Two Large UM Churches Vote to Leave Denomination

Getwell Road UMC, Southaven, MS

Getwell Road UMC, Southaven, MS

By Walter Fenton-

Two large local United Methodist churches in the Mississippi Annual Conference have taken congregation wide votes to leave the denomination. Ninety six percent of the parishioners at Getwell Road UM Church in Southaven and 99 percent at The Orchard UM Church in Tupelo supported separation on Sunday, February 5.

The senior pastors at both churches explained that their congregations are now in a process of discernment with the annual conference regarding their departures. Getwell Road UM Church, a vibrant and growing suburban congregation in the greater Memphis, Tennessee, area, averages over 800 people in worship. And The Orchard is the 15th largest United Methodist church in the U. S. in terms of worship attendance. On average, over 2,700 people attend its weekend services.

“We want our departure to be as peaceful and God honoring as possible,” said the Rev. Bryan Collier of The Orchard. “We will be in conversation with Bishop James Swanson about the details and timing of this process. We want to act honorably and peacefully.”

Bishop Swanson, the resident bishop of the Mississippi Episcopal Area released a statement on Monday afternoon informing the conference of the news. He reported that he and two district superintendents are engaging in a discernment process with the pastors and their congregations.

“Our staff and lay leadership have had conversations about this move for some time; it’s not something we rushed into,” said the Rev. Bill Beavers of Getwell Road UM Church. “This past October we invited the whole congregation to engage in conversation and prayer over the possibility. Several serious months of discernment preceded our congregational vote.”

Both pastors cited their congregations’ frustration with the denomination’s long and acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Going forward, they said their congregations want to focus on kingdom matters so they are removing themselves from unproductive battles that distract them from their larger missions.

Collier cited the Judicial Council’s (essentially the denomination’s “Supreme Court”) impending decision regarding the validity of the Western Jurisdiction’s July election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as the denomination’s first openly gay bishop. This April the Council is expected to answer several questions of law pertaining to her election.

“Either way, the Council’s decision is just going to prolong a bitter and divisive debate,” Collier said. “We don’t want to be part of the argument anymore.

We have more important things we need to do in the Tupelo community and well beyond it.”

Neither pastor nor Bishop Swanson offered a hard timeline regarding the discernment process they have agreed to enter into. Swanson asked for prayers for all concerned.

“I want to do my best to take care of and do right by Getwell Road,” said Beavers. “Our entire leadership team wants to be proactive, rather than reactive. We will continue to be in prayer and in a time of discernment as we work with Bishop Swanson.”

Other sources have reported that additional local UM churches in the Mississippi Annual Conference are contemplating similar actions in March or late April after the Judicial Council answers the questions of law pertaining to Bishop Oliveto.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.

Comments

  1. Mike Peters says:

    Wish there were a better way. Why can’t we keep our Church and send those who do not wish to follow our Book of Discipline packing?

    • I can’t help but think of the African delegates and all they sacrificed to come to General Conference 2016 only to have the vote disrupted. To allow the name of UMC to be associated with and used as an international pathway for something quite other than Christ’s church is unthinkable. I think it is a fight worth fighting.

      • If it were not for those African delegates the UMC would have embraced homosexuality long ago. I thank God for placing those devout African delegates among us.

        I believe in The Word of God as it is written. Paul and the others were embodied by the literal Spirit of God and wrote as directed by God. We also must believe that what is in the Bible was put there under the direction of God – to believe otherwise is to deny the God, who created our planet and man and woman, is incapable of ensuring the Bible is as he wanted it to be. We are told in the Bible we are not to add or detract from The Word and, after all, The Word is what the church is founded upon.
        When the Methodist Church hierarchy allows the ordination of a person who is a practicing sinner, unwilling to repent or change and that continues to actively sin against The Word of God while in a position of leadership then that ends my support and attendance in this hypocritical organization. Failure to follow what is written in The Book of Discipline regarding this sin is further proof that the UMC and the book of discipline shows that the leadership within the church are cowards and have only one thing in mind – revenue and maintaining their retirement benefits as they have no backbone, which means our national UMC organization has no backbone either.
        There are those who will say that The Word is wrongly interpreted and it is a matter of translation. If one reads the passages on homosexuality (Romans 1:26-28, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13) one cannot attribute them to a misinterpretation. There are those who say we should love the practicing homosexual and accept their sin out of love; the first part of that statement is correct but the second is not – those people don’t understand that you can love the person while convicting the sin….Jesus loves us all but He will condemn more of us on judgement day than he will admit into Heaven, loving those condemned all the way to hell.
        Those that label people who live by The Word’s literal translation (on this subject) as “homophobic” are copping out because they chose not to honor what the Bible says on the subject and their most convenient way to shut down that conversation is to label someone as a homophobe. I for one know several homosexuals from college and from work and I care for them just as I care for anyone from my church. We even have a practicing homosexual in the family, so, let me be clear, my stance isn’t one of hate…it really is one of love and hope for their future.
        There are those in the scientific community that say both homosexuality and alcoholism are a result of genes. I do believe that. I also know that there are millions of people in AA who are overcoming their bent to drink, in spite of their DNA. By condoning their lifestyle, we take away from the homosexual the possibility for change and forgiveness and we are telling them (by that condonation) that there is no hope for them and God can’t help you through.
        What does that homosexual pastor say now when they, in the sermon, read passages from the Bible, “The Word of God for most people of God, but not for those who choose to reinterpret it”? At the point where we do not accept the literal interpretation of the Bible the church is dead because the basis of the church (the Bible) has just become irrelevant. A Christian cannot pick and choose what in the Bible they do or do not believe – The Word is God inspired. We didn’t interact with Jesus but those that wrote most all of the New Testament did. I choose to believe their words over a liberal, contemporary interpretation.

        • Drew Anders says:

          Well said and your comments reflect the feelings and opinions of many of us that desire for UMC to remain true to the word of God. While we continue of this path of indecision, we are dying as a church. To make NO decision, is making a decision.

          • The church thinks that if they don’t address the problem it will go away, but what is happening members are going away. The two churches mentioned did the right thing, in my estimation. New members want to know about the Methodist doctrine before they join. I don’t believe the “powers that be” comprehend how many people are about to leave the church soon because they aren’t willing to wait for a 2018 outcome that may be postponed. Bishops, please listen to the people.

        • Rev. Ann Thomas says:

          We always pick and choose what in the Bible we will follow and what was situational and does not apply to us. I don’t know anyone, except historical examples like St. Francis, who sold everything they have and gave the money to the poor. We eat lobster and pork bar-b-q and wear clothes made of more than one kind of fabric. And, perhaps most significantly, we as United Methodists ordain women. Indeed, I am a woman who speaks in church. I have yet to hear an explanation regarding the denomination’s current position relating to sexuality that would not also apply to women being ordained. And yet, the vast majority of those arguing that the position against homosexuals is required by the Bible do not, at least openly, object to women being ordained. In fact, some are ordained women! They are more than capable of giving detailed reasons why the prohibitions against women speaking in church do not apply, why those prohibitions were situational and historical and do not address our situation today and many ultimately turn to Jesus’ words: “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:16-20 They then proceed to tell how they were called by God and they could not deny the calling and then they (or their supporters) point to their fruit. Well, I’ve know several homosexuals who were called by God and who have fruit, good fruit, excellent fruit, often better fruit than others, perhaps because they understand as others cannot what it is to be persecuted and rejected and judged. What if the Holy Spirit is teaching the church a new thing, just at God did with the ordination of women (and for that matter, the condemnation of slavery)? I believe God is doing just that. Perhaps the influence of society that is to be resisted is not the acceptance of those with a different, inborn, innate sexuality but rather in the judgment and fear of them. I am quite certain that Jesus will not condemn anyone for accepting or loving too much. After all, he never did. Those he judged were always those who judged and rejected others. When in doubt, we should always choose love.

    • Sir, the last time I checked, Christians do not follow the Book of Discipline…they follow the Bible.

      • Diane Grey says:

        …and The Book of Discipline follows the Bible.

        • Roxanna Marie Franke says:

          I attend a UMC in a very small town. we are a very small congregation. I can tell you this NOTHING but God’s Word matters in the end. If the UMC embraces the current culture and allows it’s political insanity to over rule God’s Word it will continue its slow and painful death. Many more of us will leave. None of us need ANYTHING but Gods Word. the Holy Spirit, and God Ordained, Spirit Filled Pastors and Teachers anointed and appointed by Him to lead guide and direct us. Perhaps if the governing body of this denomination removed their brains and started allowing the Holy Spirit to fill them and show them GODS plan and the movement of HIS Spirit instead of their intellectual reasoning things might change. The moment the creation begins to box up the the Creator into a man made religion they are lost. Jesus called them “White washed tombs”. God is a SPIRIT not an intellect. I suggest prayer, fasting, receiving the INFILLING of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of it shown in Gods Word for a start.
          I also suggest that the rest of the denominational rules, regs and law be deposited in the nearest trash pile and a fire be lit underneath them. METHODIST will never get you to the promised land. ONLY the BLOOD OF JESUS. I am fairly sure the denominations name is NOT the Name above all names.

  2. David McKee says:

    I’m pleased with this. Let the conservative churches leave the Conference, start their own conference, write a new MORE conservative Book of Discipline, and starve the main Conference of badly needed funding and let them fend for themselves.

    • w. aardsma says:

      instead of acting like congregationalists, i’d prefer the conservatives to act like connectionalists and take their annual conference out of the denomination. I wanted Southern N.J. to withdraw for years but now their voice has been crushed by being merged with the liberal Northern N.J. A.C.

    • People who are tired of waiting for the Methodist church to make a decision will go to other denominations that have their act together. Why stay with a group that has so much conflict?

    • Mr. McKee, you do know that the first tenant of Christianity is LOVE? I am very disturbed at your attitude in the above statement. Why does one need the Book of Discipline?

  3. Sonja LeVan says:

    I think (sad to say) it is all about money, many do not agree with the way most Bishops and many Superintendantshave disregarded the Bible and Book of Discipline, but both sides are hypocrites…..some things are sin and other actions are not sin??//….People staying because they are afraid they will loose their pensions, etc. etc…..So they encourage their congregations just to hold on…..AND NOTHING HAPPENS!!!….yet many Methodists voted for Trump because he is a “Christian”…If that is so then I want nothing to do with being that kind of Christian!!!!1…ALL HAVE GONE ASTRAY AND GONE EACH THEIR OWN WAY”

    • David Wells says:

      No sane person voted for Trump because he was a Christian. He was just the least objectionable person running.

      • John Calvin says:

        What does Trump have to do with 2 UMC’s leaving the denomination. If you were as interested
        in spreading the Gospel as you are downing Trump, you would have a message, otherwise, you are a Empty Suit, a leftist, with no message.

    • Pat De Esposito says:

      The sun is going to come up tomorrow regardless of whether you like Trump or not! I prefer to look skyward, not towards Washington D.C.!

  4. My heart greaves for these two congregations and our fellowship as a whole. No side will win if we separate ourselves from each other. Methodists have been known for welcoming all people without standing in judgement of them. We understand that judgment is the lords.
    To hold our money or to leave the UMC completely is separation that will only lead to pain and loss.
    Can we not all worship in love and celebrate Gods Goodness for all His people?
    I will not separate those who come lovingly confessing our Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior.
    That would be the real sin our church’s will be guilty of.
    God Bless the pastors and all the members..May our Lord be all things..

    • Barbara Pickens says:

      We can and should all worship together but none of us should serve in the pulpits or and leadership position if we are living in deliberate sin.

    • John Cobil says:

      There is a battle royal coming because our denomination refused to deal with sexual sin early on. As soon as the judiciary decision on the gay bishop is issued, every United Methodist is going to have to take a stand – is homosexuality a sin or not? Churches that follow the bible are going to be labeled as “against” a group of people. That is far from the truth. Virtually all congregations recognize that cheating on a spouse is a sin, but welcome an adulterer and encourage him or her to change. Most take the same position regarding homosexuality, but the publicity over this issue is not going to allow a position like that. The bishops have let the problem grow too large.

      These two churches are probably smart in stepping away before the real battle begins.

    • Pamela
      your statement “Methodists have been known for welcoming all people without standing in judgement of them” is missing something. Methodists have been known for the past many years to support the Bible and biblical standards of marriage and sexuality. We have to stand for TRUTH. The Bible speaks clearly about sexual sin. Calling sin a sin is not judging. Jesus told the woman caught in adultry to go and sin no more.

  5. My grandfather, Bishop Marvin Franklin, was bishop of the Mississippi Conference
    from 1948-1964. He would be sick to see the Methodist Church in its current
    state, but would understand these churches leaving as they try to uphold Wesley’s
    teachings.

  6. Sandra Long says:

    I will be leaving the denomination if things continue to go in the wrong direction, against Biblical teaching

  7. Licensed Local Pastor says:

    And so it begins, the leadership of the United Methodist Church will now reap what it has sown for the past 40 years. Not everybody sees the scriptures as lacking in authority and not everybody has abandoned following the, “The Great Commission” for the sake of being friends with the world. Hopefully the leadership on both sides will set an example for the other leaders in the UMC to follow.

  8. Do pray these congregations hold on for a final decision until the special General Conference acts. Of course, covenant keeping ongregations and/or conferences should not be leaving. Instead, those breaking covenant should do the honorable thing and leave or be peacefully dismissed. This situation highlights our crisis while leadership fails to lead. At its next meeting, the new commission should vote to call a special General Conference as soon as possible before this mushrooms into a free fall resulting in destruction of the UMC sooner rather than later. The clock has run out, and the time to act is NOW. Call a special General Conference and solve this schism.

    • William, I am 77 years old and have been affiliated with the Methodist Church since High School. I have never had need of use of the Book of Discipline nor the General Conference. Those two items are what separates “so called Methodists” from Christ’s Church Family.

  9. William B. says:

    Will the two congregations take their blue dishes and go home?

  10. Every comment here seems to indicate that these churches are leaving in order to follow a more conservative track. Do you know this? Is it possible they are leaving so they can embrace gay and lesbian couples.
    Interested to know
    Angie

  11. Jackie Stark says:

    History is in the making once again within the Church and God is still in the picture.
    On May 5, 1738 John Wesley while listening to a reading From Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans suddenly realized that he was saved and truly loved by Christ through his faith. He was later invited by Whitefield a Calvinist to preach with him and he did for a while, but later took issue with some of Whitefield’s Calvinistic doctrine and they eventually parted ways. John started preaching and he also started small classes with a leader for each class teaching what we now know as Methodist Doctrine. As this method grew, his critics labeled them as methodist, not done as a compliment to him and they also arranged for paid ruffians to disrupt the services. All this time John was very careful not to disrupt or interfere with the Anglican Worship services, he scheduled his services around their services. We know the rest of the story, the Methodist Church was born. The whole point of this reminder is a new and successful denomination was started due to different beliefs that were still God oriented. They were not comfortable with the Anglican teachings. Even though the “methodist” as they were called faced disruption they remained peaceful in their movement showing God’s love.
    So are we seeing history once again? Are these Methodist Churches that are separating themselves from the denomination, due to their united belief any different? I am sure it was not a decision made without a lot of prayers and discussions. These Churches are remaining very gracious and loving while announcing their decision to leave the denomination. My prayers are for everyone affected by this decision that we remain a loving people.

  12. Calvin Lee says:

    My wife and I recently joined the WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association). This is a strong conservative movement within the Methodist Church. For more information on this organization please visit their website at wesleyancovenant.org.

  13. Dana Gilmour says:

    Okay folks, take a look at joining ECO, Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. Love and joy and commitment to Scripture PC(USA) has departed from Scripture and the ancient Confessions and moved so far left that by 2020 membership projected to be a mere 1 million. (was over 6 million at merger in 1983). Now disappearing into irrelevance. Most overseas Presbyterian General Assemblies have severed relations with the US Church; even the mother church, The Church of Scotland. Sad. So don’t consider what’s usually called schism such a bad thing. Bottom line: Does Scripture matter in 2017?

  14. James Rice says:

    This is what I believe either you’re going to follow GODS word or follow mans path, you can’t have it both ways.Sad to see them go but they will not be the last,we need to pray for them as they go to worship GOD in spirit and truth.

  15. National Jester says:

    As a life-long Presbyterian, may I offer a warning. The PCUSA bureaucracy and a significant portion of the clergy drifted to the left politically, and became very liberal theologically. They attempted to force members and dissenters into beliefs and practices against their will. First split was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, most recently the ECO Presbyterian denomination. In 1965 the two denominations which merged to form the PCUSA had 6.5 million members. By 2020 the PCUSA will be down to 1 million, and will continue to shrink due to demographics. One group they never mention is the members who disliked the drift, felt they had no choice, and simply walked away to something totally different…or to nothing.

    Time will tell how well the PCA, EPC, and ECO perform. The PCUSA has become increasingly centered on punishing dissenting congregations and clergy, and extracting as much money as possible from congregations which choose to leave.

    I fear the UMC is headed in that same direction unless cooler heads prevail. If you can’t live peaceably together, then go your separate ways in peace without court cases and huge departure fees. My experience in the PCUSA, with the liberal portion of our denomination left a very bad taste in my mouth and I want nothing to do with them.

  16. Understandable but profoundly unwise decision. The global church is solidly aligned with historic Christianity, including sexual ethics. The Presbyterian and Episcopal traditional believers dribbled away from the US denominations until votes shifted by the remnants to alter church teaching, shifting both denominations from decline to free fall. UM traditional believers need to remember that they own the furniture; unlike the other groups, evangelicals and true moderates and collaborative liberals really do have common ground that make separation by conservatives unnecessary. To leave is to gift the disobedient with bonus points. And do remember, most UM churches in Mississippi, as elsewhere, including evangelical churches, are in decline. The challenge is much greater than sexuality conflicts. Becoming a ‘self-licking lollipop’ like so many other transient megachurches trades what matters most to scratch the itch of annoys now.

    • John Cobil says:

      Bob, the two churches in question are not in decline. Quite the opposite, in fact. I also think you have the order reversed in your cause-and-effect scenario. Biblical Presbyterians and Episcopals did not leave well-founded churches and allow them to drift leftward. The administration of both denominations drifted left in order to court the politically correct crowd hoping to keep their salaries and pensions intact. The two churches that are leaving are biblically-based churches who welcome this PC crowd but then try to teach them biblical principals rather than overlooking topics that make people uncomfortable. Crazy, huh? Who would have thought that doing what Jesus did would actually lead to growing churches?

      • John,

        Brother, true! Both churches are dynamic and growing, with faithful pastors and lay leadership. This makes their loss to the larger body of faithful believers who are slogging in other settings more keenly felt. There are no bad players in this situation; biblical strategic thinking keeps the mission of making disciples central. Orchard alone has a larger attendance than the smallest 120 churches in the Rocky Mountain conference…combined. We will miss their place in the line when the time comes for the US church to declare its faithfulness…and probably to offer gracious exit options for those who cannot abide the Wesleyan connection as it stands.

  17. The BIBLE. What about the BIBLE?

    To UMC progressives, including those members of the new commission — please take us to Scripture that supports, justifies, or in any way accepts same-sex marriage or the practice of ANY sexual relations outside that of a man and a woman in marriage.

  18. Baptized as in infant in the Methodist church 48 years ago. Left the Methodist Church in January for another denomination. We have a child to raise and cannot wait to see if the UMC will stand on the Word of God or not.

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