Mixed emotions — including grief, frustration and relief — were on display Saturday at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, where hundreds of delegates gathered to approve the departure of dozens of local churches from the denomination.
41 churches received approval from the North Texas Conference to leave the United Methodist Church during a special session Saturday morning. The move comes as congregations across the country seek to secede from the denomination before the end of 2023 over disagreements over same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.
“Some breakaway churches will become independent and others will unite with other denominations,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said. during his sermon before the approval vote. “This is a difficult day.”
After a stance against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy members was upheld by a slim majority in 2019, many conservative congregations across the country believe the decision is not being enforced, and many are seeking to secede from the denomination.
However, some refuse to abandon LGBTQ inclusion, pointing to a range of conflicts with the wider church community, from economics to theology.
The UMC allows churches to leave while retaining their properties and assets as long as certain steps are taken before the end of 2023, under a ruling also approved in 2019 called section 2553 of the Book of Discipline.
Local congregations must first obtain a two-thirds majority to leave before being approved by their annual conference or its regional governing body. Churches must also pay two years’ distribution to the UMC as well as any unfunded pension obligations.
A vote of approval
Hundreds of people gathered for the Saturday session, where clergy and lay delegates of the North Texas Conference voted on the inconsistencies.
Bishop Saenz spoke of years of discussion about LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC that led to today’s vote, and of similar meetings around the country.
“Disagreement and strife have always been part of human history,” he said during his sermon before the vote. “Despite disputes and groans and strife, the church has found a way to move its mission forward undeterred.”
Saenz said young people are increasingly rejecting Christianity, and he talked about meetings he’s had with parents of LGBTQ children. The bishop asked the church to reach the younger generation with a message that is “inviting and affirming”.
“The young millennials and the Z generation … they are not many in our pews,” he said. “Significant percentages of these new generations will give up on the church, and many will give up on God.”
He also spoke of the grief of losing other community members. He expressed disappointment that churches chose separation rather than “staying at the table to engage in dialogue and prayer and maintain our unity and the bond of peace.”
The bishop concluded his sermon by saying that even in difficult times, the church moves forward.
“The Church will survive our missteps,” he said.
Fox. Chris Yost, chairman of the North Texas Board of Trustees, said the past few years have been years of conflict, pain and struggle for the UMC.
“This violence inflicted on our communion is an affront to our collective witness,” he said.
Before the vote, the Rev. Macie Liptoi, associate pastor at First McKinney UMC, questioned the disaffiliation agreement of St. Andrew UMC in Plano.
To leave the denomination under section 2553, local churches must cite “reasons of conscience” regarding LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, “or the actions or inaction of its annual conference related to these issues that follow.”
When St. Andrew announced its intention to affiliate in October, it said in a statement: “The fact is that we can protect our finances, our property and our pastors by moving in a new direction.”
Yost said the board of trustees approved the church’s termination because of the “actions or inaction” clause of Section 2553, and said the board concluded St. Andrew met all the requirements to disaffiliate.
Plano megachurch St. Andrew is the second largest congregation in the conference. Initially, the executive committee made the decision to leave the UMC, The news previously reported. In a written statement, St. Andrew said The news its congregation voted 98.6% on February 21 to disaffiliate, meeting the two-thirds requirement.
St. Andrew senior pastor Rev. Arthur Jones is the son of Bishop Scott Jones, who recently resigned from his position as bishop of the Texas Conference and joined The Global Methodist Church, Religion News Service reported. Global Methodist split from the UMC in 2022 and opposes LGBTQ ministers and same-sex marriage, according to the news outlet.
In a statement, St. Andrew’s said the church will remain independent until further notice.
“St. Andrew is exploring new affiliations with other mission-focused Methodist and Wesleyan churches, both large and small, to grow God’s kingdom,” the church said.
After the discussion on St. Andrew’s, they unanimously voted by an overwhelming majority to approve the departure of all 41 parishes in a single, sweeping vote. A conference spokesperson said around 1,300 conference delegates were eligible to vote.
Thirty-nine of the separations will take effect on March 31. Korean North Central Fellowship UMC in The Colony will officially disaffiliate at the end of December, and Tyler Street UMC in Dallas will separate at the end of April.
The North Texas Conference, part of the South Central Jurisdiction and one of the six regional conferences in Texas, had 276 churches before the vote. Of the 41 congregations approved to leave on Saturday, 13 are from the Eastern District, 16 from the Northwest District, eight from the North Central District and four from the Metro District.
In September, 81 churches in the Central Texas Conference, which includes Fort Worth and Tarrant County, were approved to disaffiliate in a special session. The conference currently has 185 congregations, and at least two more have voted to leave, including megachurch White’s Chapel UMC in Southlake. Those votes will seek approval in June, a spokesperson said earlier The news.
In December, the Houston-based Texas Conference gave approval to 294 of its nearly 600 congregations, and the Lubbock-based Northwest Texas Conference approved the departure of 145 of its roughly 200 churches.
Rev. Liptoi, associate pastor of First McKinney United Methodist Church, said Saturday’s vote has been long-awaited. She said that while “things will never be the same”, both sides feel a sense of peace.
“We have to move on now,” she said.
Liptoi, whose congregation lives with the UMC, said she looks forward to seeing how the denomination can become more “affirming” and “welcoming.”
“We actually have to start over,” she said. “I think the new United Methodist Church will be an exciting place to be.”