ministry for me and were very supportive of my work and my family. It also meant I could continue both of my jobs, for Pioneer Parish and my youth work with the two United Methodist congregations. It would also once and for all resolve my status. So I informed the bishop of my decision in the fall of 2002 and started taking Presbyterian Polity and History classes in the spring semester of 2003.
I passed my qualifying tests for transfer later that spring and, in May of 2003, I was interviewed in front of a stated meeting of the Presbytery of Northern Waters and was accepted without reservation. At that point I was officially a Presbyterian.
Shortly after that I was installed as the pastor of the United Church of Two Harbors which relates fully to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church. As such I have been participating in both denominations.
I hold no ill will towards the United Methodist Church and still maintain good relations with my UMC colleagues. I do, however, still feel bitter about the way I was treated by the North Indiana Conference and the bishop there at the time. I can not see the reason in how they treated me or my family when I was working so hard to comply.
But what was meant for evil God used for good and I landed in exactly the right place. Providential, don't you think?