Almost 300 congregations in Pennsylvania have left the United Methodist Church due to its internal debate over homosexuality, joining thousands of others across the United States.
The UMC Western Pennsylvania Conference voted to ratify the disaffiliation votes of 298 congregations at a special session held in Erie on Wednesday.
Western Pennsylvania Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, who presided over the special session, thanked the regional body’s Board of Trustees for their work overseeing the process, noting that it was “difficult work to do.”
“It has been challenging spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. These persons before you were here for such a time as this,” stated Moore-Koikoi. “Because of their deep spirituality, their deep faith, because of their trust in God, they were able to carry out this painful process.”
Moore-Koikoi went on to tell those gathered at the special session that they “have a choice” on how they can handle the split of the regional body.
“As we go from this place, we can choose bitterness, envy and selfish ambition. Or we can choose wisdom that is pure and peaceable … gentle and willing to yield … full of mercy and good fruits without a trace of hypocrisy and partiality,” she continued.
“I am begging us to show the world who God is through the actions of those who are remaining in the conference and the actions of those who have disaffiliated. Begging us to show the world who God is through how we will love each other and choose the better way.”
Earlier this week at a gathering held at Ball State University, the UMC Indiana Conference overwhelmingly approved a motion to accept the disaffiliation votes of 174 congregations.
Indiana Bishop Julius C. Trimble explained in an interview posted on Facebook shortly after the 174 churches were let go that he hopes the denomination "will not look back, but look forward."
"There may become a point in the future where we have an opportunity to work closely even with some churches that have disaffiliated," Trimble said.
"But right now, I think, we need to focus on the main thing of 'making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,' and leaning into the places where there are exciting ministries happening all across the state of Indiana."
Over the past several years, the UMC has experienced divisive debate over whether it should change its official stance barring the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex romantic relationships.
Many churches, frustrated by the constant debate and the refusal of many UMC leaders to enforce the rules, have decided to leave the mainline Protestant denomination.
According to UM News, as of Thursday morning, around 5,800 congregations have left the UMC over the debate, with around 3,800 of that number having disaffiliated thus far this year.