141 Pennsylvania churches leave UMC over homosexuality debate

The Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church, based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. | Facebook/Susquehanna Conference, The United Methodist Church

One hundred forty-one congregations in Pennsylvania have officially left the United Methodist Church, largely because of the ongoing debate over sexual ethics in the mainline Protestant denomination.

At a special session of the UMC, Susquehanna Annual Conference held Wednesday at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport, the disaffiliations of 141 churches were approved. This leaves 665 congregations in the regional body.

The special session divided the votes by district, beginning with churches based in the Altoona District and ending with churches based in the York District. Between district votes, there were prayers and moments of silence observed.

During the meeting, Stephanie Evans, a lay member of Grace United Methodist Church of Harrisburg, asked what would become of those belonging to churches that disaffiliated who wanted to remain in the UMC.

The Rev. Kathleen Kind, director of Connectional Ministries for the Conference, responded that the goal was to, “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.”

A special session of The Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church votes to allow 141 congregations to disaffiliate from the regional body, May 17, 2023, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. | Screengrab: Facebook/Susquehanna Conference, The United Methodist Church

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.”

Ball added that no matter what denomination a church may belong to, “we are still called to be the Body of Christ in this world and to witness to Christ’s love and the gift of redemption and salvation.”

“We’ve made so many other things known in the midst of these disaffiliation conversations,” she said. “Now is the time to redeem ourselves, to put on the mind and the heart of Christ, and to focus on repairing the way and making Christ known.”

Cortez Community Church of Jefferson Township, formerly known as Cortez United Methodist Church, was not among the 141 congregations that had their disaffiliation affirmed.

In April, the Susquehanna Conference filed a lawsuit against Cortez, arguing that the congregation failed to follow the proper process of discernment for disaffiliating from the UMC.

According to the suit, Cortez Community Church leadership decided to unilaterally leave the UMC in February, taking control of the church property and seizing bank accounts, as well as changing its signs to reflect a new affiliation.

Over the past couple of years, more than 3,000 congregations have officially left the UMC, driven in large part by the denomination’s ongoing debate over whether to change its official stance on LGBT issues.

According to the UMC Book of Discipline, the denomination prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of people in same-sex romantic relationships. It also bans the funding of LGBT advocacy groups.

Although efforts to change these rules at UMC General Conference have always failed, many progressive leaders in the Church have refused to follow or enforce the official standards.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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