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Arkansas United Methodist conference rejects disaffiliation requests from Cabot, Searcy, Jonesboro

by Frank E. Lockwood | November 19, 2022 at 6:06 p.m.
Jonesboro First United Methodist Church, a fixture on Main Street for well over a century, is the second-largest United Methodist Church in Arkansas. Its members voted Sunday, July 31, 2022, to disaffiliate from the denomination. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Frank E. Lockwood)

A special session of the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church today declined to ratify disaffiliation agreements from three of its congregations.

Members of Cabot United Methodist Church, Searcy First United Methodist Church and Jonesboro First United Methodist Church had endorsed disaffiliation, with 79%, 71% and 69% in favor respectively.

Thirty-five other requests to disaffiliate were approved during a seven-hour meeting in Hot Springs, clearing the way for them to break away.

Twenty-two of those congregations had voted unanimously to sever ties with the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.

Under the church’s Book of Discipline, it takes at least a two-thirds vote in order for a congregation to break away. Disaffiliation is allowed when congregations cite reasons of conscience relating to “the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

All 38 congregations had cleared that hurdle, but speakers Saturday questioned the fairness of the process in Cabot, Searcy and Jonesboro.

The three will be able to redo the process, if they so choose. Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline authorizes disaffiliation, but that provision sunsets on Dec. 31, 2023.

2:46 p.m.: 27 Arkansas United Methodist congregations get OK to disaffiliate over 'reasons of conscience'

A special session of the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church voted overwhelmingly this afternoon to ratify agreements allowing 27 of its congregations to break away.

Each of them had cited “reasons of conscience” relating to “the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

Twenty-two of the churches had voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination. Five others had favored disaffiliation with votes of 87% or above.

Meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas Conference members approved the departure of the following 22 churches: Amity, Asbury (Magnolia), Bellefonte, Bethesda Campground, Bland Chapel, Bruce Memorial, Dalark, Delight, Hebron (Carlisle), Hinton, Holly Springs (Sparkman), Holly Springs (Texarkana), Kibler, Mount Zion (Lonoke), Parker’s Chapel, Saint John (Hope), Saint Mark (El Dorado), Saint Paul (El Dorado), Sparkman, theJourney (Cabot), Washington and Westside.

Three other churches also had their disaffiliation agreements ratified — Heritage in Van Buren (98% in favor), Mountainside (94% in favor) and Alma (91% in favor).

Members voted by raising their hands after technological problems prevented them from voting on their phones and iPads.

Once it was over, Bishop Gary Mueller paused to acknowledge those who will soon be departing and to request a prayer.

“These 25 churches represent hundreds of years of ministry, and tens of thousands of lives touched and I can’t move on quickly, without naming them and and celebrating the difference they have made,” he said.

Minutes later, the members voted to ratify the disaffiliation agreements for Grace Conway (87% in favor) and Smyrna (87% in favor).

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