ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Churches of the Methodist denomination have been faced with a vote in recent months, to remain with the United Methodists, or disaffiliate and join the newly established Global Methodists. This split has already affected congregations in all parts of the world, including our Abilene Methodist churches.

“St. Paul held it’s vote back in October, and it came out to about 80% in favor of remaining United Methodist,” St. Paul United Methodist Pastor Benji Van Fleet said.

On the opposite side, Pastor Jeff Hatcher with the church formerly known as Wylie United Methodist said, “We voted back in September. Out of that 270-something, we voted 99% to disaffiliate.”

While some have pointed to the inclusion or exclusion of LGBTQIA+ in clergy positions, and the question of same-sex marriage as the reason for the split, both pastors Van Fleet and Hatcher explained to KTAB/KRBC that this is a multifaceted issue.

“When we have disagreements within our denomination, we have a process lined out in our United Methodist Book of Discipline,” Pastor Van Fleet clarified.

In the Global church, that process has, in some cases, resulted in outcomes it cannot abide with, as according to Pastor Hatcher.

“I can no longer be a part of a denomination that will not uphold, in every case, the foundational pieces of the doctrine,” shared Pastor Hatcher.

Pastor Hatcher said he first noticed signs of a shift around four years ago, when an openly gay California pastor was confirmed as a bishop. It was a conformation some with the church would go on to see as a betrayal of the Methodist Book of Discipline.

“When that happened, and they were not held accountable to that at all, I determined that’s enough,” Pastor Hatcher explained.

While the Global Methodist opt not to affirm LGBTQIA+ clergy and same-sex marriage, Pastor Hatcher assured that all are welcome in the church.

“Anytime I’ve come across someone that’s struggling in that lifestyle, they know God loves them. I communicate that to them, they know I love them,” Pastor Hatcher guaranteed. “Same way if someone comes to me and they’re in an affair – a heterosexual affair – they know that God loves them, but they know that’s not the way.”

The issue for Pastor Hatcher, he said, lies not just in the confirmation of LGBTQIA+ clergy members, but in a lack of confidence in the denomination to uphold the doctrine in which its congregation believes.

“There are many bishops who are not being faithful to their vows and are allowing false doctrine – not even pertaining to sexuality – to be preached,” concerned Pastor Hatcher.

The split, as Pastor Van Fleet told KTAB/KRBC, has been most difficult for congregations and clergies on both sides. Although, he said he believes both are working toward the same core mission:

“There will be Global Methodists in heaven, there will be United Methodists in heaven, and if that bothers either one, well, we’ve got eternity to get over ourselves,” Pastor Van Fleet reasoned.

According to the Northwest Texas Conference, nearly 75% of the region’s congregations about 145 churches will be leaving the “United” Methodist way. For this reason, it is anticipated that the Northwest conference could cease to exist as the “West Plains” Global Methodist Conference establishes itself. Each church’s decision will officially take effect January 1, 2023.

The Abilene churches that have voted to remain in the United Methodist Church are St. James and St. Paul. Those that have voted to disaffiliate are Wylie, Elmwood West, and the First Methodist. Aldersgate will vote in 2023 – this according to Spirit of Abilene.

Founded in 1923 by the United Methodist Church, trustees with McMurry University said they have been closely monitoring the situation, and its possible impact, for the past three years. McMurry President Dr. Sandra Harper said the school is not affected by the vote.

“We are hopeful that the impact on funding and enrollment at McMurry regarding the split will be minimal,” President Harper trusted.

Currently, fewer than 1% of the university’s budget comes from the annual conferences and churches.