Response to St. Andrew Disaffiliation

In News by Kim Eiffert

There have been several questions regarding what is going on with our parent church, St. Andrew UMC. Pastors Billy & Laura Echols-Richter have offered their thoughts and perspectives here.  

A Video Message from Pastor Billy Echols-Richter.  


A Devotional Message from Pastor Laura Echols-Richter

October is typically a month of connection for me with lots of calls, texts and celebrations with family and friends in what my family calls “birthday month.”  This year, however, my heart has been heavy with the news that churches I love are leaving the United Methodist Connection.  I was not only broken-hearted but shocked to learn that the leadership of St. Andrew UMC (Grace Avenue’s parent church) had decided to disaffiliate and become an independent congregational church.  Since we had not received any notification of this, Billy and I chose to attend their congregational meeting where the decision would be shared.  We wanted to hear the news firsthand.  Since that day (Oct 2), I’ve been prayerfully reflecting on what I heard. 

“The fact is, we can protect our finances, our property and our pastors by going in a new direction.”  This statement was made several times in the meeting at St. Andrew and lifted up again in the recent Dallas Morning News article.  Each time the word “protect” was used, I felt unsettled deep within my soul.  I finally discerned why it bothered me so much during the meeting and still today.  My deepest belief is that the scripture and Jesus constantly call the church and us as disciples to “connection” not “protection.” 

The founding of St. Andrew was a story of connection.  It began with the connection of the North Texas Conference and Highland Park United Methodist Church sharing a vision to plant a church on the west side of Plano.  I heard the story many times.  The naming of the church was based on a disciple who understood the importance of connection.  Andrew connected his brother Simon Peter to Jesus.   In John 1:42, it states “He (Andrew) led him to Jesus.”  In John 6, it would be Andrew who would connect the youth with 5 loaves and 2 fish for the feeding of the five thousand.  What would have happened if Andrew had chosen to be protective of his relationship with Jesus to the exclusion of his brother Peter or if the youth had chosen to protect his bread and fish keeping it for himself.  The charter members of St. Andrew grew the church with a core value of connection knowing that part of their calling was to plant other churches.  Out of their vision, deep belief in connection and generosity, St. Andrew planted Grace Avenue United Methodist Church sending their pastors, their resources and consistently sharing their property for our early Vacation Bible Schools.  The cross from St. Andrew’s first sanctuary hangs in Grace Avenue’s sanctuary now.  Re-furnished chairs from St. Andrew filled not only Grace Avenue’s first worship center but our second campus Grace Chapel’s first sanctuary.  Twenty-three years ago when Grace Avenue was planted, there was never talk by St. Andrew leadership about the “protection” of finances, property, or pastors.”  For their vision, generosity and encouragement of me and Billy, I am so very grateful.  I’m not sure when the focus changed but the meeting I attended seemed to center around protection with very little reference to any kind of connection. 

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown states ““Connection is why we're here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”  Being connected can be messy, challenging and often requires sacrifice.  Yet, I believe connection (not protection) aligns with the core of the Christian faith calling us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”  It is connection with our community that has helped heal my heart this October.  It is the value of connection with one another and our communities that will be vital to the future of United Methodist Church.   It is one of the reasons that I choose to #BeUMC.

Laura Echols-Richter
Executive Pastor
Grace Avenue UMC