As thousands of congregations have voted to leave The United Methodist Church since last year, one megachurch in Alabama has voted to stay with the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook, which reportedly has approximately 4,500 members, voted on Monday to remain with the UMC North Alabama Conference.
According to a statement by Canterbury Senior Pastor Keith Thompson, the church council voted 87-21 in favor of a recommendation from the church's discernment team to remain with the UMC.
"For many, this result comes with joy and relief. For many, this result comes with sadness and disappointment," wrote Thompson. "If this is the outcome you had hoped for, I pray that in your relief you will respond with humility and gentleness, recognizing that there are those in our midst who may be deeply disappointed and hurt."
"If this outcome is not what you had hoped for, please know that your church loves you and that there is a place for you, and everyone, within the Canterbury family. We are better because you are part of this church and hope that you come to that prayer-filled conclusion as well."
Thompson said the congregation's 14-month discernment process "has not been easy" and "tested us in ways we did not expect." The discernment team consisted of Thompson and 11 lay members nominated by the church council.
"But, as with any journey worth taking, our faith in God and trust in Jesus have only grown deeper," he added. "This occurred for one reason and one reason only — the Holy Spirit has been working, is working now, and will continue to do a great work through the people of Canterbury UMC."
Last week, the Canterbury UMC discernment team issued a recommendation, urging the congregation to "remain a local congregation within the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church."
"While the United Methodist Church is not without its shortcomings, the Discernment Team believes that one of the UMC's great strengths is a biblical theology of living out our faith in Jesus Christ for the sake of the world," stated the team.
"The Canterbury UMC Discernment Team sees biblical wisdom in the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church, and we believe our connective-DNA is in large part what makes our church such a life-giving community of faith."
Over the past several years, the UMC has experienced intense debate over its official stance barring the blessing of gay unions and the ordination of people in same-sex romantic relationships.
Although efforts to change the rules at General Conference have failed, theologically progressive leaders within the denomination have often refused to follow or enforce the rules.
In 2019, at a special session of the General Conference, delegates approved the addition of Paragraph 2553 to the UMC Book of Discipline, creating a process for churches to disaffiliate from the UMC. The measure will expire at the end of the year.
Since then, more than 5,500 congregations have voted to leave the denomination, according to numbers compiled by UM News, with over 3,500 doing so since the start of 2023.