JONESBORO — First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro may soon operate under a different name and a different denomination after a vote was held on Sunday to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church.
Senior Pastor John Miles said he understands there are 61 Arkansas churches at some stage in the process of disaffiliation, but that the Jonesboro congregation is the first in the state to take an official vote.
According to a press release from the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church, a two-thirds majority vote (66.66 percent) was required to move forward with the disaffiliation process.
Sunday night’s vote, which included more than 1,300 members of the congregation, according to a post on the church’s Facebook page, ended with 69 percent in favor of disaffiliation and 31 percent in favor of remaining United Methodist.
The ARUMC press release stated that the process allowing disaffiliation was adopted into the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church by the 2019 Called General Conference. According to the release, the change was adopted “as a means for congregations to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church until December 31, 2023, for reasons of conscience concerning human sexuality.”
Prior to Sunday’s vote, which was attended by Arkansas Bishop Gary Mueller, the church was required to have listening sessions within a minimum of three months.
“After each of the first two sessions, straw polls are conducted with a two-thirds majority required to proceed,” information provided by the Arkansas Conference stated. “If a two-thirds majority vote to disaffiliate is passed at the third listening session, a standard disaffiliation agreement will be submitted by the local church Board of Trustees.”
Sunday’s vote fulfilled that requirement, but the disaffiliation agreement must still go before the Arkansas Conference Board of Trustees. Ratification will be voted upon by the Arkansas Annual Conference, which will be held Nov. 21.
That vote is expected to be a formality, according to Miles, who said the local church has followed all the required steps.
“They have to vote us out,” he said. “If they do that, we pay whatever the conference asks us to pay and then we depart with our property.”
Miles said that while First United Methodist in Jonesboro is the first Arkansas church to reach the voting stage, in other states several churches have already completed the entire process, including ratification by their conference.
While the church’s administrative board voted to move forward with the process of disaffiliation, there was a Stay UMC campaign among some members for the church to remain affiliated to the United Methodist denomination, as well.
Mueller said statewide, the tendency is for churches and congregants to stay connected to the United Methodist Church.
“To date, fewer than 10 percent of our churches have formally entered into the discernment process that may or may not lead to a vote on disaffiliation,” Mueller said in a press release prior to Sunday’s vote. “I believe the vast majority of congregations in Arkansas, as well as most Arkansas United Methodist Christians, will choose to remain in the United Methodist Church.”
Miles said at this point, the only vote that has been made is to separate from the United Methodist Church. He said the administrative board has suggested joining the Global Methodist Church, but that decision will require an additional vote at a later date.