By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—One of South Carolina’s largest United Methodist churches has voted to pursue disaffiliation from the denomination when the time comes.
It is thought to be the first and only church in the state to do.
On Oct. 30, Buncombe Street United Methodist Church, Greenville, held a special church conference presided over by Greenville District Superintendent Rev. Jim Dennis. Those in attendance had the option to vote either to pursue disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church “when specific requirements are known and approved by the bishop, South Carolina Annual Conference and the South Carolina Annual Conference Board of Trustees,” or vote to remain affiliated with the UMC.
The body voted 667-306—more than a two-thirds majority—to pursue disaffiliation.
The results are posted on the church website at https://www.buncombestreetumc.org/about/way-forward-task-force.
In a statement from the Rev. Brian Gilmer and the pastoral staff of Buncombe Street UMC, the church noted, “During our recent church conference meeting, we worshipped together, prayed together, listened to one another and shared our perspectives with each other. We also took another step in the ongoing conversation about the future of Buncombe Street United Methodist Church.
“Regardless of where we stand on what lies ahead for us as a church, we know that God is with us and that he loves us and calls us to love one another. We also know that our mission to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ has not changed. We are still called to be the church.
“Our prayer is that, amid all of the anxiety and the unknown, we don’t lose sight of these truths.”
According to the church website, the vote arose out of the Buncombe Street UMC Way Forward Task Force, which had a goal to create an educational program available to all church members in anticipation of General Conference 2022. When General Conference was rescheduled to 2024, the church council expanded the membership of the Task Force in May 2022. Those added were almost exclusively lay leaders serving on boards and committees of Buncombe Street.
The objective of the Way Forward Task Force was to educate the congregation on the issues facing the UMC as they relate to Buncombe Street and to facilitate a fair and open discourse so members were informed prior to the special church conference Oct. 30.
In preparation for the special church conference on October 30, the Way Forward Task Force hosted six educational town hall style meetings in Sisk Hall. These meetings were recorded, and the replay is available at https://www.buncombestreetumc.org/about/way-forward-task-force.
Annual conferences in the United States are not legally permitted under current church law to disaffiliate from the UMC, per a ruling by the UMC Judicial Council in May 10 (Decision 1444).
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the UMC, said Para. 2553 in the Book of Discipline exists as a path to disaffiliation for local churches who wish to consider this.