Three nearby United Methodist Churches officially disaffiliated from their denomination in June, and more will disaffiliate in August.

As of July 2, McBride UMC in Screven County, Reidsvile UMC in Tattnall County and Claxton First UMC in Evans County no longer have legal ties to the United Methodist Church.

The disaffiliation was approved by the South Georgia Conference on June 6. During the meeting in which 18 total churches disaffiliated, Bishop David Graves offered a prayer of thanksgiving for each church and its ministry, saying, in part, “We feel sorrow in your leaving, yet we rejoice with you in anticipation of this new phase of your life. We will miss your love and support, yet we know you will add much to the lives of those who will be your new church family, as you have added much to our lives.”

Nearby churches currently working through the disaffiliation process are Harmony UMC and Glennville UMC in Tattnall County, Vidalia First UMC and Grace UMC in Toombs County and Union UMC in Evans County.

Conservative Churches are Leaving

Mike Lyons has been the pastor of Claxton First Church, as it is now called, since 2016. He explains their decision saying, “The choice to disaffiliate is about leaving a broken orthopraxy of the United Methodist Church, not to leave the unbroken orthodoxy of methodism.” He cites the 2016 consecration of Karen Oliveto as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

As an openly gay, married pastor, performing same-sex marriages, Oliveto was acting against the denomination’s policies, and her consecration as bishop upset many in the United Methodist Church at the time. Lyons says, “There has always been a diversity and spectrum of core beliefs in the United Methodist Church. We lived with that tension graciously–maybe too graciously.”

The United Methodist Church is a protestant Christian denomination with 12 million members throughout the World. Even before the 2016 consecration of Oliveto, the organization had been struggling around issues of LGBTQ inclusion. Though current policies prohibit same-sex marriages on church grounds and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, the churches leaving are largely those that agree with this conservative stance.

Statesboro Houses the UMC District Office

Statesboro is the home office for the 14-county Northeast District of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. District Superintendent Rev. Stephen Grantham is responsible for over 100 United Methodist Churches in his district. Since taking the job in June of 2021, he has had the responsibility of explaining the disaffiliation process to the mostly small, rural churches under his care. He says, “I’m concerned about a lot of our smaller churches disaffiliating. They are reacting to some things that are not happening. They could be making bad decisions.”

One concern is that they may have difficulty finding qualified pastors. He says, “Our process of vetting pastors is thorough and serves the local church well.”

Grantham is also concerned about congregations becoming isolated. “The decision to disaffiliate is one that should not be taken lightly. Part of our Wesleyan heritage is to be connected to one another and to share in mutual ministries and missions. It is this sharing which many congregations will miss because right now it is a part of our church governance. Many churches will not seek this out once they disaffiliate and this saddens me.”

Grantham spent 40 years as a pastor at various churches in the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and describes himself as a moderate conservative. Though he does not agree with churches who decide to leave the denomination at this point, he says, “It is my hope that any church that disaffiliates would continue to do well.”

When asked to respond to those worried about attending a United Methodist Church in the area with all of this going on, he said, “On a whole, the United Methodist Churches in our area are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, which is our purpose statement.”

The Statesboro Landscape

The largest United Methodist churches in the Statesboro area are Statesboro First UMC, Pittman Park UMC and Brooklet UMC, none of which are working toward disaffiliation at this time.

UPDATED STORY 07/08/22: The story is corrected to reflect that the Harmony UMC that is working through disaffiliation is located in Tattnall NOT Screven. We also listed Union UMC originally as Bulloch, it is NOT Bulloch, but Union UMC in Evans.