A large Mississippi congregation has opted to leave the United Methodist Church over the Mainline denomination's divisive debate over its position on homosexuality.
The Orchard, a Tupelo-based congregation that has an average attendance of approximately 2,700, reached an "amicable separation" late last month with the UMC's Mississippi Annual Conference.
Mississippi Conference leaders explained in an announcement in the regional body's publication The Circuit Rider that the separation had been finalized between the megachurch and the denomination.
"The prior appointed clergy at The Orchard have voluntarily surrendered their credentials and are no longer United Methodist ministers. The Orchard Church has ownership of its property and will continue their ministry in their satellite locations," noted the announcement.
"The superintendent will be working with those members who wish to remain United Methodist to find them a church home. We believe we have reached an agreement that honors the ministries of the Mississippi Annual Conference and The Orchard Church."
The Christian Post reached out to the Mississippi Conference and The Orchard for comment on Thursday. While neither wanted to provide details regarding the process of separation, they both said the negotiation was amicable.
The conference told CP they had done their "due diligence in the negotiations with The Orchard" and refused to comment further.
Bryan D. Collier, founder and senior pastor of The Orchard, explained to CP that "per our agreement with the annual conference" they did not want to do anything "that further distracts or fuels the debate."
"That being said, the only comment I can make at this time is that we are grateful for the peaceful way that the Mississippi UMC engaged with us through the withdrawal process," said Collier.
"We are now moving on from this matter, focused on ministry, praying for our UMC brothers and sisters in Christ."
In February, members of The Orchard voted overwhelmingly to leave the UMC due to the Church's intense debate over whether to change its official biblical position that homosexuality is a sin.
"The tally at the Tupelo church was 1,025 in favor of withdrawal, two against and four abstentions," reported United Methodist News Service earlier this year.
UMNS also noted that Collier likely supports the theologically conservative side of the debate, as he holds a leadership position in the recently formed Wesley Covenant Association, which is a group of evangelical United Methodists.
The Orchard is not the first United Methodist congregation to leave due to the ongoing debate within the Church over homosexuality.
In 2015, Wesley Church of Quarryville, Pennsylvania, voted overwhelmingly to leave the UMC, paying their regional body approximately $100,000.
"The primary issue for us leaving revolved around biblical authority. Wesley Church believes and affirms that God's Word is fully inspired and inerrant and fully authoritative on all matters pertaining to our lives," said Wesley Church Associate Pastor Chris Lenhart in an earlier interview with CP.
"We were indeed disappointed by the, 'peripheral' decisions coming from the denomination, but saw them as symptoms of a greater issue."