Two large local United Methodist congregations in the Mississippi Annual Conference recently voted to leave the United Methodist denomination. According to Walter Fenton, “Ninety six percent of the parishioners at Getwell Road UM Church in Southaven and 99 percent at The Orchard UM Church in Tupelo supported separation on Sunday, February 5.” Getwell church averages over 800 people in worship. The Orchard church on average sees an attendance of over 2,700 people to its weekend services.

The churches and their staff have been considering taking the step for some time. Church members were invited to consider the possibility of departure. Most notable is what Fenton says about how those congregations arrived in this place where thousands of members are now leaving the United Methodist church. According to Fenton,

Both pastors cited their congregations’ frustration with the denomination’s long and acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Going forward, they said their congregations want to focus on kingdom matters so they are removing themselves from unproductive battles that distract them from their larger missions. Collier cited the Judicial Council’s (essentially the denomination’s “Supreme Court”) impending decision regarding the validity of the Western Jurisdiction’s July election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as the denomination’s first openly gay bishop. “Either way, the Council’s decision is just going to prolong a bitter and divisive debate,” Collier said. “We don’t want to be part of the argument anymore. We have more important things we need to do in the Tupelo community and well beyond it.”

Other churches in the Mississippi Annual Conference are contemplating similar action.

The decisions at Getwell and Orchard came before the judicial Council decision regarding Western Jurisdiction-appointed lesbian bishop Karen Oliveto. In the April 28 decision, the United Methodist Church’s high court ruled 6-3 that while her lesbian status was in violation of the Church’s policies governed by the Book of Discipline, she could still retain her position as Bishop and the Church’s Western Jurisdiction would handle the matter. The Western Jurisdiction includes virtually every United Methodist church in the Western half of the United States. It issued the short video response above reacting to the April 28 decision. For more information, see Fenton’s original article at Largest Congregation in Mississippi Parts Ways with UM Church.

The UMC recently commissioned a “non-binary” person who uses “they” pronouns as deacon: Transgender person commissioned as deacon.