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Mass exodus: United Methodist churches disaffiliating

Last week, the hemorrhaging of churches from the United Methodist Church (UMC) continued in drastic fashion.

In Montgomery, the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the UMC alone saw 193 congregations depart in a 24-hour period.

Those 193 churches are 38% of the conference, 39% of its membership, and include nine churches with membership of more than 1,000.

Lester Spencer, lead pastor of Saint James Global Methodist Church, believes that there is one issue that is predominantly to blame for the mass departures throughout the church.

“I think one of the hot button issues has been the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, and also other issues of human sexuality,” Spencer said.

Spencer was not the only official in the conference to comment on the departures.

“Today is a somber day in the life of the Alabama-West Florida Conference,” said Bishop David Graves. “We grieve in saying farewell to the 193 churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church and wish them the best in ministry. Many of these churches have dedicated clergy and laity who truly desire to serve God and their communities.

“We pray for these churches as they navigate ministry in a new season.”

Some of the churches that will be leaving the church and the conference include: Brewton, Camden, East Brewton, Florala, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Robertsdale, Eutaw, Linden, Wetumpka First, Summerdale, Loxley, Enterprise First, Marion, Opelika First, Opp First, Pratville First, and Livingston.

The North Alabama Conference of the UMC, just a few days later, lost 132 churches.

The conference was already reeling from the decision of 198 churches to leave last December. After the disaffiliation vote last week, the regional body has experienced its number of member congregations reduced by over half. At the start of 2022, the organization had 635 congregations. As of last week’s vote, there are 305.

Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, head of the North Alabama Conference and presiding official at the meeting, described her mixed feelings.

“My prayer is that each of the churches represented on this call grows increasingly effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” she said. “The North Alabama Conference will miss the 132 congregations that are disaffiliating today from the United Methodist Church.

“At the same time, we rejoice at the 300-plus churches that are continuing on the journey together as United Methodist.”

The organization released a statement after the vote.

“Our 305 North Alabama congregations are a connected body of faith. Just as different parts come together to form a fully functional body, so it is with the North Alabama Conference. Each of our congregations is an important part of who we are,” the group said. “Our prayer is that together we United Methodists can reclaim our common purpose and strengthen our connection so that all of us are reinvigorated in our calling to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

According to the most recent numbers from UM News, more than 3,200 congregations have left the UMC since 2019, with more than 1,200 churches disaffiliating this year.

Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.

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