AC Day 1: Members overwhelmingly approve disaffiliation of 286 churches

June 03, 2023
By Alan Wild

OWENSBORO, Ky. – Members of the 2023 Kentucky Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly Sunday, June 4, to allow 286 churches to disaffiliate under Paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline.

The final vote, taken electronically in an unprecedented Sunday evening opening session, was 489-56 (89% to 11%) to allow the churches to leave The United Methodist Church and the conference. The disaffiliations take effect immediately.

“We begin a new journey. But you know what? Even as my heart breaks, I still believe God is doing something great and wonderful among the people called United Methodist. I believe something good will come of this,” Bishop Leonard Fairley said after announcing the results of the vote.

He wished the departing churches well with his hope that they would continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ in their new settings. He also implored people to depart as friends, not as enemies.

“Friends, stop the harm tonight. Enough is enough,” the bishop said. “We’ve got to get on with the work of Jesus Christ.”

The rest of Annual Conference will take place as usual, with Opening Worship set for Monday at 9 a.m. CDT (10 a.m. EDT) in the display hall on the main floor of the Owensboro Convention Center. Sunday’s session was held in the German American Bank Ballroom on the second floor because of the tight timetable; setup for the sessions Monday-Wednesday was still in progress in the main hall.

Members of disaffiliating churches and clergy who are withdrawing were eligible to vote Sunday but will not be voting members moving forward. They are welcome to attend the remaining sessions as guests.

Calling the session to order, Fairley said that “my heart is breaking. There’s brokenness here that should grieve all of our hearts. None of us are immune. For what you love and lose, you grieve. There would be no grief it we did not love one another. I’m understanding more and more that that’s why my heart breaks. There is nothing victorious in what we do today.”

He said his hope and prayer have been that no further hurt would take place. He stressed that “nobody here today is an enemy.”

Fairley said he believes the spirit that longs to break out today was present in the singing and the friendly conversation. Enemies don’t do that together, he said.

“Today is the day to believe that this is the best time to decide to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It matters not what the numbers say. The mission is the same,” Fairley said.

The bishop said the enemy is a church that is fractured that loses its power to witness to the world. “You don’t get to lead a people for seven years and not get to love them. So I grieve,” he said, choking up slightly.

Later, as voting was about to begin, he urged the members to remember John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”

Gretchen Mahaffey, chair of the conference’s Board of Trustees, presented the report on the disaffiliating churches. She said that to this point, 80 churches had completed the process, with another 286 churches set to depart after Sunday night, roughly 50% of the United Methodist churches in the conference. She said the work has been “difficult, but it has been courteous and gracious.”

The wording of the measure simply read, “Do you approve the report of the Conference Board of Trustees, which contains the list of churches that have met all requirements of para. 2553.”

After the vote, Fairley asked the gathering to stand and do a “passing of the peace,” urging people to approach someone they felt has done them wrong. People mingled and talked for about five minutes before the bishop called the members back to order.

The Rev. Chrysanthia Carr-Seels ended the session with this benediction, followed by The Lord’s Prayer:  

This part of our work is done. Our time to discern will soon bear its fruit. May the one who has finished this part of the work in us be blessed. And may we ever know ourselves loved by God and one another.

See our photo gallery of the Sunday night Service of Blessing.