Seven South Georgia congregations have disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church. In a 528-37 vote, Recommendation 6 passed, which allows the churches to disaffiliate from The UMC “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of The Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues.”
Provisions passed at the called 2019 Special Session of the General Conference and two policies passed during the 2019 Annual Conference session - a Disaffiliation Policy and a Pension Liabilities Proposal - laid the groundwork for the churches to disaffiliate.
Per the policies adopted last year, once each congregation pays their pension liabilities, their two years of apportionments, and the legal fees involved, they will be released from the trust clause and will own their property.
“We have churches on both ends of the spectrum, but they’re all leaving because they’re tired of arguing,” said Dean of the Cabinet and Coastal District Superintendent Rev. David Thompson who put forth the resolution during the virtual Annual Conference Session. “We need to refocus on who we are as a Church and get past this issue.”
The Dawson Street United Methodist Church congregation had grown weary of the denomination's inaction, said Randy Booker, chairman of the church’s administrative board.
In a 50-2 vote, the Thomasville church voted to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. After the paperwork is signed, they’ll be known as Dawson Street Church, Incorporated.
“There’s been inaction and things should have been taken care of,” Booker said. “We are tired of being part of that process. We would like to move forward … and we don’t want to wait two more years.”
For a local church to separate from The United Methodist Church, at least two-thirds of the professing members must vote to disaffiliate. Then that vote must be ratified by the annual conference.
On Sept. 8, 2019, Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church voted overwhelmingly in favor of disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church and becoming an independent, non-denominational congregation named Asbury Memorial Church.
“We’ve been struggling with this since 1993,” said Rev. Billy Hester, who said that about 35 percent of the church’s members are part of the LGBT community. “Our big hope was that things would change at the last General Conference, and when that didn’t happen ... we just decided it was time; we couldn’t keep waiting. We needed to move on.”
Rev. Thompson encourages South Georgia United Methodists to keep the faith.
“Do not grow weary,” he said. “Stay together at the table until we reach a decision as a family.”
While the delay of General Conference due to the coronavirus pandemic has been frustrating to some, others have embraced it as an opportunity to come to the table and let the Holy Spirit continue to lead the denomination to a healthier outcome, Bishop Bryan said.
“For years I have been reminding us that no one is going to come into South Georgia and force anything upon us,” he said. “We will make our own decisions, and we get to decide which decisions we want to make and when we want to make them. The way to do this is to be at the table with one another now and to remain connected in every way. Then, our attitude can be, ‘We will respectfully receive whatever comes from General Conference, but we will bring it to the table in South Georgia, understand what it means for us, and then make decisions on South Georgia time.’ The best place to be, both before and after General Conference, is Alive Together at The Table.”
After the conference approved the disaffiliation of Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, Corinth United Methodist Church, Asbury (Baxley) United Methodist Church, Clyattville United Methodist Church, Ward Memorial United Methodist Church, Dawson Street United Methodist Church, and New Prospect United Methodist Church, Bishop Bryan offered a prayer of thanksgiving for each church and its ministry.
“We embrace these churches in your love. We thank you for them, and we thank you for the reality that even though changes in status and connection can occur, there are cords that will not be broken - cords of affection and love and devotion - that will bind us to one another. We bless them in your name. Prosper their ministries, may many come to know Christ and follow him faithfully because of the work of these churches.”