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Six Newton County churches among 70 congregations to leave UMC
Starrsville curch
Starrsville church on Dixie Road was among six Newton County congregations recently approved for disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church. - photo by Special to The News

COVINGTON, Ga. — Six area United Methodist churches were among 70 congregations last week that chose to disaffiliate from the denomination by June 30 because of disagreements with a change in church doctrine “around issues of sexuality.”

The 70 churches were approved for disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church (UMC) Thursday, June 2, during the North Georgia Conference of the UMC’s annual meeting in Athens.

Newton County churches included:

• Gaithers UMC, 1375 Newton Factory Bridge Road, Covington;

• Mansfield UMC, 3031 Main St., Mansfield;

• Newborn UMC, 118 Church St., Newborn;

• Prospect UMC, 6752 Highway 212 North, Covington;

• Sewell UMC, 1660 Sewell Church Road, Mansfield;

• Starrsville UMC, 2786 Dixie Road, Covington.

The actions are apparently related to the North Georgia Conference’s 2021 adoption of the national United Methodist Church’s 2019 disaffiliation agreement allowing individual churches to leave the denomination through the end of 2023 because of disagreements with the national organization’s approval of same-sex weddings in the church and other related issues.

Gary Rainwater, chairperson of the administrative board of Prospect Church, said disaffiliation “has been a good deal of work but we feel it is well worth the effort.” 

“We are motivated and excited about our future,” he said.

The Newton County-area churches are part of the Conference’s Central South District that includes all UMC congregations in DeKalb, Henry, Newton and Rockdale counties. 

Of the 83 district churches, seven chose to disaffiliate. Six were in Newton County with the other being New Hope UMC in Locust Grove in Henry County.

North Georgia Conference Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson said as she prayed during the Athens meeting, “Bless these congregations as they depart.”

“I pray that we will be partners in ministry and you will do your mighty work of healing division and overcoming rifts.”

Departing churches overall represent 9% of the congregations in the North Georgia Conference and 3% of its membership, according to the Conference’s website.

“Our denomination has a clear process for disaffiliation and Conference leaders are walking alongside the churches that want to take this path,” Conference Communications Director Sybil Davidson said in a statement. “While we do not wish to see any church disaffiliate, we are committed to a clear and healthy process.”

Local congregations voted on disaffiliation and the vote on Thursday formally ratified their decisions. A pathway for churches that may wish to reverse their decisions will also be created, officials said.

The disaffiliation resolution had to be approved by a two-thirds majority “of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference” because of the doctrinal change.

Most of the churches that plan to disaffiliate are small, with an average membership of between 10 to 50, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Some of the 70 churches plan to become independent Methodist congregations or join other denominations, including the newly launched theologically conservative Global Methodist Church which launched May 1, the AJC reported.

The disaffiliation agreement states, “Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the (denomination’s) Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”

The disaffiliation requires the individual church to pay a year’s worth of its payments to the Conference and its share of payments to the Conference’s pension plan.

It also must cease use of the United Methodist church’s group tax exemption; use of the United Methodist name and its cross and flame insignia; preserve church archives and other historical documentation relating to funerals, weddings and other such events.

Churches also must maintain any cemeteries and allow continued access to them.