In a significant development within the United Methodist Church (UMC), a total of 141 congregations in Pennsylvania have made the decision to officially sever ties with the denomination.
The primary catalyst behind this mass exodus stems from the longstanding and contentious debate surrounding sexual ethics within the UMC, a mainline Protestant denomination.
The momentous event took place during a special session of the Susquehanna Annual Conference, held on Wednesday at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport. At this gathering, the disaffiliation requests of the 141 churches were reviewed and subsequently approved. With their departure, the Susquehanna Annual Conference is left with 665 congregations within its regional body.
The issue at the heart of this departure centers on the UMC’s ongoing discussion and division regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The denomination has been grappling with these topics for years, with opposing factions deeply divided on matters of sexual ethics and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church.
The differing viewpoints have led to a great deal of tension and soul-searching within the UMC, and it appears that these divisions have now culminated in the departure of a significant number of churches.
The event featured a district-wise voting process, commencing with churches in the Altoona District and concluding with churches in the York District. Between these district votes, participants engaged in prayers and moments of silence.
Amidst the session, Stephanie Evans, a lay member of Grace United Methodist Church of Harrisburg, raised a crucial question regarding the fate of individuals affiliated with disaffiliated churches who wished to continue their association with the UMC.
In response to Stephanie Evans’ query, the Rev. Kathleen Kind, director of Connectional Ministries for the Conference, expressed the overarching objectives. He said that “in any ways possible,” provide support, but warned that “it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ and we want to make sure that the specific needs of individuals and families and groups are cared for as we move forward together.”
After the votes were taken, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball addressed the gathering, calling this “a time of brokenness,” noting that “we are indeed different when we walk out these doors tonight than when we came in.”
“Whether or not you are part of a congregation that made a decision to disaffiliate or not, we are all part of God’s family,” said Ball. “And we need, in the midst of this time, to dedicate ourselves to being the repairers of the way.”
“To spend some time with one another, praying with one another, confessing to one another, forgiving each other. For just as the Lord forgave each one of us, in the same way, we are asked to forgive one another.”
While the exact reasons behind each church’s decision to disaffiliate may vary, it is clear that the ongoing debate over sexual ethics played a central role in their departure. Some churches in Pennsylvania, as well as across the United States, have taken issue with the UMC’s traditional stance, which views homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teachings.
In response to these departures, the UMC leadership faces the challenge of maintaining unity and addressing the concerns raised by those who have left. The ongoing debate over sexual ethics will likely continue to shape the future of the UMC, as the denomination grapples with finding a path that can accommodate the diverse range of perspectives within its ranks.