After losing hundreds of churches to LGBTQ rift, United Methodists charter a new one in Erlanger

By: - August 18, 2023 5:07 pm

Bishop Leonard Fairley will participate Sunday in chartering a new United Methodist Church in Erlanger largely made up of members whose former congregations chose to leave the denomination. (Photo submitted)

As hundreds of United Methodist churches in Kentucky left the denomination over LGBTQ+ issues, some members disappointed with the disaffiliation wanted to remain United Methodists.

Despite the rift, Kentucky United Methodist Bishop Leonard Fairley remained optimistic about the denomination’s future, predicting that United Methodists “will show the love of God by starting new faith communities throughout Kentucky.”

Fairley on Sunday will help celebrate the first new faith community to officially join the United Methodist fold, Antioch United Methodist Church in Erlanger.

Fairley will preach at the 10 a.m. “chartering service” at the Receptions Event Center on 1379 Donaldson Highway. The media have been invited.

Worship service at Antioch. (Photo submitted)

Most of Antioch’s 75-member congregation belonged to other United Methodist churches but were not in the voting majority when those churches decided to leave the United Methodist Church (UMC). It took at least a two-thirds vote of a church’s participating members to disaffiliate. Those not seeking disaffiliation basically were left without a church.

Other churches may follow the route of Antioch, said Cathy Bruce, communications director for the Kentucky United Methodist Conference, noting that Northern Kentucky was “especially hit hard by disaffiliations.”

In Western Kentucky, she said, more than 50 people last month, also upset that their churches disaffiliated from the UMC, attended the launch of the United Methodist Church of Trigg County in Cadiz, but it has not yet scheduled to charter with the denomination.

“Sometimes it takes up to a year to get a church chartered,” Bruce said.  “Antioch has been meeting since March but just now is getting chartered.” Chartering involves making sure the church understands the various guiding points and beliefs of the United Methodist Conference.

Bruce also said another church has plans to form in the Lexington area made up of United Methodists who want to remain United Methodists.

History of the split

The disaffiliation movements started in January 2020 with a proposal to split the denomination over “fundamental differences” concerning homosexuality.

The disaffiliations picked up momentum with a decision by the UMC to allow congregations to keep their property if they voted by two-thirds of participating members to disaffiliate.

The exodus of Kentucky United Methodist churches was confirmed in June 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.

A total of 369 United Methodist churches in the state conference with about 84,000 members decided not to leave the denomination. The Kentucky Conference of the UMC covers most, but not all, of the state.

Hindman Methodist Church in Knott County joined the new Global Methodist Church. (Photo courtesy of Hindman Methodist Church)

In the Kentucky conference, 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, a more conservative Christian denomination.

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.

But the issue has been debated in the United Methodist Church for years.

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.

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.

But for now, the state conference will celebrate the addition of Antioch in Northern Kentucky.

The Rev. Caleb Wheat, who previously served at St. James United Methodist Church in Bowling Green with about 175 members, became pastor od Antioch at the end of June. St. James decided to stay with the United Methodists.

Wheat, 31, said this Sunday’s worship service at Antioch will include a special liturgy for chartering churches.  It will be preceded at 9 a.m. by a church “charge conference,” at which church officers will be formally elected to serve as representatives of the newly formed church.

“It is an exciting time for everyone involved with Antioch,” said Wheat.  “We especially want to thank Bishop Fairley for his guidance. Folks here have remained in the faith and in God’s love for all.  They came together after a tough situation to accomplish this together.”

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Jack Brammer
Jack Brammer

Jack Brammer, a native of Maysville, has been a news reporter in Kentucky since 1976. He worked two years for The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville and then from 1978 to 2021 in the Lexington Herald-Leader's Frankfort bureau. After retiring in December 2021 from the Herald-Leader, he became a freelance writer for various publications. Brammer has a Master's degree in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.