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Vote set on more Methodist disaffiliations

Dozens more Arkansas congregations have voted to sever ties with the United Methodist Church, hoping to join thousands of others that have already left the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.

The Colors and Seasons of the Church Year [Infographic]  Ashley
The Colors and Seasons of the Church Year [Infographic] Ashley

At a special online session Sunday, lay members and clergy from the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church will vote via Zoom on whether to ratify the decisions.

Nearly all of the congregations seeking disaffiliation this weekend are small.

United Methodist Liturgical Calendar   Christian calendar
United Methodist Liturgical Calendar Christian calendar

As of Friday morning, 60 were listed on the conference’s website, ranging from Warren First United Methodist Church, with average pre-covid Sunday attendance of 205, to Arkansas City United Methodist Church, with average attendance of 3.

At Warren, the congregation voted 97 to 5 on July 23 to disaffiliate, with one member abstaining. At Arkansas City, on Sept.17, the vote was unanimous — 2 to 0.

Liturgical Color Calendar  by United Methodist Publishing
Liturgical Color Calendar by United Methodist Publishing

Conference officials said additional agreements were still being processed and would be added later in the week.

Similar special sessions were scheduled to be held this week in Oklahoma and Upper New York. Roughly 15 other conferences are expected to hold special sessions between now and year’s end.

UMC Liturgical Colors / Parament Colors - Main Street UMC
UMC Liturgical Colors / Parament Colors – Main Street UMC


Paragraph 2553 of the denomination’s Book of Discipline, approved in 2019 at a special session of its General Conference in St. Louis, allowed local churches to disaffiliate if they were dissatisfied with the denomination’s handling of issues such as same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.

Since then, at least 6,410 of the nation’s roughly 30,000 United Methodist churches have departed, according to a tally by the United Methodist News Service.

This year alone, more than 4,400 have dropped the United Methodist label.

“It’s been a much larger exit than both friends and adversaries of [the] exit expected,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a conservative, ecumenical Washington-based think tank.


John Lomperis, the institute’s United Methodist action director and, like Tooley, a supporter of disaffiliation, predicts the final figure will be substantially higher.

“I’d be surprised if it was not north of 7,000 [churches] and I think getting up to 7,100 or 7,200 is definitely within reach,” he said.

Most of those departing agree with the denomination’s existing stand, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” should not be ordained as ministers or appointed to serve.

But the provisions have been ignored in some parts of the country, and efforts to change the Book of Discipline have intensified in recent years.

Closely divided churches aren’t allowed to leave.

Under Paragraph 2553, a supermajority vote by a congregation — two-thirds or more — is required before it can pursue disaffiliation.

Churches that leave are required to pay any outstanding tithes owed to the conference, plus an additional year’s tithes as well as money to cover unfunded pension liability.


The window to leave is closing; Paragraph 2553 sunsets on Dec. 31.

In addition to Warren First and Arkansas City, the other congregations on Tuesday’s list included Bethel (Jacksonville), Bethel (Sheridan), Bull Shoals, Carlisle First, Center Grove (Gurdon), Center Grove Sheridan, Danville, DeWitt First, Diamond City, Ebenezer (Stephens), Fountain Hill, Glenwood, Gravelly, Green’s Chapel, Harmon, Harrell, Hermitage, Hickory Plains, L’eau Fraiz, Lacey, Marmaduke, Marshall, Maynard, Midland, Midway, Mount Ida, New Edinburg, Oak Grove (Searcy), Ola, Pleasant Grove (DeWitt), Philadelphia, Rock Springs (Wilmar), Rockport, Roe, Rushing Memorial, St. James (Mountain View), Silver Hill, Springfield, Sugar Hill, Taylor, Trinity (Warren), Unity, Wagnon, Warren First, Watson, Winslow and Yellville.

All of the above submitted the paperwork by what the conference board of trustees has described as a Sept. 25 “recommended deadline.”

Twelve others completed the steps after that date, but in time for the special session to consider them anyway. They are: Campground (Paragould), Cornerstone (Pleasant Plains), Gentry, Hartford, McGehee First, Mount Tabor, Pruett’s Chapel, Quitman, Rhodes Chapel, St. Paul’s (Harrison), Tillar and Warren’s Chapel.

The agenda for Sunday’s special session is limited to disaffiliation matters and worship.

In a video message, Arkansas Bishop Laura Merrill said meeting by Zoom would allow for “the best stewardship of our financial resources,” and she asked participants to approach the meeting “with a spirit of patience and cooperation.”

The United Methodist Church listed 5.71 million members in 2021, including 113,133 in Arkansas, with average attendance of 1.36 million, including 25,882 in the Natural State.

Since then, the number of Arkansas United Methodist churches has declined, from 612 to just over 500.


Heritage United Methodist Church in Van Buren, once the state’s fourth largest, was among those exiting.

Congregations in Jonesboro, Searcy and Cabot split after the conference declined to ratify their disaffiliation agreements, with majorities in all three instances opting to leave the denomination anyway and start their own independent Methodist churches.

The original leaders of Jonesboro First United Methodist Church have sued the conference and hope to regain access to the building.

The case is set for trial in January.

“This season of disaffiliation has been painful, and it has sapped energy and spirit that could be going toward discipleship and service instead,” Merrill said in her video message.

“I am under no illusion that the end of Paragraph 2553 will be the end of all our troubles, yet I am still hopeful for what lies beyond it,” she said. “If God has called you to continue the Christian life as a part of the United Methodist family, you can be sure it’s for a reason, a purpose, that sparks joy and pours out grace. Discerning that purpose together and living into it will be central to our healing.”


Each congregation seeking disaffiliation has submitted paperwork attesting to the vote and listing its assets.

DeWitt First United Methodist Chirch listed three grand pianos, two oil paintings, an organ, a set of handbells, a John Deere mower, and more than $1 million in checking and savings accounts.

The Arkansas City congregation said it had no personal property of any significance and just $1,404.96 in its bank account.

“This is before the Sept[ember] bills are paid,” its form stated.