HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) – Members of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church voted Sunday to leave the denomination because they disagree with its stance on LGBTQ+ issues in marriage and the clergy.
Wesley confirmed that Wednesday in a statement to WGHP that said that, through a “supermajority” vote, “the congregation of Wesley Memorial has chosen to side with the traditionalists in Wesley Memorial’s denomination who have sought to uphold the traditional teaching on marriage and ordination.”
Wesley, founded in 1856 and one of the largest, oldest and most revered members of UMC in North Carolina, thus took the first step in a process established under the Book of Discipline to disaffiliate from the Western North Carolina Conference of UMC, as have hundreds of other Methodist churches in the state and thousands across the country.
That won’t be completed until the disaffiliation is approved by delegates to a special called session of WNCUMC on Nov. 4 and the fulfillment of a series of financial obligations in the following months.
“We will continue to focus on the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to forgive, cleanse, and empower people to live as fully devoted Christ-followers,” the Rev. Jeff Patterson, Wesley’s senior pastor, said in the statement. “We are a congregation where everyone is welcome. No matter who you are, you belong here.
“Together, we grow in grace and, as Methodists say, we ‘go on to perfection.’ We are a very imperfect people, but we are God’s people doing God’s work in this work. We will continue our transformative work in the High Point community and beyond. Unity is not unanimity or uniformity.
“True unity is a gift from the Holy Spirit. God takes our diverse personalities and gifts and weaves us into a beautiful tapestry. Together, we seek spiritual transformation and growth.”
Membership Secretary Isabel Cruz Valencia and Director of Communications Melody Emerson had told WGHP on Tuesday that 71.85% of the 856 members who voted – that was said to be 41.4% of eligible members – were in favor of disaffiliation. The threshold required by the UMC is 67%. The church’s website sets overall membership at about 2,500.
That vote to disaffiliate, the church’s statement said, “focused on the agreement with the traditional stand in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and Wesley Memorial’s disagreement with the Western NC annual conference’s rejection of that stand. Over recent decades, division in the United Methodist Church over same-sex marriages and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals has grown.”
This confrontation between progressive and more conservative congregations has been emerging for decades and has become international in scope. Church leaders for those who leave have said they think UMC’s interpretation of the Book of Discipline is not consistent with biblical principles. Nearly 6,200 congregations have made this decision since 2019, USA Today reported.
WNCUMC Bishop Kenneth Carter on Monday acknowledged Wesley’s vote, saying the church “has been one of the stronger congregations in Western North Carolina, sending people into ministry, nurturing disciples and serving the community. The vote to depart is based on a paragraph in our Book of Discipline that seeks to restrict LGBTQ persons from full participation in the church. … United Methodist doctrine has not changed, and we continue to work toward being a church that shares the love of God with all people.”
In May members of the Western Conference approved the exit of 192 churches that had about 36,183 members (some 15% of all members in the NC Western Conference). Wesley would be a much larger member of North Carolina’s second-largest denomination. About 249 congregations in Eastern North Carolina also disaffiliated last year.
Requirements to leave
Wesley will be required to meet a set of financial and legal obligations approved in February 2022 under Paragraph 2553 that requires churches to pay two years of apportionment payments (which are their scheduled contributions to the denomination), retirement contributions for clergy and their spouses and reimbursement of grants the church may have received in the past 10 years.
In May roughly 69 churches from the Piedmont Triad were required to pay about $3.7 million collectively to disaffiliate. They also must remove UMC logos and signs, which for some has included replacing stained glass.
When that is fulfilled, UMC would release the property deeds to the churches’ facilities that were held under the “trust clause” stipulated in their affiliation agreements.
Last November, 36 churches sued about those financial arrangements, but an Iredell Superior Court judge dismissed the case because of the First Amendment separation of church and state. They are said to be considering an appeal.
“We move faithfully and fearlessly into the future knowing that our God will ‘do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen,’” Patterson said, citing Ephesians 3:20 (NIV).