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Grandview Church prepares for York expansion, reflects on post-disaffiliation growth

  • By Mike Andrelczyk/LNP | LancasterOnline
Rev. Liz Fulmer speaks with the congregation during Palm Sunday service at the Grandview Church on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

 Suzette Wenger / LNP | LancasterOnline

Rev. Liz Fulmer speaks with the congregation during Palm Sunday service at the Grandview Church on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

The Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian liturgical calendar.

For the Grandview Church clergy and congregation, the symbolism of Jesus’ death and rebirth is a potent reminder of their own church’s story.

Three years ago, the church celebrated its first Easter independent from the United Methodist Church. The schism, a result of the UMC’s nonaffirming views on the LGBTQ+ community, was marked with the grief of any split plus the uncertainty of financial challenges. But it was also met with joy and hope for the future.

“Easter doesn’t happen without death first,” said the Rev. Andrea Brown, 57, who has been a pastor at Grandview Church for 25 years and the lead pastor for the last 10. “But there is that rising afterward.”

Rev. Andrea Brown speaks with her congregation during Palm Sunday service at the Grandview Church on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

Suzette Wenger / LNP | LancasterOnline

Rev. Andrea Brown speaks with her congregation during Palm Sunday service at the Grandview Church on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

The church’s attendance is up significantly, Brown said, adding that in the last four months of 2023, attendance was up 62 people a week over 2022 and the trend continues in 2024.

Grandview Church has about 600 active members of the congregation, with average attendance for Sunday services in Manheim Township at about 275 people, which is up from 245 in 2019, the year disaffiliation talks began. Grandview announced in January it will expand into eastern York County with a location at the Belmont Theatre in Spring Garden Township. The first service is set for May.

“We were recognizing that there are places where there are no churches similar to this one,” Brown said. “And people really are seeking them. Not just here, but elsewhere.”

READ: Grandview Church in Manheim Township expanding to York County


Costs of disaffiliation

On Feb. 10, 2021, 90% of the Grandview congregation voted to officially disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. Despite language regarding sexuality and inclusivity, the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline states the denomination does not allow for same-gender weddings to take place on church property or for openly gay or lesbian people to serve as clergy members.

“That direction doesn’t reflect our understanding of a loving God. It breaks down trust in the very place where people need to be able to trust,” Brown said. “A lot of people walk in our doors very cautiously because they have been in situations where their spiritual life has been treated cheaply. They need to be tended to carefully and know that people are going to be honest with them and respectful to them.”

Brown noted that Ruth Daugherty, 93, who has been a Grandview Church member for the past 25 years, has been fighting to change the United Methodist Church’s discriminatory policies against gay people since they were announced in 1972.

Rev. Liz Fulmer speaks with the congregation during Palm Sunday service at the Grandview Church on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

Suzette Wenger / LNP | LancasterOnline

Rev. Liz Fulmer speaks with the congregation during Palm Sunday service at the Grandview Church on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

The decision to disaffiliate cost the church $750,000 to continue to worship in their building. They’ve since paid the loan down to $230,000.

“It was a costly decision on our part, and we knew that going into it,” Brown said. “What this church learned from our experience of leaving the United Methodist Church and having to pay so much to do it, was that when we’re going where God is calling, that will sometimes be costly. And we should do it anyway.”

The church is flourishing, with the help of generous donations from within and outside the community, as well as other campaigns and fundraising events like jazz concerts. In the spring 2022, the church ordained its first openly gay minister, the Rev. Elizabeth Fulmer.

“There would not have been a pathway for me to become ordained if we had stayed with the United Methodist Church,” said Fulmer, 33. “Unless I really concealed (my sexual orientation), or I would have had to affirm things that I really don’t believe are true.”

Fulmer is also a singer-songwriter and donated proceeds from her 2023 album, “The Bible Tells Me So,” to Grandview Church to help with efforts to pay down the building loan.

READ: Singer-songwriter, pastor Liz Fulmer to celebrate new album with Tellus360 show; album proceeds to benefit Grandview Church

Fulmer, who has been on the church’s staff for 10 years, writes and arranges music for the church and shares some of the preaching duties with Brown. Her ordination not only expanded the clergy but conveyed a message of inclusivity.

“Visibility, I think, is very important,” Fulmer said. “People can trust that the church does what it says it believes. So I think in some ways, I help to calm people’s fears that Grandview isn’t just inclusive in word but also in practice. And they’ve done really brave, bold things to demonstrate that.”


1972: Proscriptive language in The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline states homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and advises against same-sex marriage.

1984: The General Conference, the legislative body that sets official policy for the denomination, declares “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are prohibited from serving as clergy.

1996: General Conference declares homosexual unions shall not be conducted by United Methodist clergy or in churches and calls for the U.S. military not to exclude people “on the basis of sexual orientation.”

2000: General Conference adds to the social principles, “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends.”

2004: Chargeable offenses related to homosexuality are added to the Book of Discipline.

Dec. 3, 2004: The Rev. Beth Stroud of Germantown, Philadelphia County, is defrocked following a two-day church trial for being in a committed lesbian relationship.

Dec. 19, 2013: The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon is defrocked for officiating at the 2007 same-sex wedding of his son. (He regained credentials in 2014 following a procedural review).

March 30, 2014: Grandview declares itself “open and affirming,” the first church in Lancaster County to do so.

Feb. 26, 2019: At General Conference, United Methodist Church delegates vote 438 to 384 for the Traditional Plan that upholds sanctions against churches that perform same-sex marriage or ordain gay clergy.

Feb. 10, 2020: Ninety-six percent of the Grandview congregation votes to begin disaffiliation talks with the Eastern PA Conference.

May 5-15, 2020: UMC General Conference is postponed because of COVID-19, thereby delaying the vote on whether to split the denomination along traditional and progressive lines.

Oct. 13, 2020: The Eastern PA Conference of the United Methodist Church votes to allow Grandview to disaffiliate.

Feb. 10, 2021: Ninety percent of the congregation votes to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, re-form as a new congregation and create a church for others also called to inclusive expressions of faith.

March 31, 2021: Disaffiliation payment, $735,000, delivered to Eastern PA Conference of the United Methodist Church. Grandview officially exists as a freestanding church and is named Grandview Church and Grandview Methodist Connection.

April 4, 2021: Grandview Church conducts Easter services, its first Sunday services as a new church.

April 30, 2022: The Rev. Elizabeth Fulmer becomes the first openly gay minister to be ordained by Grandview Church in Manheim Township.

Jan. 17, 2024: Grandview Church announces expansion to York County with a new location at the Belmont Theater at 27 S. Belmont St. in Spring Garden Township.

May 2024: Organizers plan for the first service at Grandview York to take place sometime in May.


The ‘wandering church’

Since 2019, more than 7,600 of the United Methodist Church’s 30,000 United States congregations have voted to disaffiliate, according to, the official news agency of the United Methodist Church. Unlike Grandview, though, many of those churches have disaffiliated to become more conservative.

Elizabeth Trump of East York, like Brown, felt the United Methodist Church was out of step with her views. But her church was one that disaffiliated to become more conservative, Trump said, declining to name the church.

“I saw the drastic decision to leave the conference — and spend a lot of money doing so — was a strong message of intolerance that I couldn’t stand by anymore,” said Trump, 42, who had been a member of the church for 10 years.

Trump and about 25 others found themselves without a home church.

“We called ourselves a ‘wandering church,’ ” Trump said. “We sort of were clinging to some sense of congregation.”

The “wandering church” began to attend services in local progressive-leaning and open and affirming churches, inside and outside of the United Methodist denomination. They’d report their findings back to the group.

Last Palm Sunday, Trump and her family walked into Grandview Church in Lancaster.

“The church was packed, people smooshed together to make space for more people to come in,” Trump said. “It was genuinely welcoming. The whole experience of the service felt like the right fit.”

Trump, her family and some others from the “wandering church” began attending Grandview. Despite the half-hour drive from York to Lancaster, Trump said Grandview felt like the best fit, so they kept going back.

But the distance made participating in the daily life of the church a challenge. One Sunday, after Brown mentioned Grandview was exploring the option of expanding, Trump sent an impulsive email to the pastor.

“I wrote, ‘York needs you,’ ” she said.

Tess Feiler, the faith communities organizer and youth director at Grandview, set up an advisory committee and worked with Trump and the other members of the “wandering church” to explore founding a church in York.

“It was just this beautiful gathering together,” said Feiler, who found Grandview to be inclusive and welcoming when they first attended on Easter 2022. “We had a conversation and just threw spaghetti at the wall and put together a rough plan of how we wanted to develop a church from scratch. My guiding principle has been to let the parishioners guide me. I don’t want to be paternalistic about this. I want to listen to people and make moves that are ordained by them.”

Building York team

Nathan Swavely, who lives with his wife Hannah in Willow Street, was recently hired as the lead musician at Grandview York. (He applied at the suggestion of Fulmer.) The Swavelys moved to the area from West Chester about two years ago, and after leaving their previous conservative church for ideological reasons, tried several churches around Lancaster County before they discovered Grandview.

“As I went through that journey of discovering my own faith, I realized that there were certain things about the faith that I had grown up in, and that I was still a part of at that point, that I felt were harmful, particularly to LGBTQ individuals, and often to minorities on a more national scale,” said Swavely, 31.

He said he thinks he and his wife fit into a certain archetype within the Grandview congregation.

“Being heteronormative conservative, white individuals coming from this conservative church, we personally had not experienced that harm or trauma that so many have,” said Swavely whose father was a conservative evangelical pastor and is still active in the Christian ministry, though currently unaffiliated with any denomination. “That’s when I talk about that a certain archetype of person that has found Grandview, there are people who were harmed by the church, and there’s many people like that at Grandview, but there’s also people like me and my wife who were done participating in that harm, if that makes sense.”

Swavely, who plays secular music with Americana rock and punk bands, said he thinks all music is spiritual.

“I mean, even when you’re not in a church, when you’re going to a concert where everybody knows the same words and sings them together, it’s religious, right? It’s communal. It’s experiencing something that’s powerfully and uniquely human and I would say divine,” Swavely said.

The power of music to unite a group of people and help them through trying times was a key thread in Fulmer’s Palm Sunday sermon.

“We’ll need to sing when Grandview gets going in York,” Fulmer said. “With even fewer affirming allies and neighbors in the area, we’ll need to strive together to be brave, steadfast in our witness of God’s wholly inclusive love. Singing will help.”

Her sermon also called on the congregation to continue to witness and speak out against hateful rhetoric in Lancaster County.

“It’s been especially rough out there, most recently in regard to immigration and Lancaster’s status as a safe haven for immigrants and refugees, and Drag Queen Story Hour at the library,” Fulmer said. “A lot of us are feeling it big time. And this, on top of bearing witness to unspeakable global horrors.”

But, Feiler said, there’s a sense of safety to be found in community – and the Easter story of death and rebirth echoes with Grandview’s journey to building it.

“The metaphor of resurrection has been so prevalent throughout this entire process,” Feiler said. “Watching something die and grieving that loss — whether it’s your faith community, your physical church building or your own faith journey that you grew up with — and then to see it resurrected. People are getting a church where they feel safe and where their loved ones can feel safe.”


600: Active members of Grandview Church.

275: Average attendance for Sunday services at Grandview Church in 2024.

7,600: Churches that have voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church since 2019.

90: Percent of Grandview Church congregation who voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church in February 2021.

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