While the United Method Church is on the verge of globally splitting, locally, two churches are merging in the coming weeks.
Central United Methodist Church, which was organized in 1860 and continued to thrive well into the early 21st century began to see changes in recent times as the congregation’s numbers dwindled. Washington United Methodist Church weathered the storm a little better.
Marla Wilcox, Central board chair, attributes the shrinking congregation to members moving away or dying, then COVID hit, making the situation worse.
“It was obvious we needed to make a change,” Wilcox said.
Discussions ensued between Central and Washington UMC until it was jointly decided the best course of action was to merge the two churches. The new name will be Washington Central United Methodist Church. Services will be held at the WUMC location on US 68 in Old Washington and the Central property will become a Mission Center where education programs, worship and community service programs will take place.
“The merger will sustain our churches and help with building upkeep, staff, and outreach,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox is enthusiastic about the joining of the churches, adding, “Two congregations together will be stronger to serve the community and share the gospels.”
“The last service at Central will be held on April 10 and the first combined service will be the following Sunday (Easter) in Old Washington,” Wilcox stated.
Rev. Michael Sweeney started serving the Washington church in 2019 and then Central the following year. Sweeney believes combining the two churches is a good fit.
“Both churches are very similar and they naturally connect,” Sweeney explained.
Sweeney is excited to see what the Methodists can do together, as one. The opportunity to open a Mission Center is a real benefit to both congregations.
“We’re going to do this in phases. The first phase is to transition our worship, and the second will be to the ministry center which should open this fall,” he said.
Not long after the joined is formed, the church will face even more changes on the horizon.
There’s an emphasis on Christian living and putting faith and love into action in the United Methodist Church, but recent divisiveness over LGBTQ rights has led to an upcoming split within the church.
The United Methodist Church is 6.2 million members strong in the United States, making it the largest Protestant denomination in the nation.
The details of the breakup will be finalized when the General Conference is able to meet in 2024, UMC spokesperson, Diane Degnan said. But church officials on both sides think that’s too long to wait and there’s a concerted effort to begin the process sooner.
Under current rules, churches that leave have to negotiate to take their property with them and pay for clergy pension liabilities and appointments to the annual Conference they are leaving. The new conservative denomination, Global Methodist Church, announced recently that it will officially launch in May. The UMC is negotiating to provide the new denomination with $25 million to get started and another provision being discussed is that churches can disaffiliate from the UMC and join Global Methodist Church “with clear title to all of their property and assets in perpetuity,” according to a Global Methodist Church news release.
Causing the split are varying ideological beliefs. Current policies of the church are strongly against the LGBTQ community, however, many church leaders welcome gays and lesbians as church members and support their basic human rights.
In 2019 at a UMC special conference, LGBTQ matters were discussed and delegates approved the Traditionalist Plan which affirmed the denomination’s teachings regarding homosexuality and closed loopholes to same-sex weddings and LGBTQ people being ordained as clergy. This created dissent from the progressive branch of the church.
The Protocol Plan for the official split of the UMC forms two separate groups, allowing conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage the chance to walk away, keep their church buildings, and start a new denomination. Progressives will keep the denominational structure and then be able to adopt new policies for same-sex unions.
Some national churches have already started leaving the UMC to join the Free Methodist Church, which has consistent conservative views. A prominent Alabama church with 7,000 members recently voted to pull out of the UMC and join the Free Methodist Church. They’ll have to wait until June for the Alabama-West Florida Conference to vote on the annex at their annual meeting.
The Kentucky annual conference will also vote in June on whether to stay in the United Methodist Church or go to the Global Methodist Church.
When Wilcox was asked about the likely outcome, she said she thinks Kentucky will vote to join the new GMC.
Sweeney wasn’t so sure and pointed out that regardless of what the Kentucky vote is, individual churches could go either way.
“We will keep covenant within our church, and take our church where God leads us.” Sweeney added, “We want to stay focused on our community outreach because that’s where our ministry happens.”
Sweeney wishes to avoid national distractions and keep things local for now.
Sunday services at Washington Central United Methodist Church are held at 10:45 a.m. Contact the church at 606-759-7725 for more information.