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First United Methodist votes to stay in church
Disaffiliation vote falls just short of 2/3 majority
First United Methodist Church
While a majority of members of Statesboro United Methodist Church who attended a special conference Sunday voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, the vote failed to reach the two-thirds threshold required for disaffiliation. (JIM HEALY/staff)

In a vote Sunday, members of Statesboro United Methodist Church chose to remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

According to an email sent Sunday afternoon from John Ashley Welch, chair of the Church Council, 418 voted for disaffiliation, 210 voted against and six abstained. Under the process set out by the United Methodist Church’s international, special General Conference in 2019, disaffiliation would require a two-thirds majority vote of members who attended the church’s specially called conference on Sunday.

The 418 “for” votes fell just short of the two-thirds threshold.

In his email, Welch wrote: 

“The last several months have been a difficult time for our church as we have struggled with the decision of whether to remain members of the United Methodist denomination. The many meetings, handouts, videos, prayers, and private discussions all culminated in a congregational vote that was held earlier today. 

“The vote of the congregation is to remain a part of the United Methodist Church.

“I’m sure many of you have questions about what happens next. I assure you these questions will be addressed in due course. However, for now, I would ask everyone to take a few days for reflection, prayer, forgiveness, and healing. I call upon our leaders and all members of our congregation to move forward with peace and unity, and to refocus on our mission – to serve, empowering people to live Christ-centered lives.”

Statesboro First United Methodist has been a part of its denomination’s South Georgia Conference since the local church was founded in 1886 and of the United Methodist Church since unification in 1968. 

On Sunday, members voted, by paper ballot, “yes” or “no” to the only question on the congregational ballot.

“Shall Statesboro First United Methodist Church disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience over disagreements related to human sexuality, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues…?” 

While six members voted “abstained,” it is not clear how those votes were tabulated in determining the final outcome.

During the 2019 General Conference, a “disaffiliation plan,” was created for the Book of Discipline that gave local churches “a limited right” to leave the denomination “over issues related to human sexuality,” before a Dec. 31, 2023 deadline.

In an interview prior to Sunday’s vote, the Rev. Dr. Scott Hagan, senior pastor of Statesboro First United Methodist, said the amendment was intended to give more “progressive” churches the ability to leave United Methodism over its continued traditional position 

“I wouldn’t say we’re traditional or not traditional,” Hagan said.  I would say we’re faithful to the United Methodist Church. I mean, we’re faithful to the doctrine, we’re faithful to the polity. We have been faithful to the rules.”

Hagan could not be reached for comment Monday.

As of 2019, there were more than 30,000 United Methodist churches in the United States. As of three months ago, about 2,000 churches had disaffiliated from the denomination and there are estimates that another 1,000 will do so in 2023, according to information Hagan provided.

Statesboro First United Methodist members and leaders have been discussing the possibility of disaffiliation since August. 

The church council, with a Feb. 20 decision that was not unanimous, set the process in motion that led to Sunday’s congregational vote. But the church has been holding information sessions on the topic since January.

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