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Florida Churches Among First to Begin Exit From UMC to New, Conservative Denomination

UMC
Florida UMC Foundation in Lakeland, Florida. Screenshot from Google Maps

(RNS) — A statement posted on Facebook Tuesday (May 3) by the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Florida chapter caught the attention of the Florida bishop for the United Methodist Church: “107 Florida Methodist Churches Depart United Methodist Church,” it began.

The Facebook post came just a few days after the launch of the Global Methodist Church, a new conservative Methodist denomination formed, in part, by the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a coalition of self-described “orthodox, evangelical” United Methodists.

“We are not leaving The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church has left us,” Jay Therrell, president of the WCA-Florida, said in a written statement, blaming a “decades-long rise of theological liberalism, the selective enforcement of our denominational laws, and a strong surge in the promotion of partisan politics.”

But the bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church took to Facebook the next day to remind Florida United Methodists that leaving is not that simple. The departure of any church or clergy from the denomination is not instantaneous, he said, but must first go through its annual conferences.

“No significant changes occur in our relationship apart from the actions of these authorized bodies,” Bishop Ken Carter said in a letter posted on the Florida conference’s Facebook page.

Florida’s annual conference will meet June 9-11 in Lakeland, Florida — the first time it’s gathered in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago.

Bishop Ken Carter. Photo via FLUMC.org

Bishop Ken Carter. Photo via FLUMC.org

In the past three years, about 1% to 2% of churches in the Florida and Western North Carolina conferences have formally started the process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, according to Carter, who is resident bishop of both conferences.

“We’ve had a small number of churches that have done the work to disaffiliate from the denomination — and every church is important,” he told Religion News Service.

“We anticipate there will be more churches who will disaffiliate, and we’ve worked hard to send a message that all are welcome in the church and that the processes are intended to be open, public and transparent.”

As past president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Carter was one of 16 United Methodist bishops and advocacy group leaders who negotiated a proposal to split the denomination after decades of debate over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists.

Delegates were expected to vote on that proposal, called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, at the 2020 General Conference.

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Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.