CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Close to 200 United Methodist Churches in North Carolina are on the eve of a potential split from the denomination centered around a divide in scripture interpretation.
The Western North Carolina Conference will host a special virtual meeting Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to vote on the churches’ withdrawal.
The idea of disaffiliation began back in 2019, when the UMC General Conference stated that marriage should only be allowed to exists between a man and a woman. It also found that LGBTQ individuals could not be ordained ministers.
The two UMC conferences that make up the state, however, rejected that interpretation.
Pastor Charles Curtis, with Liberty & Rockwell United Methodist Church in Rowan County supports the General Conference.
“It’s how we interoperate scripture, scripture holiness, and how we live out our lives,” Curtis explained. “We can separate and still be together and we can still do ministry side-by-side. Hopefully in the future we’ll have more common ground.”
The churches would then have the option of which denomination they’d wish to become affiliated with, or if they would like to become non-denominational.
In a statement online, Bishop Ken Carter with the Western North Carolina Conference wrote:
The sole purpose of the called executive session of clergy members is to vote on clergy withdrawals. The sole purpose of the called session is to vote on the WNC Conference Board of Trustees’ recommendations for churches choosing to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church through the authorized process outlined in Paragraph 2553.
We continue to be in dialogue with local churches and clergy. Our desire would be that no local church or pastor departs from the United Methodist Church. We do understand that a small number of churches have already made this decision. Where there is particular conflict within local churches, we have created space for patience, listening and grace. We also appeal to a small number of local churches who have brought a lawsuit against the annual conference to work within the guidelines of Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline. Extended participation in the lawsuit will prevent these churches from participating in the disaffiliation process prior to the December 31, 2023 deadline.
By holding a Special Called Session, churches departing to become independent congregations or members of other present or future denominations can begin to live into their futures. And in the same manner, clergy who depart can follow their callings to new ministries apart from The United Methodist Church. Both the clergy session and the special session of annual conference will conclude with a blessing by Bishop Carter.
If needed, there will be another called Special Session of the Annual Conference in the late fall of this year for those churches who find themselves needing more time for prayerful discernment throughout the spring and summer.
More details for both special sessions will be announced as they become available.
— Bishop Ken Carter, Western North Carolina Conference
The vote on Saturday, however, could open the door for many of these church bodies to lose the very building many of them have worshipped in for decades.
In accordance with the United Methodist Trust Clause, the property is connected with the denomination and can only be used as such.
The clause reads: “In trust, that said premises shall be used, kept, and maintained as a place of divine worship of the United Methodist ministry.”
Pastor Curtis’ church, along with 37 others, have filed suit, and an appeal to keep their property.
“People in this community have built this, they’ve paid for this, the conference still owns this, the property,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without it.”
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