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Area congregations leave United Methodist Church
Rural churches split from UMC over theological differences
Salem UMC, Bushton
Salem UMC, Bushton

A dozen United Methodist churches in the Golden Belt are among conservative Kansas congregations leaving the denomination over theological matters, including same-sex marriages and ordaining openly LGBTQ clergy.

According to Todd Seifert, communications director for the Great Plains Conference office of the United Methodist Church in Topeka, the exodus of 97 congregations in Kansas and 59 in Nebraska was authorized late Wednesday, May 31, at an online business meeting of clergy and lay people with council voting rights.

Area congregations include Methodist churches in Bazine, Burdett, Ellsworth, Jetmore, Kanopolis, Lucas, Luray and Ness City; First United Methodist Church in McCracken; Amherst UMC at Waldo; Otterbein UMC at Russell and Salem UMC at Bushton.

The congregations requested to split from the main church. Conservative congregations have been able to prepare to leave the denomination without losing their property since a 2019 special session in St. Louis, Missouri, in which the global United Methodist Church agreed it will allow the ordination of openly LGBTQ pastors and it will allow same-sex marriage.

That doesn’t mean the remaining congregations must allow same-sex wedding ceremonies, Seifert said. “Each church will still decide what their wedding policies are.” Likewise, the bishop won’t assign an LGBTQ pastor in a congregation where he or she is not welcome.

Whether a congregation stays in the global church or disaffiliates, it is possible that local communities won’t notice a visible change in that church’s ministries and operations, Seifert said.

As pastor of one of the congregations seeking disaffiliation, Burdett Pastor Linda Doyle noted that the conference provided a six-month grace period for her church to comply with a set of disaffiliation requirements. The grace period begins on July 1 and ends on December 31 of this year. If the requirements are not met by that time, their request for disaffiliation will be rescinded, she said.

About 16-17% of the churches in the Great Plains conference are disaffiliating from the global denomination, leaving about 750 churches.

Additional reporting by Mike Gimore