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‘A solemn day’: 51 Illinois churches leave UMC amid homosexuality schism

The United Methodist Center of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Center of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church | Courtesy United Methodist Church Illinois Great Rivers Conference

Fifty-one congregations in Illinois have disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church amid the mainline Protestant denomination’s ongoing schism over its stance on sexuality.

At a virtual special session on Saturday, Illinois Great Rivers Conference delegates voted 313-47 to approve the disaffiliation resolutions of 51 churches seeking to leave the mainline denomination. 

Bishop Frank J. Beard spoke in advance of the vote, calling the occasion “a solemn day” because those leaving the UMC “have played an important role in the life of this conference and in the life of many of us.”

“We are grateful and thankful that the United Methodist Church is strong, and we will continue to move forward,” said Beard. “Our conference vote today ratifying disaffiliation will not change the impact that these pastors and churches have had upon us and upon the life of this annual conference.”

“We offer our mutual appreciation and our prayers for one another. Though today’s task is a heavy one, we know through Scripture and through the history of the Church that we are not the first community of God’s people to separate or to experience difficulties.”

Bishop Frank J. Beard of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church speaks at a special session on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.
Bishop Frank J. Beard of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church speaks at a special session on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. | Screengrab: www.igrc.org

Beard said the schism within the UMC is “a sign of our own human brokenness” and that “all of us bear some responsibility for arriving at this particular moment of separation.”

In October, the conference announced that 51 congregations were completing the disaffiliation process and were expected to have resolutions to be voted on in December.

According to the conference, 24 of the 51 churches are located in the South (Kaskaskia-Cache River) District, while 12 are in the East (Embarras-Iroquois River) District, eight are in the Central (Mississippi-Sangamon River) District, four are in the West (Spoon-LaMoine River) District and three are in the North (Vermilion-Illinois River) District.

“These congregations met the Oct. 2 deadline for having a church conference approve by a vote of two-thirds or more to disaffiliate and have deposited funds in escrow with the Conference Chancellor to pay their unfunded pension liability assessment, apportionment payments for 2023 and 2024 and the 10 percent surcharge for release of the denomination’s trust clause enabling the congregations to assume ownership of their church property,” the conference stated in the announcement.

Over the past few decades, the UMC has faced a divisive debate over whether to remove language from its Book of Discipline banning the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

Although efforts to amend the Book of Discipline have failed, many progressives within the denomination have refused to follow or enforce the rules, leading many theological conservatives to leave the UMC.

According to numbers compiled by UM News accessed Tuesday morning, approximately 7,500 congregations have left the UMC since 2019, with nearly 5,500 departing in 2023. 

Thousands of disaffiliating churches have affiliated with the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination launched last year.

On the same day that the IGR Conference held its special session, the UMC Florida Conference held a special session in which delegates voted 557-36 to approve the disaffiliation of 74 churches.

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