UPDATE: Methodists allow 2 Georgia churches to leave denomination

In November the Conference will consider disaffiliation votes for the other 185 churches who want to leave

The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church gave the OK Friday for two Augusta churches to leave the denominational fold.

The two churches, Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church and Mann-Mize United Methodist Church, had earlier filed a lawsuit to restart the disaffiliation process after conference leadership halted the process last year. A Columbia County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Augusta churches.

Their lawsuit was separate from one filed by 185 other North Georgia churches who also want to disaffiliate. A Cobb County judge ruled last month in the second lawsuit, saying the conference could not stand in the way of the churches’ plans to hold votes on leaving. The vote for the 185 churches will be held at a special meeting in November.

There were several issues raised from the floor, including why the conference was voting now when the churches were still in negotiations and the reason for disaffiliation.

Harold Buckley Jr., conference chancellor, said the conference was required by the court to hold the vote on the Augusta churches, saying refusing to do so could put the conference in contempt. He said it was not an area in which the conference had any discretion “whatsoever.”

A motion to reconsider the disaffiliation was introduced later in the day but failed.

The churches that leave the conference will pay any unpaid apportionments or fees owed to the North Georgia UMC conference for the 12 months immediately prior and an additional 12 months, plus unfunded pension obligations, direct-bill obligations and other liabilities. Each church will depart with church assets and property, according to a conference spokeswoman.

Credit: Shelia Poole

Credit: Shelia Poole

A woman who answered the phone at Trinty on the Hill said the staff was told by the pastor not to comment,

About 2,000 people are attending the three-day 2023 annual conference in Athens that ends Saturday. Topics include ways to help historically Black UMC churches and introduction of a program to help United Methodists congregants who want to stay if their church decides to disaffiliate. The conference is the first presided over by Bishop Robin Dease, who arrived in January.

During the day attendees learned about two initiatives that could help those United Methodists who want to stay with the denomination although their local churches are leaving.

Lighthouse Congregations, one instance, exist in several states and is a network of existing churches that providing a welcoming space for congregants who want to stay United Methodists, but their churches have disaffiliated or closed.

“We opened the opportunity here and there was immediate interest,” said conference spokeswoman Sybil Davidson. She said those going to Lighthouse churches may stay there temporarily or permanently. “This is just a way to say we’re here for you.”

The Lighthouse initiative was created by the United Methodist Church.

Additionally, attendees learned more about the Harbor UMC, the congregation’s first exclusively on-line church.

The Harbor UMC, will be led by the Rev. Jessica Blackwood, and was launched earlier this year by the North Georgia Conference.

Davidson said services are held on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

It’s a virtual space for people who might have health issues, have moved and people who have been displaced because of disaffiliations or church closure or don’t want to attend a brick-and-mortar church in person.

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