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North Alabama churches drop UMC affiliation

BIRMINGHAM — Nearly 200 United Methodist churches voted to leave the denomination as differing views on LGBTQ topics have shaken the church.

The exodus came following a recent North Alabama Conference meeting in Birmingham. Of the North Alabama Conference’s 638 member churches, 198 voted to leave. To “disaffiliate,” churches had to receive a vote of 66.7% of their congregations in favor of leaving.

Two of the largest Methodist churches in North Alabama – Asbury in Madison and Cove in Owens Cross Roads – are reportedly joining the Foundry movement. The movement’s goal is to unite churches that have a more traditional view. Asbury has a membership of 3,504 members and Cove has 1,483 members.

When reached by telephone Monday, representatives of Asbury and Cove were not available for comment.

Two other large UMC churches – Guntersville First UMC with 1,716 members and Hartselle First UMC (1,188 members) – also voted to disaffiliate.

Same sex marriage and the ordaining of openly gay clergy are the two primary subjects that are bringing about the division.

Officially, the Methodist church still has a ban on gay marriage and gay ordained officials. However, as a result of the changing views in the church, many conservatives have left.

The Rev. Vaughn Stafford, senior pastor of Clearbranch Church in Trussville, said the church needs to refocus on a more traditional view of Methodism.

“It’s time to get back to the main things of the church,” he said. ““Our heart has been to contend for the historic Christian church.”

Other churches either haven’t voted on the issue or are remaining independent for now. One of the larger Methodist churches in Alabama, Vestavia Hills United Methodist, said it will stay independent.

Stafford and other church leaders say there is no animosity or hard feelings because of the split; it is the aim for all Methodist churches to follow the same message.

“We all totally agree that our goal is to love God with everything we’ve got, and love our neighbor as ourselves,” he said.

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