Kentucky Annual Conference approves disaffiliation of 57 churches
Clergy and lay members voted 332-29 to accept a report by the Conference Board of Trustees allowing the churches to leave under terms of the Book of Discipline’s Paragraph 2553, which allows churches to disaffiliate for reason of conscience or action/inaction by the Kentucky Conference related to The United Methodist Church’s decades-long debate over human sexuality.
“And so, it is adopted,” Bishop Leonard Fairley said of the motion as the results were displayed on the screen. He then offered a prayer for the departing churches.
Those leading the special session gathered at the conference Office in Crestwood, where a makeshift studio was set up in Holloway Hall, as it was for two Annual Conference sessions held when in-person gatherings were not possible because of COVID-19.
Clergy and lay voting members watched on a closed Zoom link; the session also was streamed on the Conference’s website and Facebook Live for the public. More than 300 people watched on the two platforms.
Bishop Fairley urges ‘good faith’ as churches chart new course
The session began with a time of worship, including Fairley’s sermon, which focused on Genesis 32: 49-50, the departure of Jacob and Laban.
“It was a prayer of departure knowing God would be watching between them to make sure their departing from each other was done in good faith, and God would always be watching between them to make sure that good faith was kept even in the midst of them parting,” Fairley said.
He said he thought that having one special called Annual Conference session to ratify the disaffiliating churches would ease the pain, “but there is nothing easy about separating from the people who have shared a significant part of your life.”
He mentioned the shared ministries and events, such as working side by side on mission teams for two major disasters in Kentucky, a journey to the Holy Land, camping ministries, the UM Children’s Homes, and the UM retirement communities, adding that “there is so much we have done together in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“It will always be my prayer, somehow that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can still together be about joyfully worshipping Christ by offering salvation, by offering help, healing, and hospitality to all God’s children,” Fairley said.
He also said that despite the grief and sorrow, he believes that “God is up to something supernaturally amazing and mysteriously extraordinary,” and that The United Methodist Church’s best years still are ahead.
“I believe that even as we let each other go, God’s tomorrow rooted in the love, peace, and justice of Jesus Christ is full of promise and hope for all people,” Fairley said. He urged people to leave the divisiveness and acrimony behind and to be the witness that Christ has called us to be.
He concluded his 17-minute message with a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Enlighten the Darkness of My Heart”: “O most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me a right faith, a certain hope, and a perfect love, understanding and knowledge, O Lord, that I may carry out your holy and true command.”
He said his heart is breaking today, as it did Nov. 19, when he conducted a similar session in his home North Carolina Annual Conference, where he has been serving as interim bishop.
“Kentucky has become my family,” he said.
The worship portion included a prerecorded prelude and postlude from Dr. Jim McFarland, the organist at St. Paul UMC in Louisville, and music by Madisonville First UMC.
The sole purpose of Sunday’s session was for the Annual Conference to vote on whether to allow the 57 churches to leave the UMC.
Gretchen Mahaffey, the Board of Trustees chair, shared her report on churches that have fulfilled the terms of disaffiliation, first enacted in 2019 under Paragraph 2553. A total of 23 churches had previously completed that process, with 57 more disaffiliating Sunday. The disaffiliation takes effective Dec. 4 – Sunday’s date.
Mahaffey said the work has been done in a fair, simple, and gracious manner.
People who are members of churches that disaffiliated but want to remain United Methodists can go to www.kyumc.org and click on the news story “Stay UMC” for information. That link was displayed on a slide as the special session ended.
To leave under terms of Paragraph 2553, the churches needed to meet several terms and conditions:
Payment of any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months before disaffiliation, as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments.
Payment of the local church’s share of the pension liability for the pension covenant for active and retired clergy as determined by Wespath Benefits & Investments.
Payment of the local church’s share of the Conference’s retiree and surviving spouse medical insurance covenant.
Payment of any arrears on the church’s health insurance and benefits premiums.
A church conference where at least two-thirds of members present voted to disaffiliate.
The 57 departing churches, by district – shown on slides during the session just before the vote – are:
Bluegrass: Early’s Chapel, Mortonsville, Mt. Zion (Shakertown), Perryville
Heartland: Cedar Grove, Overdale
Kentucky East: Belfry, Buchanan Chapel, Cannonsburg Trinity, Catlettsburg, East Fork, Hardy, Olive Hill, Tollesboro
Lexington: Bybee, Gunns Chapel, Herrington, Preachersville, Ruddles Mill, Shiloh
Northern Kentucky: Fosters Chapel, Goddards Chapel, Melbourne, Milton, Morningview, Owenton, Piqua, Shiloh
Owensboro: Big Springs Corners, Fairview
Pennyrile: Bethel, Dixie, McMurray Chapel, Stuart Chapel
South Central: Barnetts Creek, Boyds Creek, Campground, Center, Christies Chapel, Coffeys Chapel, Cosby, French Valley, McKendree Chapel, New Bethel, Old Zion, Park, Russell Springs, Shiloh, Walkers Chapel
South East: Corbin Trinity, Fellowship, Macedonia, Pleasant View, Science Hill, Twin Branch, Whitesburg, Williamsburg First
Before the vote, Rev. Ken Berggren, an elder in the Owensboro District, moved to postpone it six months until the 2023 Annual Conference. But Fairley ruled the motion out of order, saying that under Robert’s Rules of Order, a question cannot be postponed beyond the end of the current session; therefore, the vote could not be delayed until next June.
After the vote, Fairley cited a few lines from “Be Still, My Soul,” the closing hymn played and sung by the Madisonville musicians.
“It is my prayer that we may leave this session … with prayers of healing and wholeness,” and “learn to live together as brothers and sisters” as we turn ourselves to the future, Fairley said, citing Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
He said he grieves the churches that are leaving but also rejoices over those that will stay United Methodist, despite our imperfections.
“Come Lord Jesus, particularly in this season and Advent, and stay with us,” Fairley said.
In a brief interview after the session, Fairley said that “days like this are not easy, because these are the people I have spent nearly seven years leading. I’ve learned their hearts, and there are wonderful people here.”
Rev. Darren Brandon, serving in his first session as the Annual Conference secretary, said it was a bittersweet experience, one of lament but also blessing and hopefulness.
“For me, the hopefulness was the grace that was offered throughout the planning and the session,” he said. “The final work of grace in the human heart is to make us gracious, and many of you surely have been, especially with the surprises that come in planning an online conference.”
Photos from the Special Session