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United Methodist Church loses 20% of US parishes in ongoing schism

LGBTQ flag on Methodist church

Joseph Perone | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 07/11/23

The United Methodist Church has seen more than 6,000 parishes disaffiliate since 2019, with more departures expected in 2023.

For over a decade, the leaders of the United Methodist Church (UMC) have been locked in debate over homosexual marriage and ordaining those who identify with the LGBTQ lifestyle. In this context communities have been leaving the UMC in record numbers. 

According to the Associated Press, an estimated one-fifth of UMC parishes in the United States have sought and received permission to disaffiliate. These departures began slowly, in 2019, but many more have since left, with 4,172 parishes reportedly leaving the UMC in 2023 alone. In total, 6,182 parishes have disaffiliated with the UMC since 2019. 

One reason why this shift has taken so long to be revealed could be that departing parishes were uncertain of where they would land without the UMC. That is, until the Global Methodist Church (GMC) was created, in 2022. Many of the UMC’s lost parishes are signing up to join this new denomination, formed by former members of the UMC, but others are going independent or even joining other Protestant denominations. The GMC has stated that it has already registered 3,000 parishes.

With so many parishes leaving – and more expected to leave after the UMC’s annual conferences later this year – UMC officials are expecting budgetary cuts in 2024. Many of the communities that have left the denomination were quite large, and their donations funded many of the UMC’s works both in the US and abroad. It should be noted that parishes that decide to leave the UMC must first compensate the organization for the parish’s property and previous financial obligations. 

The AP notes that these departures are expected to leave progressives at the helm of the UMC, who are expected to propose changes to church law which allow for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordinations. These efforts, however, may be blocked by foreign members of the UMC. The AP notes that while there are an estimated 6.5 million Methodists in the US, there are at least that many in Africa as well.

As far back as 2014, Aleteia has reported on the Methodist church in Africa’s fidelity to traditional Christian teaching on sexual behavior, with marriage recognized only as a union between one man and one woman. Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, suggested that the 2024 General Conference will include conversation on providing overseas churches a means to disaffiliate from the UMC. 

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