Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church Releases Preliminary Results of Disaffiliation Vote, 192 Churches Approved for Disaffiliation
May 8, 2023
By: Aimee Yeager, WNCC Director of Communications
On Saturday, May 6, 2023, the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church met virtually for a special called session to vote on the requests from 192 churches to disaffiliate from the Conference under Paragraph 2553 of The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which says churches may “disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the BOD related to the practice of homosexuality.” Following the conclusion of the session held on Zoom, clergypersons and lay delegates from across the Conference cast ballots to approve or disapprove the disaffiliation requests. The following Monday, May 8, Bishop Ken Carter issued a letter to the Conference with preliminary results.
With less than 50 paper ballots still out, to be postmarked that same day, the Conference issued a provisional statement that the motion passed with approximately 96% of the vote approving the disaffiliations and approximately 4% disapproving. The 192 churches, representing about 15 percent of the membership of the Conference, will be allowed to continue with the disaffiliation process as laid out in Paragraph 2553 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
A Landmark Moment
Rev. Dr. Bill White, Jr., Director of Equity and Justice Ministries, and Rev. Dan Pezet, Metro District Superintendent, lead the opening prayer for the special called session of the Western NC Annual Conference held Saturday, May 6, 2023. (Photo credit: Aimee Yeager)
“We gather on an historic day, one filled with a range of emotions,” Bishop Carter said as he opened his address to the gathered body. “It is a day whose meaning we may not fully grasp now, but in time we will.”
The United Methodist Church is not the first denomination to wrestle with the issue of human sexuality, especially relating to marriage and ordination. The Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Lutheran denominations have all trod this path before.
Across the nation, other United Methodist annual conferences have gathered and will gather to approve similar motions relating to church disaffiliations.
“It is important to note,” Bishop Carter asserted in an earlier letter, “that the Conference has never and will not force any church to host a wedding they do not wish to host. Nor will we send an LGBTQ+ pastor to a local church which is not receptive to them. Nevertheless, some are choosing to leave…”
“We grieve to see any church leave, especially as we believe that we all share the core mission of bringing people into the life of Christ, his love for us and his teaching that we love one another. Nevertheless, the issue of human sexuality has become an irreconcilable difference among us.”
The Debate Moves to the Courtroom
In November 2022, thirty-eight churches filed a lawsuit against the Conference in an effort to disaffiliate without having to pay the disaffiliation costs, as laid out in the approved processes through Paragraph 2553.
Those costs include two years of apportionment payments, making whole the church’s portion of the retirement funds for the clergy and their spouses who served the church, and the repayment of any vitality grants the church may have received from the Conference over the past ten years. Once these payments have been met, the church is able to disaffiliate from the denomination, no longer being a United Methodist church, while retaining the deed to its property and all its assets.
These costs, according to a November letter from Bishop Carter, are “about fairness and responsibilities churches have to each other.”
The lawsuit was dismissed in March with North Carolina Superior Court judge ruled the complaint violated the separation of church and state.
In a press release issued following the dismissal, the Conference stated, “United Methodists throughout the world are compelled through a connectional covenant to support and uphold one another for faithful discipleship and the mission of Jesus Christ. United Methodist congregations are not autonomous… As United Methodists, we hold our churches and properties in common for the benefit of the denomination, each church, and the ministry and mission of The United Methodist Church locally and throughout the world. In the Western North Carolina Conference alone, we are a connection of over one thousand local churches, fresh expressions, and campus ministries; we are in ministry with camps, retirement communities, persons with disabilities, food ministries, and children’s homes across the western half of North Carolina.”
Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow
With the overwhelming majority of the membership remaining UMC, the Conference’s Cabinet, which consists of the eight district superintendents, declared this “a season of hope!”
“We celebrate,” said Rev. David Christy, superintendent for the Catawba Valley District, “that even amidst dissension, 761 of our 953 local churches remain with us through this transition. We celebrate each of our 209,983 local church members! 85% of the membership of our Annual Conference remains with us. 88% of our clergy remain with us, even with 28 transitioning to retirement. We are strong, and we will be even stronger as we continue to follow God’s direction and walk obediently on the path to God’s desired future.”
|Rev. Kim Ingram, Western NC Conference Secretary, and Bishop Ken Carter lead the business of the Annual Conference. (Photo credit: Aimee Yeager)|
As he closed his statements during the virtual special session, Bishop Carter challenged United Methodists in the Western North Carolina Conference to “be present to what is happening today” and “recommit [themselves] to the connection.”
“We can be, continue to be, become, a church for others, God using us as the instruments by which the spirit is poured out on all flesh. In this there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
In 2024, United Methodists from around the world will gather in Charlotte for the long-awaited gathering of the General Conference. Legislation on The Book of Discipline’s language around human sexuality is expected to be presented before the gathered body.