Church split in Louisiana: Some staying, some leaving

Published 7:52 am Saturday, June 3, 2023

Ninety-five Louisiana Methodist churches disaffiliated from the First United Methodist Church during a special Conference session held in Baton Rouge Saturday, May 27. Sixty-eight Louisiana Methodist churches disaffiliated at the November 2022 Conference, according to Todd Rossnagel, Director of Communications, Louisiana Conference of the UMC. According to a delegate from a local church that recently disaffiliated, other churches may still choose to disaffiliate through 2023. However, those who do will pay more in apportionment.

Rev. Weldon Bares, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Lake Charles, was present at the meeting.

“This is a sad time for our denomination, but God will bring good things out of it. I pray God’s blessings upon those who felt led to leave the denomination and for God’s blessings upon those of us who are staying, nearly 300 United Methodist churches in Louisiana. I pray that all of our churches will faithfully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Along with every United Methodist Church in Lake Charles, First United Methodist Church will stay in the denomination.

Members of DeQuincy United Methodist Church unanimously voted to disaffiliate, and were among the 95 Louisiana Methodist churches that made their decision official at the May Special Session. Becky Grove is a church delegate, and said not much will change for members and clergy, except the church name, which will now be DeQuincy Methodist Church.

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“It’s not that we don’t love everyone,” she said.  “Everyone is welcome here. Our church doors are open to all,” she said.

The split has been some time in coming. Grove said she felt the undercurrents of change as early as 2018. In 2020, differing opinions regarding church bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy came to a head, and at that time the church announced a plan to split into two branches, traditionalist and progressive.

Theologically conservative United Methodists created a Next Steps Working Group to begin drafting its own “Book of Doctrines and Discipline” in 2018. In 2019, a traditional plan reaffirming the United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage and ordination standards was approved to the dismay of those who disagreed. This led to the formation of the Global Methodist Church which has been described as more theologically conservative with members from across the globe, thus the name.

Churches who disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church do not automatically become a Global Methodist Church, Grove explained. DeQuincy Methodist Church will not.

Disaffiliation comes with a price, literally. The United Methodist trust clause is a statement included in legal documents such as deeds that declare that the property and assets of a local church or United Methodist body are held “in trust” for the benefit of the entire denomination.

Churches that disaffiliate are required to pay an apportionment to the United Methodist Church, what Associated Press reporter Peter Smith described as “essentially church dues for two years plus their share of unfunded pension liabilities. Each state has its own conference and some of those conferences may choose to impose additional requirements. Some are asking for a percentage of the property value of church buildings.”

Grove said churches that left sooner were able to leave for less, naming Welsh Mmeorial Methodist Church in Vinton as an example. Even for a small church such as DeQuincy Methodist Church, the apportionment was significant, $53,000. Total apportionment for the 95 churches that disaffiliated on Saturday was over $3 million.

Westlake United Methodist Church did not vote at all, according to Rev. Amy Castro. The church was unanimous in its decision to not enter into a period of discerning.

“That wasn’t my decision; it was the church’s,” she said. “We are a diverse people of theology, maybe not ethnically, but as far as our beliefs, how we vote, how we see life and how we love Jesus. I am so proud to be the minister of this church, a people united in the love of Christ, his mission, and what they’ve been called to do in Westlake.”

In addition to DeQuincy, churches that disaffiliated at the Special Session include from the Lake Charles/Acadiana District were Ebenezer United Methodist Church, Crowley; Faith Community Church, Crowley;  First United Methodist Church, New Roads; Golden Meadow United Methodist Church, Galliano; Jennings United Methodist Church; Krotz Springs Methodist Church; Melville United Methodist Church; Merryville United Methodist Church, the Methodists of Gueydan; Mt. Vernon Methodist Church, Houma; Palmetto United Methodist Church; Pecan Island Methodist Church; United Methodist Church of the Covenant, Lafayette; and Roanoke First United Methodist Church.

“After today, life will be expressed differently as we depart from one another as some have decided to express their discipleship elsewhere by disaffiliation and some have decided to stay United Methodists. Remember, God is our dwelling place and God is beyond the structures of disaffiliation, affiliation and other expressions,” said Rev. Delores Williamston, bishop of the Louisiana Conference/South Central Jurisdiction.

Bares said, “While I am thankful for the rich and historic tradition of the United Methodist Church, as a believer, my faith, ultimately, is in Jesus Christ, not in a church or a denomination.”

“I know the number of churches that have disaffiliated seems very shocking,” Castro  said, “but no one is talking about the other half that chose to stay.”

She will be glad for the “dust to settle,” and to continue the mission at hand, “making disciples.”  She is hopeful for the joy of fulfilling that mission, for those who stayed and for those who did not.