Hindman Methodist Church in Knott County joined the new Global Methodist Church. (Photo courtesy of Hindman Methodist Church)
Jacob Wilson, 28, was excited about starting as the pastor of a church in southeastern Kentucky on June 25. Both he and his new congregation in Hindman had left the United Methodist Church in opposition to gay clergy and same-sex marriage — and joined the new Global Methodist Church.
Subscribing to conservative views of the Bible, Global Methodists are a Christian Protestant denomination claiming 1,700 congregations and 1,200 clergy around the world.
In Kentucky, more than 100 of the almost 400 congregations that have left the United Methodist Church have been approved, applied or are inquiring about joining the Global Methodists, said Mike Powers, a retired United Methodist pastor in Lexington who is spearheading efforts to attract disaffiliated churches to the new denomination.
The exodus of Kentucky Methodists was confirmed earlier this month when delegates to the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church approved requests from 286 churches to leave the denomination that was formed in 1968. About 80 churches had already left in recent years.
Departing congregations ranged from Kings Mountain in Lincoln County, whose members voted 2-0 to disaffiliate, to Centenary in Lexington, where the vote was 511-45 in favor of disaffiliation.
Wilson’s 75-member Hindman Methodist Church voted 42-1 to leave the United Methodist Church.
Split helping spawn a new denomination
Wilson resigned in May as reporter/editor of The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg to move with his wife, Taylor Wilson, to the Knott County seat. He formerly had been an associate pastor at Versailles United Methodist Church and pastor at Camargo in Montgomery County and Mt. Carmel in Fleming County. He was with the United Methodist Church for about six years and then departed, last attending New Harvest Assembly of God in Frankfort.
“The Global Methodist Church is a very loving denomination and welcomes everyone,” said Wilson. “The United Methodist Church has had too many disagreements.”
“I do not bear ill will for the LGBTQ community. Gays and lesbians will be welcome at Hindman, a church that follows the Bible,” Wilson said.
Global Methodist doctrine does not recognize same-sex marriages or the ordination of openly gay Methodists. Neither does the United Methodist Church, which, during years of debate surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, has repeatedly upheld its stance against gay clergy and same-sex marriage. That debate came to a boil in 2016 after hundreds of United Methodist clergy came out as gay and a Western regional conference elected the first openly lesbian bishop, sparking the conservatives’ push to leave the church.
350 remaining churches will start ‘new faith communities,’ says bishop
Remaining in Kentucky are about 350 United Methodist Church congregations with more than 84,000 members.
United Methodists may revisit the LGBTQ+ debate next year in Charlotte at the worldwide General Conference, the denomination’s highest legislative body, the first since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The disaffiliation movements started in January 2020 with a proposal to split the denomination. The disaffiliations picked up momentum with a decision by the United Methodist Church to allow congregations to keep their property if they voted by two-thirds of participating members to disaffiliate.
Despite the church losses, Leonard Fairley, resident bishop of the Louisville Area, which includes the Kentucky Conference in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, is optimistic about the denomination’s future.
“Our remaining members are ready to step into a new reality with a leaner, nimbler desire to ‘Show the Love of God’ – which just happened to be the theme of our 2023 gathering,” Fairley said in a letter to Kentucky media. Fairley also wrote, “We will show the love of God by starting new faith communities throughout Kentucky.”
Emotional and sad
Powers, 70, who recently was named president pro tempore for the Global Methodist Church’s MidSouth Region that includes all of Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, mid-to eastern Tennessee and two counties in Georgia, said the church is “a fellowship of like-minded people.”
Powers has served as a pastor in Hindman, Science Hill, Harrodsburg, Morehead, State Street in Bowling Green and at First Church in Lexington.
Citing passages from the Bible’s New and Old Testaments, the Global Methodist website says:
- “Human sexuality is a gift of God that is to be affirmed … within the legal and spiritual covenant of a loving and monogamous marriage between one man and one woman.”
- “We are saddened by all expressions of sexual behavior, including pornography, polygamy, and promiscuity, that do not recognize the sacred worth of each individual or that seek to exploit, abuse, objectify, or degrade others.”
- “While affirming a scriptural view of sexuality and gender, we … are committed to being a safe place of refuge, hospitality, and healing for any who may have experienced brokenness in their sexual lives.”
Both Powers and Wilson said the disaffiliation process has been emotional and sad but believe the Global Methodist Church is the way to go.
“I respect my friends in the United Methodist Church who do not agree with me. They are not my enemies,” Powers said. “This is a great honor for me after retiring to work on this. I just want to connect people to the love of Jesus.
“Everything we have been doing for the Global Methodist Church in the last seven months has been voluntary. We think what we are doing is that important.
“I consider all this is about my children’s children’s children.”
United Methodism in Kentucky: Showing the Love of God
When United Methodists from throughout Kentucky met in Owensboro June 4-7 for our 2023 Annual Conference, much was made in news reports about the 286 churches that were approved to leave the denomination.
We understand the interest.
Since 2019, the Kentucky Annual Conference has provided five opportunities for churches to disaffiliate under a provision created by the United Methodist General Conference for congregations that are conflicted over the denomination’s long-standing debate over human sexuality.
However, there is more to our identity as United Methodists than difficult times of discernment around human sexuality. We want to share who we are with others.
So, who are United Methodist, exactly?
In Kentucky, we have United Methodist churches that span almost the entire commonwealth.
Together, the United Methodist denomination in Kentucky is 350 churches with 84,000 members. These are churches and people committed to Christ and to the communities where they serve.
Our remaining members are ready to step into a new reality with a leaner, nimbler desire to “Show the Love of God” – which just happened to be the theme of our 2023 gathering.
As United Methodists, both clergy and non-clergy, we are called to serve as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We will show the love of God by starting new faith communities throughout Kentucky.
The Rev. Dr. Kimberly Pope-Seiberling, the conference’s director of New Church Development, sees a bright future: “Every week I hear about a new church who wants to do something new and dream big dreams.”
We show the love of God by feeding the hungry. Our churches provide sit-down meals, sponsor food pantries, and participate in backpack ministries.
We show the love of God by rebuilding communities after natural disasters. Between the December 2021 tornadoes in western Kentucky and the July 2022 flooding in eastern Kentucky, The United Methodist Church has answered the call to help our neighbor by providing housing in the immediate aftermath and by sending teams to help with rebuilding.
We show the love of God by introducing children and youth to that love at summer camp. Each year our two camps, Loucon and Aldersgate, host hundreds of children and teens. We also robustly support the mission of the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Homes.
We show the love of God by nurturing young adults with our campus ministries. We have active ministries on 11 campuses in Kentucky, including all eight public universities.
We show the love of God in our churches by nurturing all age groups with spiritual growth and fellowship opportunities.
What fuels this desire in United Methodists to continually show the love of God? It is in our DNA; we are a denomination and a people born of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
We hold the same beliefs about Jesus that the church has held for 2,000 years.
We share the same core beliefs that nondenominational churches, Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and others have about Jesus. The Bible is the most significant voice and guide of the way we live as Christians. We believe that God gave us the Bible and that it shows us the truth and trains us to live God’s way.
We believe that God loves everyone. As John 3:17 says, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
We know that God gives us his love and power so that we can have a relationship with him. We believe that Jesus is God’s Son, and that Jesus is God. We believe that he died for everyone, came back to life, went back to heaven, gave us his Spirit, and will return for the church.
We also believe everyone is welcome in church. Whatever our past, Jesus has a place for each of us in his family and at his dinner table. We strive to follow the “3 simple rules” of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder: “Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.
United Methodists are a people of a dynamic, sustaining movement. We bless those who have recently left the denomination, and we pray that Jesus will bless their ministries. Meanwhile, for those of us who remain United Methodist, there is much work to do.
For those interested in connecting with a United Methodist church in Kentucky, go to www.kyumc.org/churches.
Leonard Fairley has been bishop of the Kentucky Annual Conference since 2016.
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