Aldersgate Leaves UMC; Conference Forms Online Missional Church
By Loretta Fulton
Aldersgate is the latest United Methodist Church congregation in Abilene to leave that denomination and join the new Global Methodist Church.
With that decision by Aldersgate members, Abilene is down to two United Methodist Church congregations. Only St. Paul and St. James remain in the United Methodist Church fold as other local congregations are moving to the new Global Methodist Church, a conservative offshoot of Methodism that launched May 1, 2022.
Aldersgate held its vote Nov. 10, with 92 percent of the members who were present voting to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, effective Jan. 1.
“It’s all done,” said one member, who asked not to be named.
The trend to leave the United Methodist Church and affiliate with the conservative Global Methodist Church is expected to continue in Abilene and across the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, a regional jurisdiction.
For those who have already voted to disaffiliate, the change takes effect Jan. 1, 2023. Other effective dates for future votes are July 1, 2023, and Jan. 1, 2024. After that, congregations that didn’t vote will remain in the United Methodist Church.
A special meeting of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference will be held in Lubbock Dec. 3 to approve all the disaffiliations that occur before then. Abilene congregations that have voted to disaffiliate include First UMC, Wylie UMC, Elmwood West UMC, and Aldersgate.
The split in the United Methodist Church has been building for years over same-sex marriages, ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals, and theological differences. Conservative parts of the country, like the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, are expected to lose most of their United Methodist congregations to the new Global Methodist Church or other conservative churches.
Abilene Methodists will have St. James or St. Paul to choose from if they wish to attend a United Methodist Church. And, a new online missional church has been launched by the Northwest Texas Annual Conference for people who live too far from a United Methodist congregation but want to remain in that denomination.The online missional church was announced on the conference’s website, www.nwtxconf.org.
“If your church has voted to disaffiliate and you want to move your membership to a UM church during the transitional period, we have a place for you,” the announcement stated.
Links to additional local articles
Methodists Must Decide: Will We Stay or Will We Go?
St. Paul to Remain United Methodist
Local Methodists Not United on Future
Q&A With Dr. Sandra Harper, McMurry University President
Online services will be held beginning with the Advent season. First Sunday in Advent is Nov. 27. The services will be led by Rev. Jeff Fisher and Rev. Dave Andersen. Fisher also is serving as conference secretary and as Conference Director of Transitional Ministries, which was created in April 2022.
The conference website includes instructions for transferring a membership to the online missional church. Click here to access the instructions. A missional church is a startup church as opposed to a chartered church like Aldersgate, St. Paul, St. James, and other Methodist churches in Abilene.
Fisher said conference leaders recognized early in the disaffiliation process that a number of people would want to remain connected to the United Methodist Church if their local church chose to disaffiliate. In the sprawling Northwest Texas Annual Conference, which includes the Panhandle, South Plains, and the Abilene area, many people will be left without a United Methodist Church within easy driving distance.
The online missional church will help fill the void. But, Fisher said, physical worship gatherings will become available in the future, led by retired pastors. Those might be held in private homes, at apartment complexes, or in a church of another denomination.
“We want to make sure we can get communion to everyone,” Fisher said.
In the meantime, the online missional church will provide Sunday services, weekly Bible studies, and other opportunities.
Fisher said that despite the departures in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, he is hopeful for the future. The Methodist Church originally was led by the laity, with ordained circuit-rider ministers taking the sacraments to members once a month.
For the second time, Fisher said, United Methodists have gotten the message that it is time to return to their roots. The first came during COVID, when public gatherings were discouraged. And now, United Methodists are losing their physical properties to congregations that are choosing to join the Global Methodist Church. The message is pretty clear, Fisher said:
“Get out of the building and go back to our roots.”
Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene