1000’s debate leaving United Methodist Church over LGBTQ subject

The Rev. Invoice Farmer reached the purpose the place he couldn’t keep within the United Methodist Church anymore — however the congregation he attended was staying.

Michael Hahn at all times needed to remain within the UMC — however his congregation was leaving it.

Every has discovered new church properties, and so they’re not alone.

1000’s of United Methodist congregations have been voting on whether or not to remain or stop one of many nation’s largest denominations amid intractable debates over theology and the position of LGBTQ individuals. There are sharp variations over recognizing same-sex marriage and ordaining LGBTQ clergy.

However the dividing line isn’t simply working between congregations. It’s working proper by the pews of particular person church buildings, separating individuals who had lengthy worshipped collectively.

Those that come up on the brief finish of a disaffiliation vote face the dilemma of whether or not keep or go.

The splintering — usually grievous and tense — has spurred new initiatives to supply havens for the unmoored. Some United Methodist regional conferences have begun designating “Lighthouse” congregations — ones that actively welcome individuals who needed to remain United Methodist however whose former church buildings voted to go away. Different conferences use totally different names, corresponding to “Beacon” or “Oasis,” however the thought is identical.

“The ache is actual, and there’s a lot of grief and a whole lot of heartache over the cut up within the United Methodist Church,” stated the Rev. Lynn Ferguson, the great-grandchild of a circuit-riding Methodist pastor.

Her North Carolina church, First United Methodist Asheboro, grew to become a Lighthouse congregation. That assures newcomers that it’s dedicated to staying United Methodist, in order that they received’t have to fret about one other disaffiliation vote. Greater than 400 congregations have disaffiliated in North Carolina.


Ferguson stated she will be able to personally relate to these from departing congregations. Her childhood church — the one which formed her religion and the place at age 12 she felt the decision to ministry — additionally voted to go away.

“A part of the Lighthouse mission is to let individuals know the United Methodist Church remains to be right here and nonetheless welcoming,” stated the Rev. Ed McKinney, pastor of Stokesdale United Methodist Church in Stokesdale, North Carolina, which additionally grew to become a Lighthouse congregation.

Michael Hahn and his household are amongst a bunch of newcomers who’ve begun collaborating in Stokesdale after their earlier congregations left the denomination.

Hahn, whose household has been Methodist for generations, stated he couldn’t think about leaving the denomination, which he values for mixing religion and rationality: “It’s a spot the place I don’t should examine my logic and motive on the door and blindly settle for issues.”

Hahn stated he, his spouse and daughters have discovered “a really heat and welcoming setting” within the Stokesdale congregation, with individuals saying, “We’re glad to have you ever right here, we need to stroll by this era with you.”

Lots of the departing church buildings are becoming a member of the conservative World Methodist Church, created final 12 months. Others are going impartial or becoming a member of totally different denominations.

Whereas the World Methodist Church doesn’t have a program just like the Lighthouse initiative, it has begun launching or adopting congregations that may change into properties for individuals who need to go away the United Methodist Church however whose congregations are staying.

That was the case with the founders of Grace Methodist Church. They launched the church in January in Homosassa, Florida, after their earlier congregation voted to remain within the UMC. The brand new church instantly affiliated with the World Methodist Church.

The Rev. Bill Farmer

Rev. Invoice Farmer preaches to his congregation on the Grace Methodist Church on Could 14, 2023, in Homosassa Springs, Florida. (Alokito Mymensingh 24 Picture/Chris OMeara)

Grace Methodist has been renting a former lodge corridor for its companies and has already began Bible research and group outreaches, whereas additionally working to draw attendees from their neighborhood.

“We’re not there simply to go to church on Sunday for an hour; we’re there to assist the group,” stated member Neil Kline. The keenness of members is clear, he stated: “They will’t wait to get to church, and so they don’t need to go away.”

Farmer got here out of retirement to function the church’s pastor.


The group’s earlier congregation “was a great church,” Farmer stated, and he wished it nicely. However “my battle was with the United Methodist construction, what’s happening in the USA, significantly.”

The continued schism has been lengthy within the making.

The United Methodist Church — with about 6.5 million members in the USA and no less than that many overseas — has lengthy debated its bans on same-sex marriages and the ordination of brazenly LGBTQ clergy.

The denomination has repeatedly upheld the bans, largely by the voting power of the rising, extra conservative church buildings overseas. However conservatives selected to type a brand new denomination amid rising defiance of the bans in U.S. church buildings.

Greater than 3,500 U.S. congregations have acquired their native conferences’ permission to disaffiliate from the UMC, in accordance with United Methodist Information Service. With convention season underway, disaffiliations are closing in on 4,000 and will rise much more by the tip of the 12 months, stated the Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Affiliation, a conservative group advocating for departing congregations.

That’s a fraction of the United Methodists’ 30,000 U.S. church buildings, although a number of of the departing congregations are among the many largest of their states.

Therrell stated he had no drawback with the Lighthouse idea however renewed his name to permit church buildings to disaffiliate on cheap phrases.

“I would like everybody to be within the theological house that’s the finest match,” Therrell stated. “Definitely, the United Methodist Church is welcome to attempt to create church buildings to do this. I hope they’d respect traditionalists and permit us to get to the place the place we should be.”

Within the Arkansas Convention, greater than 100 church buildings — out of roughly 600 whole — have acquired permission to disaffiliate. That leaves elements of the state with few or no remaining United Methodist congregations, stated the Rev. Michael Roberts, director of the convention’s new Restart Initiative, which is hoping to enlist congregations to be Beacon church buildings. Such church buildings would invite self-described “exiles, refugees, nomads” to worship companies, assist them begin house teams or develop different methods to maintain them linked.

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“We’re simply actually merely inviting church buildings to think about how they’ll present this type of hospitality,” Roberts stated. “I really like the phrase ‘hospitality’ as a result of the phrase ‘hospital’ comes from that phrase. It’s about offering therapeutic.”

Within the Western Pennsylvania Convention, 17 congregations formally grew to become Lighthouse congregations as of Could 1.

A few third of the estimated 800 church buildings within the Western Pennsylvania Convention — a sprawling 23-county area — are looking for to have their disaffiliations accredited on the convention’s June annual assembly, in accordance with Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi.

“There have been only a few votes the place it was unanimous,” she stated. For these on the brief finish of these votes — generally described as pilgrims — the Lighthouse congregations supply locations the place they’ll be a part of or simply discover non permanent harbor till they determine subsequent steps.

However Lighthouse church buildings aren’t locations to settle into outdated routines, she stated.

“This has been a possibility to essentially take into consideration people who’re unchurched, and the way this nucleus of individuals in search of a church house would possibly assist us discern wants in the neighborhood and create religion communities” to succeed in individuals in new methods.

Added B.T. Gilligan, senior pastor at Nixon United Methodist Church, a Lighthouse congregation in Butler, Pennsylvania: “I actually hope this extends and goes far past the disaffiliation, however permits for individuals who have been harm by church buildings for all totally different sorts of causes.”

Peter Johnson