Edenton United Methodist Church is facing a split from within.
Earlier in the month, church members undertook a vote on whether or not to split, or “disaffiliate,” from the greater United Methodist Church. The vote was in response to a recent impasse among Methodists across the country in regards to the ordainment or involvement of individuals identifying as LGBTQ.
A total of 60 percent of United Methodist members in the United States said same-sex relationships should be accepted, according to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center. Methodists are the third largest Christian denomination in the country, following the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention.
During a 2019 special session of the General Conference of the UMC, a paragraph in the Methodists’ Book of Discipline was adopted that laid out disaffiliation rules for local churches over “issues of human sexuality” as it pertains to LGBTQ persons, seemingly expecting a split among churches to happen as a result of an upcoming conference vote.
In that same session the “Traditional Plan” was passed and the current statements about same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ individuals did not fundamentally change.
The vote to change the Book of Discipline in regards to LGBTQ persons has not actually happened yet, as it has been delayed multiple times. It should be noted that some petitions to change the language of this matter have failed in the past.
According to reporting from NPR, church leaders believe that the action at the 2019 special session will lead to a vote at the next UMC general conference – one which could remove rules from the Book of Discipline that would forbid ministers from presiding over the marriage of a same-sex couple as well as remove language barring the ordination of an openly gay person.
The rules later state that local churches have a limited opportunity to disaffiliate if they wish, with the process having to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2023.
A decision to disaffiliate from the UMC must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
In Edenton, the vote was held Oct. 5 with around 120 members present after a unanimous vote from the church council to hold a disaffiliation conference. Two-thirds of those members needed to vote to either remain with the UMC or to disaffiliate, according to Pastor Valerie Tyson.
The vote to disaffiliate ultimately failed by a margin of less than ten votes, keeping Edenton UMC within the confines of the greater Methodist Church.
Pastor Tyson said she could not release the official vote tally, citing holy conferencing.
“The vote was taken by church members within the context of holy conferencing and I will respectfully keep that information within that context,” Tyson said.
Multiple church members have confirmed to the Chowan Herald that “dozens” of members have reportedly left the church in response to the failed vote to disaffiliate.
Some former members took their feelings to social media to express anger and disappointment, while some who remained explained the resulting situation vividly – choir numbers dropping substantially, a sanctuary that feels emptier and even the shedding of tears during the Sunday service after the vote.
In response to the ongoing split in the UMC, a new “Global Methodist Church” has emerged from the ashes of the deadlock, formed on May 1. The GMC aims to be more conservative and traditional in its values, according to the church webpage.
A GMC organizer told Carolina Journal recently that while issues of human sexuality have been the most debated and public leading up to the split, they are only a symptom of a much deeper problem for those aligned with the Global Methodist movement.
Edenton United Methodist has now joined a long list of fractured church families across the state as a result of the disaffiliation vote. At least 260 churches in the state’s 779-church eastern conference have voted to disaffiliate or plan to next year.