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Nearly 200 congregations in Mississippi...

Nearly 200 congregations in Mississippi look to leave the United Methodist Church

By: Frank Corder - June 26, 2023

A gathering at Central United Methodist Church in Meridian in February 2023. (Photo from the Mississippi United Methodist Conference Facebook page)

At issue is a theological split between progressives and conservatives within the denomination.

Since 2019, nearly 6,000 congregations have disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church and more will be added to that number this week from Mississippi.

The Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church is holding its annual conference in Tupelo. Clergy and delegates from across the state will be voting to allow just under 200 congregations to leave their fold. The disaffiliating churches make up roughly 22% of the 852 United Methodist Churches in Mississippi.

At issue is a theological split between progressives and conservatives within the United Methodist Church over the ordination of LGBTQ+, non-celibate clergy as well as the blessing of same-sex marriages within the church that boiled over in 2019.

The progressive majority allowed congregations to vote on whether their church would remain a part of the United Methodist Church or choose to disaffiliate with the denomination under the process outlined in The Book of Discipline, the denominations rules and procedures.

An agreement between the sides was to put forward “substantial funding” to be used to support the launch new conservative Methodist denominations as well as “a smaller amount” to support the launch of new progressive Methodist denominations. However, since the 2020 General Conference was unable to convene because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislation proposed by this group has yet to be voted upon and has been delayed multiple times. It is scheduled to now be taken up in some form at the General Conference in 2024.

But congregations and groups frustrated with both the theologically progressive movement in the denomination and the delays moved forward with disaffiliation, unwilling to wait for General Conference action.

Here in Mississippi, according to a message shared by Mississippi Bishop Sharma Lewis earlier this year, there are two gatherings scheduled this year to process disaffiliations in the Mississippi Annual Conference. One will occur this week on June 28, 2023, during the regular session of annual conference, and the other will take place December 9, 2023, at a called session of annual conference. This means that more Mississippi congregations could be added to the number disaffiliating this week by year’s end.

Currently, any church voting to disaffiliate must do so under the guidance of paragraph 2553 in The Book of Discipline, which sunsets on December 31, 2023.

The Mississippi Conference Board of Trustees previously voted unanimously to allow churches to keep their property by fulfilling covenant agreements for pension, mission shares and all other financial obligations of the departing church, this according to a report from David Stotts, conference treasurer, in October 2022. Some congregations across the country looking to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church are facing much more strenuous requirements from their state conferences.

It is expected that those congregations leaving the United Methodist denomination could join a new umbrella denomination such as the recently formed Global Methodist Church, a more conservative Methodist denomination borne out of the split within the United Methodist Church. Other congregations may seek another affiliation or remain unaffiliated and non-denominational.

This week’s split of the United Methodist Churches in Mississippi comes at a time when both membership and attendance are declining. According to the United Methodist Church Online Directory and Statistics, between 2019 and 2021, the most recent data available, the membership in the Mississippi conference has fallen by 13,500, or 8.5%, and average attendance has dropped by just over 19,000, or 35%. The Mississippi conference has experienced a negative 4% growth since 2019 as well.

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: