Members of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church ratified the disaffiliation requests of 261 of those churches on Nov. 18 during a special called session at the Classic Center in Athens.
"I realize how sad this time is for many, including myself. I just hate that those who are leaving us, I will not have the opportunity to meet or to be with," said conference leader Bishop Robin Dease.
Conference members did not ratify the requests of four congregations following discussion by members of the Annual Conference. Those churches are The Fountain UMC at Sugarloaf in Duluth, McEachern Memorial UMC in Powder Springs, Trinity UMC in Rome, and Griffin First UMC.
A 'solemn day'
The 261 churches that are leaving the conference account for a sizable percentage of its nearly 700 churches. Their exit marked a "solemn day," church leaders said in a news release.
The disaffiliations become effective on Nov. 30. After that, the departing churches may no longer use the "United Methodist" name nor the denomination's logo. They will have 30 days to fulfill their financial obligations to the UMC, including purchasing church property if their congregation chooses to keep it. And they're prohibited from pursuing further litigation against the conference.
Hundreds of congregations in Georgia and across the country sued for the right to have their disaffiliation requests heard.
The church disaffiliations in North Georgia come after 193 congregations once belonging to the UMC South Georgia Conference left the denomination in May, also due to the ongoing debate over LGBTQ issues.
A church divided
In 2019, the United Methodist Church strengthened its bans on gay clergy and same-sex weddings, prompting a backlash from more progressive congregations. Some churches viewed the measures as punitive and discriminatory and left the denomination because of them. Many progressive UMC church leaders refused to enforce the rules. That, in turn, upset the more conservative congregations. They're now leaving the denomination because of its failure to uphold the church's stated belief that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."
As of early August 2023, over 6,200 of the UMC's 30,000 congregations in the United States had been approved for disaffiliation since 2019, according to the UMC's website.
In a briefing ahead of the Nov. 18 vote, Bishop Dease told conference members,
"This is a difficult season in the life of the church and we all are grieving, and yet we know who the healer is."The North Georgia Conference followed Dease's lead in looking ahead to the future. The news release stated:
"I just want you to be reminded and to please know and to be assured that the sun will rise on November 19. And on December first and on January first, and on each of those mornings, like every morning, I will give thanks for the United Methodist Church and our connection."
"In December, approximately 440 North Georgia Conference churches will continue the work of fulfilling the mission of the United Methodist church in our communities and beyond and anticipates opening several new United Methodist churches next month."For a list of disaffiliated churches in several districts of North Georgia, go here.