Today, Asbury Memorial Church, in Savannah, Georgia announces its disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church, in support of LGBTQ rights. It is believed that Asbury Memorial is the first church in the USA to leave the United Methodist denomination due to its unequal treatment of LGBTQ people. The South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) 2020, which took place virtually on Aug. 15, 2020, voted on Asbury Memorial Church’s (AMC) desire to disaffiliate from the UMC. This legal disaffiliation process has now been completed and Asbury Memorial looks forward to a bright future as an independent non-denominational church.
The request to disaffiliate was called by Asbury Memorial after much deliberation, discussion and prayer. It was triggered by February 2019’s United Methodist Church Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis where a critical vote took place about the controversial issue around LGBTQ bans against clergy and same-sex weddings. 54.5% of the 823 clergy members at this conference, voted to adopt the Traditional Plan which reinforces a United Methodist Church policy established in 1972 stating that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." The Traditional Plan’s success was because of an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas.
To determine the desire of the membership of AMC regarding its relationship with the UMC denomination in light of the passage and Jan. 1, 2020 implementation of the ‘Traditional Plan,’ a Special Called Church Conference was held on Sept. 8, 2019. A majority of the congregation voted to disaffiliate, with 309 members voting in favor and only seven voting against. In support of LGBTQ people, and the United Methodist Church’s ban on same-sex weddings, Asbury Memorial Church discontinued all weddings in the church in February 2016 and is looking forward to resuming these ceremonies, when it is safe to do so after the threat of COVID-19 has lessened in Georgia.
Asbury Memorial Pastor Billy Hester said, “Our LGBTQ members have helped us become a growing, vital congregation in the Savannah community. Asbury Memorial has always been a welcoming, all-inclusive congregation and we are excited about our future as an independent non-denominational church. Our worship and ethos will continue to be based on Wesleyan theology – which is at the root of the Methodist church. However, we are now freer to work closely with other spiritual leaders in Savannah and beyond, and lead the way as the church we want to be: a Christ-centered, forward-thinking, all-inclusive congregation that celebrates the joy of God creatively and is a welcoming and affirming congregation for all. We appreciate the Bishop, District Superintendent, and the members of the South Georgia Conference for understanding our situation and allowing us to take this path.”
Asbury Memorial is continuing with virtual worship and other spiritual support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The newly independent church is planning a series of new initiatives during September to celebrate this new era for the church. These include the receiving of new members and the dedication of the new church, recognition of church members and a special ceremony to recognize couples who have not been able to be married at Asbury Memorial in recent years.
For more information about Asbury Memorial Church and its future plans, please visit www.asburymemorial.org.