A discernment team for Mountain Brook’s Canterbury United Methodist Church recommended the over-4,000-member congregation remain in the United Methodist Church (UMC) despite over 500 traditional Methodist churches in Alabama choosing to leave the denomination so far.
Canterbury’s Church Council requested the organization of the Discernment Team in March to recommend to the church council whether Canterbury should disaffiliate from the UMC under rule 2553. It is made up of 11 Canterbury members nominated by the congregation. It also includes senior pastor Keith Thompson.
Rule 2553 facilitates a process for UMC churches to disaffiliate from the denomination while retaining church property.
Church property has been an issue for seceding churches in other denominations, such as the Anglican churches that left the Episcopalian Church over the last few decades.
When traditional methodists dominated the General Conference in 2019, they created rule 2553 to allow theologically liberal churches who want to ordain practicing homosexuals and minister same-sex weddings to leave the UMC, which continues to uphold a traditional standard of marriage in its Book of Discipline.
However, as progressive factions grew more powerful within the UMC, traditional churches started taking advantage of the rule, fearing the progressives would make changes to the Book of Discipline during the next General Conference in 2024.
Now that many traditional churches have left, the progressive voting block is even larger in proportion to the overall number of members in the denomination.
Churches have until December 31 to disaffiliate using rule 2553. Next year, they may be unable to leave while retaining church property, even if progressives change the Book of Discipline in their favor.
However, churches in the North Alabama Conference (NAC), such as Canterbury, must submit paperwork by August 1 for their vote to disaffiliate to be confirmed by the NAC at its final special called conference in September.
Though the UMC split has generally revolved around social issues, namely homosexuality, some traditional methodists have suggested that the divide is even deeper and fundamentally has to do with underlying theological debates about the authority of scripture and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The Canterbury Discernment Team did not take a position on same-sex marriage. Rather, it acknowledged that the issue was “complex” and has been widely debated.
“Throughout the discernment process, Canterbury UMC has revealed itself to be a profoundly committed church, filled with people holding theologically diverse perspectives, yet consistently and deeply rooted in the foundation of salvation that is given through the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ,” the recommendation read. “Through these deep roots of faith, Canterbury has become a faith community that is made stronger, not weaker, by its differences.”
According to the church website, Canterbury’s Church Council will meet on Monday at 6 p.m. to vote on this recommendation.
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