193 churches in Alabama, Florida leave United Methodist Church

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A regional body of The United Methodist Church has voted to approve the disaffiliation of 193 congregations in Alabama and Florida, joining nearly 3,000 churches that have recently left the mainline Protestant denomination.

At a special called session Saturday, the UMC Alabama-West Florida Conference voted to ratify the disaffiliation votes of 193 congregations, representing 38% of the churches of the regional body and 39% of its membership.

AWFUMC Bishop David Graves said in a statement Saturday that it was “a somber day in the life of the Alabama-West Florida Conference.”

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“We grieve in saying farewell to the 193 churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church and wish them the best in ministry,” said Graves. “Many of these churches have dedicated clergy and laity who truly desire to serve God and their communities.”

“I especially want to thank those churches who have decided to remain United Methodist and those who heard my call to refrain from holding discussions around leaving the denomination until we have more information.”

The recent wave of disaffiliations brings the total number of congregations that have left the conference since June of last year to 233 churches, with 35 disaffiliating last November.

“This has been a labor-intensive and emotional process for our cabinet and staff,” Graves added. “In the most difficult of times, I see so many signs of hope and renewal.”

“Today, we are turning a page in the Alabama-West Florida and will be focusing on life-giving and life-changing ministry. I’m excited to see the Kingdom work this conference and connection will accomplish with God’s guidance.”

Although the conference voted to allow these congregations to disaffiliate, the regional body remains in a legal battle with a local church over its efforts to leave the denomination.

Harvest Church of Dothan, which voted to leave the UMC back in January, has sued the Alabama-West Florida Conference to try and secure the rights to their church campus.

Last month, Houston County Circuit Judge Chris Richardson rejected a request by the UMC to dismiss the departing church’s lawsuit, reported WTVY, and rejected a request to remove the UMC General Conference from the litigation.

Since last year, large numbers of congregations in the United States have decided to leave the UMC, largely because of concerns over the theological direction of the denomination and its ongoing debate over homosexuality.

Although the UMC presently bans the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, many theological progressives have refused to enforce or follow these rules.

On the same day that the Alabama-West Florida Conference voted to allow 193 churches to leave the UMC, the UMC Western North Carolina Conference voted to allow 192 congregations in their regional body to leave the denomination.

According to numbers compiled by the United Methodist publication UM News, as of Tuesday, 2,996 churches have left the UMC since 2019, with most voting to do so in 2022 and this year.  

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