By Jessica Brodie
With an as-yet-unknown number of South Carolina churches voting to seek separation from The United Methodist Church this winter, the question becomes “what next?”
As of press time, the South Carolina Conference of the UMC had not released a tally of the number of churches reporting a two-thirds vote to separate from the denomination, nor the names of these churches. But it appears at least 50 of the 958 total churches in the conference have done so, and possibly far more.
The conference told the Advocate it has decided not to release the names or the total number of those churches who participated in the Local Church Discernment Process and voted to separate from the UMC.
“To protect the integrity of the Local Church Discernment Process, the trustees of the Annual Conference, who oversee the fulfillment of the requirements to separate, are treating information about local churches participating in the process as confidential until it is complete,” said Dan O’Mara, conference communications coordinator.
However, a group called the South Carolina Traditional United Methodist Lay Leadership Group reports that of the 122 traditional churches on their list, 50 have voted to separate from the UMC, and several others not on this list told the Advocate they also voted to separate. (See list at end of article.)
It’s too early to understand the full impact of the separating churches on the South Carolina Conference, but from analyzing 2021 statistics, of the nine largest-membership churches in the UMCSC (those with more than 2,000 professing members), four of these have voted to separate from the UMC. This includes Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, the largest UMC in the state with 5,109 members reported as of the end of 2021. It also includes Chapin UMC, Chapin, with 2,539 members; Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville, with 2,479 members; and Covenant UMC, Greer, with 2,232 members.
The Rev. Jeff Kersey, Mount Horeb’s senior pastor, called that church’s vote, held Feb. 26, “an incredible expression of unity.” The decision to separate came in at 97 percent, with 1,534 “yes” votes to separate from the UMC and 42 “no” votes.
“I was proud of my lay people,” Kersey said, noting the discernment process was a lay-led initiative, and their Way Forward team spent more than a year praying and discerning the future of the church within the denomination.
He said once the Local Church Discernment Process was released in December, they were “ready to roll because of their hard work.”
He expressed deep appreciation to the bishop and the conference board of trustees for providing the path and a plan.
“We are mindful of those churches that are not able to separate because they can’t afford the cost of it, but most churches have gotten into the process and done their homework, and now they’re discovering it’s not as expensive as they thought it was going to be.”
Now the matter will go before Annual Conference members in June, when they will vote whether to close the local church and transfer its assets to a new entity.
As the process explains, “A simple majority vote in favor of the resolution is the final step before the local church separates from The United Methodist Church, maintaining its property.”
O’Mara said no decision has been made as to whether members of the Annual Conference will consider separation resolutions individually or as a group.
Also next for these churches is deciding what they wish to do regarding denomination. For example, do they wish to re-affiliate with another denomination, such as the newly formed Global Methodist Church, or remain independent? Most of these churches are undergoing another discernment process to determine this.
Becky McCormack, lay leader at Chapin UMC, Chapin, urged any church seeking information about disaffiliation or separation to visit the South Carolina Traditional Methodist Lay Leadership Group’s website, https://www.standingonscripture.org
“That’s the reason the S.C. Traditional Methodist Lay Leadership Group was formed in the first place, just to help churches get the conversations started and then to provide support and share information throughout the process,” McCormack said.
What was the Local Church Discernment Process?
These churches completed the new Local Church Discernment Process, a process created by the annual conference and announced just before Christmas to enable churches to pray and then hold a churchwide vote about leaving the UMC if their members believe the denomination has not upheld its stated doctrine on issues of human sexuality.
To be eligible to have their church vote go before Annual Conference this June, churches had to be in full communication with their district superintendent; complete an intentional, 30-day discernment process; satisfy financial obligations, including all unpaid apportionment giving and unpaid salary and benefits due to clergy; and satisfy or transfer of debts and other legal liabilities of the local church.
Then, a churchwide vote had to be taken before March 1 that indicated two-thirds of professing church members present agreed to formally declare the church can no longer continue to function as a UMC.
You can read about the full process at https://www.umcsc.org/discern
Who are the churches who have voted to separate from the UMC?
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
—Provided courtesy of the S.C. Traditional Methodist Lay Leadership Group
If any other church would like to have their name added to this list of churches who voted to separate from the UMC, contact Editor Jessica Brodie at [email protected] or 803-807-0018. Also, please let us know if there are errors; we strive for accuracy.