By Jessica Brodie
In six weeks, a number of United Methodist churches in South Carolina will go before Annual Conference to have their vote to leave the denomination approved by the body.
While information about these churches is being kept confidential by the conference until June—including the total number of churches and the church names—some churches have been vocal about their decision to leave. Still others have been just as vocal about their decision to stay in the UMC, citing a commitment to disciple-making regardless of differences.
Conference offers help
For those South Carolina United Methodists who would like to remain with the UMC but their local church has voted to separate from the denomination, conference leaders have released a set of resources.
“Engaging Possibilities,” found at https://umcsc.org/engage, is designed to serve as a starting point for those in search of a new place to worship.
• A link to the UMC’s Find-A-Church tool, which identifies local UMCs based on a ZIP code or address;
• Tools to begin the process of transferring church membership to another congregation or temporarily to a UMCSC district; and
• Opportunities to learn about new expressions of church in the South Carolina Conference.
The UMCSC team developing Engaging Possibilities, led by the Rev. James Friday, director of Congregational Development, and the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, director of Connectional Ministries, will continue to identify needs of those searching for a new church home and additional resources to address those needs.
“Whether you are an individual or a group of people searching for a new church home, we will be there for you during this transitional and prayerfully transformational time,” Friday said. “As you consider your next faithful steps, specific pathways among which you may choose will continue to emerge as the conference, districts and local churches come together to reflect The United Methodist connection at its best.”
For those churches who wish to leave, it is unclear whether they plan to join another denomination or remain independent. Many have not yet voted on this next step and are in a time of discernment about it now. Others have already determined they plan to remain independent and not affiliate with a denomination. As of press time, the Advocate knows of 54 churches who plan to leave of the 958 total churches in the conference (see list at end of article).
The Rev. Al Shifflett said the charge he pastors, the St. Paul-Tillman Charge in the Walterboro District, not only voted to separate from the UMC but to remain independent. They plan to call themselves St. Paul Methodist Church and Tillman Methodist Church, keeping the name “Methodist” in respect to John Wesley.
Waiting on General Conference
Other churches have voted not to pursue disaffiliation from the UMC. Some have said they are hopeful the UMC will pass more inclusive language at General Conference 2024 regarding sexuality, while others are hoping the UMC will continue its current stance. Currently, the UMC Book of Discipline states that, while persons of homosexual orientation are persons of sacred worth who need the ministry and guidance of the church, the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Bethel UMC in Charleston, Union UMC in Irmo, Smyrna UMC in Moncks Corner and Shandon UMC in Shandon have all told the Advocate they plan to wait and not consider disaffiliation until after General Conference.
Still others are voicing their stake in the UMC definitively, such as Washington Street UMC, Columbia.
In a release circulated April 10, the church council of Washington Street issued a statement that they are committed to remaining part of the UMC.
“We do so with the strong expectation that the 2024 General Conference will amend the Book of Discipline by removing all harmful and prohibitive language relating to LGBTQIA+ persons, and thus allow the ordination of LGBTQIA+ clergy and marriage ceremonies for LGBTQIA+ couples performed by UM clergy and/or conducted in UM churches. These amendments to the Book of Discipline will enable the UMC to reflect the inclusive love of Jesus Christ more faithfully and more fully live out its motto of ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors.’ Washington Street UMC continues to be a welcoming and affirming space for all of God’s children, including our LGBTQIA+ siblings.
“Our congregation will also be a safe harbor and place of healing for persons whose churches are separating from the UMC.”
Washington Street further noted they voted this way to affirm that their congregation is committed to being and making disciples of Jesus Christ above all else.
“We agree with our founder, John Wesley, that God’s love and this denomination are big enough to include everyone and that we can work out our differences better while being together and ‘agreeing to disagree’ as we seek to contextualize ministry for today’s world,” the statement added.
A number of resources abound for churches wanting to “stay UMC” or learn more about what this might look like. Ask the UMC created a series of frequently asked questions, which they compiled on a webpage titled “Ask The UMC Series: Is The United Methodist Church Really…?” Several other resources are also available, including a campaign titled #BeUMC that strives to help people reclaim their United Methodist identity.
Resources include the following:
• Is The United Methodist Church Really…?: https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-series-is-the-umc-really
• Committed to The UMC: https://www.UMC.org/committed
• Fresh Expressions, a subset of Discipleship Ministries: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/equipping-leaders/fresh-expressions
• Resource UMC: https://www.resourceumc.org
• That We May Be One: https://twmbo.org/
• Adam Hamilton: A Future with Hope: https://vimeo.com/734455031
• Beginning Again, A Guide for Remaining in the UMC: https://www.umc.org/-/media/umc-media/2023/02/17/21/27/beginning-again-guide-v3.ashx?la=en
Who are the churches who have voted to separate?
While the list is incomplete, here are the churches on the S.C. Traditional Methodist Lay Leadership Group list who have voted to separate from the UMC:
· Aldersgate UMC, North Charleston, Charleston District
· Bells UMC, Abbeville, Anderson District
· Bethel UMC, Andrews, Marion District
· Bethel UMC, Oswego, Hartsville District
· Bethlehem UMC, Union, Spartanburg District
· Beulah UMC, Camden, Hartsville District
· Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville, Greenville District
· Catawba UMC, Catawba, Rock Hill District
· Cedar Swamp UMC, Kingstree, Florence District
· Chapin UMC, Chapin, Columbia District
· Concord UMC, Bishopville, Hartsville District
· Covenant UMC, Greer, Greenville District
· Cypress UMC, Ridgeville, Walterboro District
· Dalzell UMC, Dalzell, Hartsville District
· Earle UMC, Andrews, Florence District
· Ebenezer UMC, Hemingway, Florence District
· First UMC, Hemingway, Florence District
· Foster’s Chapel UMC, Jonesville, Spartanburg District
· Grace Community UMC, Fort Mill, Rock Hill District
· Lebanon UMC, Eastover, Columbia District
· Lewis Chapel, Sumter, Hartsville District
· Liberty Chapel UMC, Florence, Florence District
· Lyman UMC, Lyman, Spartanburg District
· Mauldin UMC, Mauldin, Greenville District
· McLeod Chapel UMC, Rembert, Hartsville District
· Millwood UMC, Kingstree, Florence District
· Mount Vernon UMC, Hickory Grove, Rock Hill District
· Mount Vernon UMC, Greeleyville, Florence District
· Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, Columbia District
· Mount Tabor UMC, Ridgeville, Walterboro District
· Mountain View UMC, Taylors, Greenville District
· New Zion UMC, New Zion, Florence District
· Pinopolis UMC, Pinopolis, Charleston District
· Pisgah UMC, Florence, Florence District
· Point Hope UMC, Mount Pleasant, Charleston District
· Pond Branch UMC, Gilbert, Columbia District
· Reidville Road UMC, Moore, Spartanburg District
· Salem UMC, Salem, Anderson District
· Sharon UMC, Greer, Greenville District
· St. Andrews UMC, Easley, Anderson District
· St. Matthew UMC, Bishopville, Hartsville District
· St. John UMC, Rembert, Hartsville District
· St. Mark’s UMC, Sumter, Hartsville District
· Trinity UMC, Alcolu, Florence District
· Trinity UMC, Andrews, Marion District
· Trinity UMC, Ridgeville, Walterboro District
· Walnut Grove UMC, Roebuck, Spartanburg District
· Wayne UMC, Georgetown, Marion District
· Wesley Chapel UMC, Union, Spartanburg District
· Zoar UMC, Greer, Greenville District
Additional churches (these notified the Advocate directly):
· Cattle Creek UMC, Rowesville, Orangeburg District
· Roebuck UMC, Roebuck, Spartanburg District
· St. Paul UMC, Ridgeland, Walterboro District
· Tillman UMC, Tillman, Walterboro District
Let us know
Is your church staying in the UMC? Or has your church decided to leave? Contact Editor Jessica Brodie at [email protected] or 803-786-9486 ext. 338.