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As deadline nears, the United Methodist Church faces a historic split

White’s Chapel Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas, a is large church known for its amenities and community activities. Despite its growth, the church left the United Methodist denomination in July due to the denomination’s internal conflict over LGBTQ issues. This departure is part of a larger trend where about a quarter of the nation’s 30,000 United Methodist churches have left, primarily over disagreements on LGBTQ ordination and marriage.

The United Methodist Church, facing a potential split, allowed congregations to leave with their properties until December 31, 2023. This schism is considered the largest in denominational history, with implications for the future of Methodism and mainline Protestantism in the U.S.

White’s Chapel, once the second-largest Methodist congregation in the U.S., is part of the broader decline in mainline Protestantism. The church is helping to establish a new denomination, the Methodist Collegiate Church, reflecting a move away from the United Methodist Church’s policies and administrative practices.

The Methodist movement has a history of inclusivity and diversity, ordaining women since the 1950s and experiencing various mergers and splits. The current schism reflects deeper issues beyond LGBTQ rights, including desires for financial independence and control over church direction.

The departure of conservative congregations like White’s Chapel is reshaping the United Methodist Church, which tends to be progressive in theology but traditional in worship. This split mirrors similar divides in other Christian denominations over sexuality and theology. There is a complex interplay of theological, political, and financial factors driving these denominational changes.

The New York Times reports:

With 17,000 members, White’s Chapel Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas, offers multiple worship services each weekend along with the kind of attractions that only the largest houses of worship can boast: a coffee shop, an indoor playground, a Christmas festival with pony rides and fireworks, and near-daily opportunities for volunteering and socializing. On Sunday mornings, a small white bulldog named Wesley, after the founder of Methodism, roams the campus with a handler, greeting admirers.

“They call this place the biggest small church,” said Linda Rutan, who was sitting with her husband near a sprawling holiday train set on a recent Sunday morning. The Rutans have attended White’s Chapel since they moved to Texas from California in 2022. “It’s so friendly,” she said, “you don’t feel like it’s a huge church.”

Until July, White’s Chapel was the second-largest United Methodist congregation in the country. The conservative-leaning church lost its status this year not because it shrank — it is growing, leaders say — but because it left the denomination.

America’s second-largest Protestant denomination is in the final stages of a slow-motion rupture that has so far seen the departure of a quarter of the nation’s roughly 30,000 United Methodist churches, according to the denomination’s news agency.

At issue for Methodists is the question of ordaining and marrying L.G.B.T.Q. people, a topic that has splintered many other Protestant denominations and which Methodists have been debating for years.

In 2019, Methodist leaders opened a window for any congregations to leave over “reasons of conscience,” in most cases allowing them to take their property and assets with them in a clean break if they received approval to depart by Dec. 31, 2023. Many conservative congregations have done just that.

Read the full article.

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