The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a newly formed evangelical group of clergy and laity seeking to have the United Methodist Church go in a theologically conservative direction, held its inaugural one-day conference in Chicago, Illinois, on Friday that was attended by over 1,800 people.
"I am convinced God is doing a new thing among those of us who claim the historic, Orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan expression of our faith," said the Rev. Jeff Greenway of Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church near Columbus, Ohio, who is one of the leaders of the WCA, according to Good News magazine.
"I believe we are planting seeds today that when full grown will bear the fruit of a vital Wesleyan witness and a dynamic Spirit-filled Methodism across the globe," he added while speaking at the conference, as reported by UMC.org.
The conference concluded with a communion service overseen by two United Methodist bishops. In his communion message, Bishop Mike Lowry of the Fort Worth area of the Central Texas Conference, said Christians "don't live on the world's wisdom, we do not exist on the world's power."
"You know and I know it is Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God," said Lowry, as reported by Good News.
"What is at stake for us in this struggle we are in is not ultimately the issue of human sexuality, what is at stake for us is who is Lord, who rules, who saves us. We preach Christ and Him crucified."
In recent years, the United Methodist Church has seen an increasingly passionate debate manifest over the denomination's position on homosexuality.
Unlike other Mainline Protestant denominations, the UMC states that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and refuses to bless gay marriages or allow clergy to be in same-sex relationships.
While some regional bodies have called for open defiance of the UMC's rules, during the summer conservatives within the Church announced the formation of the WCA.
The Rev. Keith Boyette, pastor at Wilderness Community Church of Spotsylvania, Virginia, and one of the organizers of the WCA, told CP in an earlier interview that the group's formation comes in response to the pro-LGBT activism within the denomination.
"I became involved in the WCA because of concerns about continuing and escalating dysfunction in the United Methodist Church, with whole regions of the Church within the United States declaring their intent … to no longer conform to portions of our doctrine and polity," explained Boyette.
"I likewise am concerned about increasing numbers of individual acts which breach our covenant and are contrary to our doctrine and polity that are not being addressed to enforce Church law."
Mark Tooley, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion & Democracy and an attendee of the Chicago conference, described the event to CP as "an exciting gathering of 1,800 Orthodox United Methodists."
Regarding the question of whether or not WCA advocated schism from the Church, Tooley explained that schism was not the "stated official purpose of WCA" and that among those at the conference he talked to, there "are widely different opinions among participants."