An official rule permitting congregations to part ways with the United Methodist Church (UMC) while retaining church property is about to expire, but the effects of the split are far from over.
Churches in Alabama continue to face divisions even after failing to leave the denomination under the rule. Some congregants who were members of UMC churches left to form their own independent churches or joined other Methodist denominations like the Global Methodist Church (GMC).
According to the GMC’s Emerald Coast Conference Director of New Church Start-Ups Rusty Hutson, new churches have formed from churchgoers who left congregations like Auburn United Methodist Church (AUMC) and First United Methodist Church Montgomery (FUMC), both of which remained in the UMC.
These new congregations, Hutson said, were formed by previous members of UMC-loyal churches who did not agree with their church’s decision or did not feel their former congregation had the opportunity to consider disaffiliation from the UMC.
“You do have those who the vote didn’t go the way they wanted [it] to,” he explained. “You got some who are pulling out because their pastor does not want to talk about disaffiliation, and they’re not going to vote, or the trustees denied their application for disaffiliation.”
Hutson said these new churches are willing to worship in church buildings owned by different denominations or even other locations, such as private houses. One congregation in Auburn is meeting in a private school gym.
“This is what being a church is all about,” he added. “A church is not about a building. It is about the people.”
Charlie Satterwhite was recently installed as the pastor of a new GMC church in Jackson. His congregants are former members of various UMC churches in the area and now worship in a Baptist church on Main Street.
Satterwhite insisted that though his congregants were excited, the split had not been easy.
“Some of them have been angry,” he said. “Some of them have been upset. Some of them have been hurt. One woman was in tears talking about it. So, there’s a lot of emotions there, kind of like the ones for a funeral. And some of them say, ‘Well, I was raised in the [UMC] and feel like we’re betrayed.”
Nevertheless, Satterwhite said he’s confident in his new congregants, dubbed them the “cream of the crop,” and lauded them for their various vocations and ages. He also insisted the church is performing well financially and intends to begin a fund to acquire its own building very soon.
Alan Broome is the pastor of a new GMC congregation in West Mobile, formed from congregants that formerly attended Tanner Williams UMC, where he was senior pastor when the church came within five votes of obtaining the majority necessary for disaffiliation through the rule.
“It was a very difficult thing for our people,” he said. “Probably the core group of people who were faithful there on an every Sunday kind of basis would have carried that majority, but we had some that had been members long ago and returned to vote in a different way than probably our current majority … [The members of the core group] were just very convicted that they cannot continue in an organization that it appeared that it was increasingly moving against the sanctity of marriage from historic Christian norms.”
“Very quickly, they began to sort of coalesce around what would be our next steps,” he continued. “... They began to meet that next Sunday in the home of one of our church members and very quickly had a very large group or a large percentage of the group that had been in our church that wanted to worship there and for about three months, we worshiped in a home that was just a wonderful thing.”
Broome’s congregants chose to name their new church “The Living Word Church,” which he said now has from 90 to 100 members and more who aren’t official members but attend worship services on Sundays.
“It’s a blessing even though the church is in a different place,” Broome said. “We don’t have the facility. We don’t have the building. But the church is the people and the Kingdom of God, and we have had such amazing worship services and just such a sweet spirit and our people have seen God’s blessings whether it be in a home that we’re worshiping in or in another setting … we’ve seen the Lord continue to bless us, so we’re thankful to be where we are.”
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