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Marietta, Ga., pastor resigns; to lead break-away congregation

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  • U.M. Cornet
    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE Marietta, Ga., pastor resigns; to lead break-away congregation April 30, 1999 News media contact: Thomas S..
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 1999
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      CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE

      Marietta, Ga., pastor resigns; to lead break-away congregation

      April 30, 1999 News media contact: Thomas S..
      McAnally*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn. 10-21-71B{240}

      By Alice Smith*

      ATLANTA (UMNS) -- Strained relations between the North Georgia Conference
      of the United Methodist Church and long-time pastor, the Rev. Charles
      Sineath, reached a breaking point April 27..

      The senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga.,
      resigned and announced he will serve as pastor of a break-away congregation
      of First Church members..

      "We asked him to consider resigning his current appointment immediately, and
      he has done so voluntarily," Bishop Lindsey Davis said. The Rev. Sam
      Storey, who has served as the church's associate pastor since 1993, has been
      appointed interim senior pastor until June when the Rev. Joe Peabody,
      currently pastor of the 3600-member Norcross First United Methodist Church,
      will become the new senior minister..

      The 5200-member Marietta First congregation is the fourth largest church in
      the North Georgia Conference and has among its members business, civic and
      political leaders, including Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes and U.S. Rep. Bob
      Barr..

      The cabinet asked for Sineath's resignation after he announced he will
      become the pastor of Wesley Fellowship, an independent church that held its
      first service April 27 at Mt. Paran Church of God North. The new church
      will initially hold services on Tuesday nights at Midway
      Presbyterian Church, about 10 miles west of Marietta..

      "Since the new church is being formed primarily by persons who are members
      of Marietta First, I and the cabinet feel there is a severe conflict of
      interest which will result in Rev. Sineath's divided loyalty," Davis said..

      The resignation from Marietta First, Davis said, will allow Sineath to
      "fully devote his energies to his future ministry and will allow Marietta
      First United Methodist Church to move forward in the transition of pastoral
      leadership."

      Sineath, 60, had previously announced that he would retire from the United
      Methodist ministry in June after being told he would not be reappointed to
      Marietta First after 22 years..

      "It would be my expectation," Davis said, "that following his retirement he
      will voluntarily surrender his credentials as a United Methodist minister..
      You can't be a United Methodist minister and serve a congregation that
      splits off from a United Methodist Church."

      Until his retirement in June, Sineath's official status is "leave of
      absence." His salary and other benefits will continue through June, and his
      pension fund is unaffected..

      "I'm sorry it's evolved in this manner," Davis said, "but I'm confident
      about the future of Marietta First Church and thankful for the leadership of
      Dr. Sam Storey and the soon-to-be leadership of Dr. Joe Peabody."

      Sineath said he was not leaving with a sense of victimization or bitterness
      and that he would always be a "lover of the Methodist Church. I . . . was
      called to preach in a Methodist church, educated by the Methodist Church,
      and given a free pulpit in the Methodist Church. I'm greatly indebted to
      the Methodist church."

      He said he and others will leave Marietta First peacefully, although he
      acknowledged the situation will be "awkward for years. ... There are many
      people at First Methodist that I love, and they're real good friends, and
      (although they're not leaving) they've told me if this is what it takes to
      have peace, 'God bless you.'"

      Likewise, Davis wished Sineath well in his new ministry, and noted there are
      numerous people in populous Cobb County north of Atlanta in need of the
      gospel message. "Charles has served this annual conference for 38 years,
      and that service has been highly significant," Davis said.. "I have nothing
      for the best wishes for him."

      The relationship between Sineath and North Georgia Conference officials has
      been tense for more than a year when Marietta First's board of stewards
      began discussing and then later voted to withhold apportionments, or funds
      asked of every congregation to support the work of the church on the
      conference and denominational levels..

      At first the board of stewards' decision was to "redirect" certain funds
      earmarked for the denomination to ministries Marietta First deemed worthy of
      support. After Davis announced Sineath would not be reappointed to the
      church in June, the broad of stewards voted to withhold all apportionments,
      conference and national, and place them in escrow..

      Sineath and some members of the congregation have stated the move to
      withhold apportionments is motivated by scriptural and theological
      concerns.. A report prepared last year by several members of the
      congregation lists a series of statements by seminary professors, bishops
      and general agency executives that, Sineath charged, "strike at the heart of
      our faith."

      In the foreword to the report, he writes: "Persons in strategic places and
      positions in our denomination have challenged the basic tenets of our
      Christian faith." He named specifically the incarnation, the atoning death
      of Jesus and his bodily resurrection, and the authority of Scripture..

      Other concerns named in the report are the advocacy by some of "radical
      feminist theology" and the full acceptance of homosexuals within the life of
      the church..

      Although not explored in the report, some members of the board of stewards
      were outraged at the decision by United Methodist-related Emory University
      to allow same-sex ceremonies in its chapels, although the circumstances
      under which such a ceremony can take place are so restricted Emory officials
      believe one probably will never occur..

      During discussions in board meetings, the Emory issue always surfaced as a
      reason not to pay apportionments, although the university as an entity does
      not receive apportionment money. Only Candler School of Theology; the
      Wesley Fellowship, the United Methodist ministry to students on the Emory
      campus; and Oxford College, a division of Emory University, receive some
      monies from the conference or denomination..

      Although the votes to withhold apportionments have not been close
      numerically, a significant segment of the church has vocally opposed the
      action..

      The church's new senior minister is a recognized evangelical leader in the
      North Georgia Conference..

      In the appointment of Peabody, 56, the cabinet is sending a message that the
      "conference values the congregation," said the Rev. Jamie Jenkins,
      Atlanta-Marietta District superintendent. "The feeling is the caliber of
      Joe Peabody, the kind of leader he is, the ministry he's had, and his
      conservative evangelical Wesleyan roots will communicate to the congregation
      that we understand their needs and are sending a person that can help them
      for the future."

      Jack Miller, chair of the staff-parish relations committee at Marietta
      First, believes the majority of church members will rally around Peabody..
      "We may experience some loss of members and some financial impact in the
      short-term, but over time the church will come back as strong as it ever
      was. ... I fully expect the larger segment of the church's population will
      rally around the new minister." He said plans are underway to begin
      introducing Peabody to groups with the congregation..

      Peabody said his initial time at Marietta First will be spent in "listening
      to the folks, because I honestly don't understand all that's going on . . ..
      I don't have an agenda, and I don't have a campaign platform . . . I'm not
      planning on doing anything but being a Methodist preacher."
      # # #
      *Smith is executive director of the Georgia United Methodist Communications
      Council..



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