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Illinois megachurch leaves UMC amid LGBT debate, retains ownership of campuses

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

A theologically conservative multi-campus megachurch based in Illinois has finalized an amicable separation from the United Methodist Church, joining a recent wave of congregations that have exited the mainline Protestant denomination.

Christ United Methodist Church of Fairview Heights, which boasts of having more than 2,000 members, reached a separation agreement with the UMC Illinois Great Rivers Conference. The church, founded in 1953, was once the largest congregation in the conference. 

According to a joint statement Wednesday, the church agreed to pay the conference an undisclosed sum in return for maintaining control of the property of its four campuses. The church will remove all references to the UMC from its property, including the denomination's "Cross and Flame" logo. 

The settlement became official on Sunday. 

The Rev. Shane Bishop, the senior pastor of the now-named Christ Church, said he is thankful that both sides avoided a potentially lengthy and costly legal battle.

“We thank our brothers and sisters in the Conference for this ultimately amicable and peaceful resolution and look forward to forging a new Christ-centric path as Christ Church,” Bishop stated.

Conference leader, Bishop Frank Beard, said that the amicable negotiation was an “effort to honor Christ” and recognize that “we were on two different paths.”

“To conclude in the best interest of all, a peaceful separation was warranted,” Beard said. “I believe we, even in separating, have honored Jesus Christ.”

The Christian Post reached out to Christ Church for additional comment. However, a response was not received by press time.

Christ Church’s decision to leave the UMC comes as many other UMC congregations — both theologically conservative and theologically liberal — have recently decided to exit the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

The UMC plans to hold its next general conference in 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the items on the agenda is a measure known as the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.”

Many expect the protocol, or some version of it, to pass at General Conference and result in the departure of many congregations, especially those that are theologically conservative.

Paul Black, director of communication ministries at the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, told CP that it was “not our position that we would wish any congregation of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference to leave The United Methodist Church.”

“Christ Church made the determination that its differences were irreconcilable and we were able to sit down and work through those differences to an amicable separation,” he stated.

Black explained that there had been another congregation, the United Church of Altoona, which had decided to amicably separate from the UMC earlier this year.

Regarding the 2022 General Conference and what impact it will have on the number of congregations that plan to leave, Black said it was “difficult to assess how many congregations would leave or remain.”

“At this point, the Protocol is proposed legislation that is subject to changes before being acted upon so it would be sheer speculation at this point,” said Black.

In April, a megachurch in Georgia voted to disaffiliate from UMC after its pastor was reassigned to another position within the conference.  

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