Mt. Bethel and North Ga. Conference reach settlement

Credit: Pamela Symonette

Credit: Pamela Symonette

The trustees of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and Mt. Bethel UMC have reached a settlement to end a dispute that has divided the Marietta megachurch’s congregation.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Mt. Bethel — one of the largest churches in the North Georgia Conference — still planned to leave the UMC denomination as had been suggested when lawsuits began to fly last fall.

The settlement “in principal ... should allow them to return their focus to their true missions,” according to an updated statement Friday from the North Georgia Conference.

No details of the settlement were released.

In 2021, the church’s leadership squared off against the regional administrative body and Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson over, among other things, the reassignment of the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Jody Ray, who was to move to an assignment on the conference staff.

Ray, who became senior pastor in 2016, refused the reassignment and surrendered his credentials. Mt. Bethel leadership then named him CEO and lead preacher. Ray had previously said the church, which is conservative, wanted to leave the denomination.

Ray’s planned successor is the Rev. Steven Usry, the former senior pastor at Sugarloaf UMC in Duluth. Since his appointment, however, he has not been able to lead the congregation, according to the conference.

Complaints filed against the bishop with the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops were later dismissed after the body determined that Haupert-Johnson acted in compliance with the Book of Discipline, which outlines the doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures of the UMC.

In September, the trustees of the North Georgia Conference asked Cobb County Superior Court to pave the way for the entity to seize control of Mt. Bethel’s assets.

Mt. Bethel had between 8,000 and 10,000 members before the dispute began. It has a main campus on Lower Roswell Road in Cobb County and a second location at 2509 Post Oak Tritt Rd. Mt. Bethel is one of nearly 800 churches in the conference.

The UMC has faced internal turmoil for decades over full LGBTQ inclusion.

The Global Methodist Church, a new denomination of theologically conservative Methodists, planned to officially launch earlier this month, a move that was expected for some time.

The 2022 North Georgia Annual Conference will be held June 2-4 in Athens.