A Louisiana megachurch has voted to leave The United Methodist Church, joining dozens in the state in disaffiliating from the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States amid an ongoing debate over homosexuality.
St. Timothy on the Northshore, a congregation based in Mandeville that boasts approximately 6,000 members, held a disaffiliation vote on Sunday.
According to the church’s website, 858 ballots were submitted, with 789 voting to disaffiliate and 69 voting against leaving the UMC, equalling around 92% in favor of disaffiliation.
St. Timothy was originally chartered in September 1975 and held its first worship services in a local warehouse. By 1979, the church moved to its present location. In 2006, the church merged with a local congregation known as Church of the Servant.
St. Timothy is one of 47 congregations in Louisiana that have decided to leave the UMC in recent months, according to the New Orleans-based CBS affiliate WVUE.
“It has been an interesting time for the United Methodist Church,” Rev. Van Stinson, the director of clergy excellence for the UMC Louisiana Conference, told WVUE.
“There are 5,200 people out there. Some of them are looking for a new home, and we will ensure that there will continue to be a United Methodist Church in Mandeville on the North Shore for them to continue worshiping in.”
On the same day St. Timothy voted to leave the UMC, a prominent United Methodist congregation in Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate.
Christ Church Memphis, once considered “a flagship congregation” for the UMC Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference, voted 941-101 to leave the denomination.
For its part, the Tennessee-based regional body already approved the disaffiliation votes of 60 congregations in June.
Over the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in an internal debate over whether to allow the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
The UMC Book of Discipline officially labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits both practices. Efforts to amend the Book of Discipline at the denomination level have been voted down at General Conference.
However, many progressive leaders within the UMC have refused to enforce or follow the official rules, believing that resistance will eventually lead to the denomination changing its stance.
In May, the Global Methodist Church officially launched, with scores of UMC congregations across the U.S. voting to join the theologically conservative alternative in recent months.