Nearly 100 congregations in Ohio have left the United Methodist Church amid the denomination's ongoing debate over homosexuality, joining thousands of other churches in the United States that have done the same.
At a special session of the UMC West Ohio Conference held last weekend, 96 churches were granted their request to disaffiliate from the mainline Protestant denomination.
The session was held at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, with around 800 clergy and laity in attendance. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer presided over the gathering.
In addition to the 96 disaffiliations, the session also dealt with budgetary issues, recommending the sale of two camping properties and electing additional delegates to the UMC General Conference.
"We were empowered to make some challenging decisions," said Palmer in a statement. "We brought glory to God by the patient, honest, and respectful way we engaged one another. In spite of the challenges, we have come through, our future is open because God is able."
In June, the West Ohio Conference voted to allow 172 congregations to disaffiliate from the UMC, having allowed 80 churches to leave the denomination last year. It is estimated that, at present, the regional body covering over 50 counties has a little over 600 member congregations remaining.
"Our calling is to serve this present age, even if there's a storm … in the midst of passing over. One of our storms is disaffiliation," Palmer said in a June statement.
"That's not a blame thing; it's just the way it is. It's in the book. We've given a lot of attention to it. Let me be clear. It is not our mission. We gave attention to it. We'll finish up what there is to be finished up."
Over the last couple of years, more than 6,600 congregations have voted to leave the UMC amid the debate over whether to change the denomination's rules to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships.
Although efforts to change the UMC Book of Discipline to allow these things have failed, many progressive leaders within the denomination have refused to follow or enforce the rules, prompting large numbers of theologically conservative churches to leave.
A little under half of the 6,600-plus departures in recent years have gone on to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church, a conservative alternative to the UMC that was launched last year.
In September, the GMC announced that it has member congregations in all 50 states, with approximately 3,200 churches belonging to the nascent denomination.