A collaboration of former United Methodist large-membership churches has announced creation of an association to provide accountability and resources without the constraints of a denomination.
The Foundry Network will launch in September, according to an announcement posted on Facebook by Eric Huffman, pastor of The Story Church in Houston. His congregation already has disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church.
Establishment of the Foundry Network changes the binary nature of the United Methodist Church’s splintering, since it gives disaffiliating churches an alternative to joining the Global Methodist Church, the fledgling traditionalist denomination founded by the Wesleyan Covenant Association in May.
Huffman’s post described Foundry’s purpose: “The Foundry Network … seeks to forge a network of like-minded pastors and churches who are aligned theologically and work together to reawaken the movement for Jesus in our communities.”
In addition to The Story Church, other founding congregations listed in Huffman’s post are:
- Christ Church, Fairview Heights, Ill.
- The Orchard Church, Tupelo, Miss.
- Granger Community Church, Granger, Ind.
- Asbury Church, Huntsville, Ala.
The name Foundry refers to a congregation known as the Foundery that was started by Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, in a former English cannon factory. The network is not related to any of the dozens of United Methodist congregations that are also named Foundry, including the most prominent progressive namesake, Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C.
Bryan Collier, founder and lead pastor of The Orchard Church, said in a podcast called “Changing Churches” that Foundry Network organizers wanted accountability and connection without the constraints of belonging to a denomination. The Orchard and Granger left the UMC before the 2019 General Conference enacted the so-called “gracious exit” provision known as Paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline.
“Changing Churches” podcast is produced by Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala. Collier was interviewed by Christ’s senior pastor, Rob Couch.
Both Huffman’s post and Collier in his interview said their church leaders had considered joining other Wesleyan/Methodist denominations before forming The Foundry Network. However, as Collier phrased it, “We didn’t think it was a good idea to get remarried so quickly after getting divorced.”
“We didn’t think it was a good idea to get remarried so quickly after getting divorced.”
On the podcast, Collier explained in detail the motivation for leaders in his multi-site church about withdrawing from the Mississippi Annual Conference in 2016-2017.
“We kept feeling pressured to pick a side in the debate” over LGBTQ acceptance, Collier said. “Our position has always been that the Bible’s very clear about sexuality and you don’t have to have an extreme view of sexuality that doesn’t embrace people where they are. You need to be able to say you stand on the truth. We wanted to be full of truth and full of grace. … We felt like the argument that was brewing in United Methodism was going to force us to be one or the other.”
Collier said his church’s leadership decided to place a one-year moratorium on whether to join another denomination after The Orchard left United Methodism.
“We had calls from the Church of the Nazarene, the Anglican Church in North America, the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church — the Global Methodist Church wasn’t thought of then,” he said. “We declared a moratorium on that decision for a year. And now we are five years into that moratorium. We had to make that decision again since the Global Methodist Church launched in May, but it was pretty easy to make that decision.”
In the “Changing Churches” interview, Collier said that The Orchard’s decision was not a criticism of the Global Methodist Church, because the two share the same views that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian faith.
The appeal of The Foundry Network for him and other disaffiliating pastors was its accountability and “nimbleness” to make ministry decisions independent of denominational structures, he said. “Denominations typically are just not nimble. They cannot make decisions in a quick way.
“When you’re in a network you can be very kingdom focused. A network does not have employees, it doesn’t manage funds, it doesn’t require a lot of attention. It’s more about connection and kingdom resourcing. If we want to plant a church, we don’t have to have multiple meetings, we don’t have to ask for funding, we just do it.”
Plus, not being affiliated with a denomination will not keep people from joining his church, Collier said. “We’re in a post-denominational age. Young people [are] not going to make a decision on joining a church based on the label on a sign. Our mission for Jesus is better served by some nimble kinds of networks that are in sharp contrast to denominations as we know them today.”
Cynthia B. Astle is a veteran journalist who has covered the worldwide United Methodist Church at all levels for more than 30 years. She serves as editor of United Methodist Insight, an online journal she founded in 2011.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta, Ga., as joining the Foundry Network. After publication, that church responded to say it was not among the group as indicated by the group’s leadership.