Alma, Arkansas, Separate Methodist Church of Approved Denomination
HOT SPRINGS – Alma Methodist Church was one of 38 churches in the state that requested disaffiliation from the denomination Saturday at a special session of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
In a manual delegate vote on Saturday afternoon, churches that had more than 90% of members wishing to leave the denomination were approved for disaffiliation. For Methodist churches with less than 90% approval, delegates voted on disaffiliation for those churches individually.
Methodists spoke on Saturday of feeling hurt, grief and even anger as they braced for a possible parting of ways with churches leaving their own houses of worship as well as their debts.
United Methodist churches that have asked for a split could join more conservative ones World Methodist Church, church leaders report. Alma United Methodist Church would leave the denomination Dec. 31, 2022, according to an agenda posted for Saturday’s special meeting.
Bishop Gary E. Mueller of Arkansas agreed with the district superintendents and called the meeting from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, November 19 at Horner Hall in the Hot Springs Convention Center.
Mueller, in his opening devotional, said he felt like “the body of Christ” was being torn apart.
“It’s a significant difference of opinion in this room,” Mueller said. “There is pain. There are some who are screaming because they think it’s unfair. I know this session can be difficult. But I also know something else. Even in this moment, we can be l “church. time when we can show the world the difference that Jesus Christ makes and how we behave and how we treat each other. Even at this time, we can act with a heart of peace instead of a heart of war.
Oklahoma Bishop Jimmy Nunn was present at the Arkansas meeting on Saturday. In Oklahoma, 29 Methodist churches were given the green light to leave in October.
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On the agenda for the special meeting was the request for “ratification of disaffiliation agreements with various congregations of the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church.” Also on the agenda was consideration of adopting a process “for the transfer of Arkansas Conference churches to one of the Pan-Methodist denominations or to another denomination.”
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Issues around abortion and sexual orientation, including LGBTQ rights, have been at the forefront of the schism.
At Alma United Methodist Church, the vote in favor of the split was 91%.
The Reverend Bud Reeves, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Fort Smith, said the church voted in June to remain in the United Methodist Church. Reeves spoke at the meeting, saying he thinks a vote should be taken on each church asking for a split instead of an overall vote.
“We came from all over the state, and this is a big gathering,” Reeves said.
There were about 600 Methodist delegates present on Saturday.
The executives got emotional talking about a heartbreaking split. Conference Chancellor Michelle McGee explained how churches will retain their own properties and debts. And that every departing church has been advised to consult a lawyer.
She said there was a spirit of cooperation despite the disagreements.
The Reverend Blake Bradford, the conference dean of the nominating cabinet, said it was a difficult time for Methodists in Arkansas.
“I have seen pain, sorrow and sometimes anger. And I myself have been heartbroken. So I have again and again and again in prayer asked God to guide me to lead appropriately.”
Bishop Mueller said in his opening devotional that he thinks the meeting could end before the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football game against the University of Mississippi at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The comment elicited a few laughs, and perhaps some signs of relief. But he then said there were no guarantees and the meeting would continue until the work was completed.
“We might not be done in time for the Hogs’ kickoff tonight, but I promise we will be for their game against Missouri next week,” Mueller said shortly after a lunch break. Delegates were looking to use tablets and other devices to vote electronically at the meeting. But with Wi-fi problems, the votes were counted by delegates raising their hands.
All current Arkansas Annual Conference clergy, including appointed local pastors, were permitted to attend the special Saturday meeting.
The 38 churches that filed for disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church on Saturday were:
Alma, Amity, Ashbury/Magnolia, Bellefonte, Bethesda Campground, Bland Chapel, Bruce Memorial, Cabot, Christ/Texarkana, Dalark, Delight, Fordyce First, Grace/Conway, Heber Springs First, Hebron/Carlisle, Heritage, Hinton, Holly Springs /Sparkman, Holly Springs/Texarkana, Jonesboro First, Kibler, Mount Tabor, Mount Zion/Lonoke, Mountainside, Parkers Chapel, Piney Grove, Saint John/Hope, Saint Mark/Eldorado, Saint Paul, Eldorado, Saint Paul/Searcy, Searcy First, Siloam Springs First, Smyrna, Sparkman, Stuttgart First, The Journey, Washington and Westside.