SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Asbury Memorial Church in Savannah has disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church in support of LGBTQ rights.
The church believes it is the first church in the United States to leave the United Methodist denomination over LGBTQ rights.
“The denomination used to be leaders in social justice. We were one of the first denominations to start ordaining women. But this particular issue, we got behind on,” said Asbury Memorial Church Senior Minister Reverend Billy Hester.
According to a news release from the church, the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted virtually on Aug. 15 on Asbury’s desire to disaffiliate. The legal process has been completed and now Asbury Memorial is an independent non-denominational church.
Rev. Hester said, “Our LGBTQ members have helped us become a growing, vital congregation in the Savannah community. Asbury Memorial has always been a welcoming, all-inclusive congregation and we are excited about our future as an independent non-denominational church. Our worship and ethos will continue to be based on Wesleyan theology – which is at the root of the Methodist church. However, we are now freer to work closely with other spiritual leaders in Savannah and beyond, and lead the way as the church we want to be: a Christ-centered, forward-thinking, all-inclusive congregation that celebrates the joy of God creatively and is a welcoming and affirming congregation for all. We appreciate the Bishop, District Superintendent, and the members of the South Georgia Conference for understanding our situation and allowing us to take this path.”
The church says the decision was made after much deliberation and prayer. The decision came after February 2019′s United Methodist Church Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis where a vote took place about the controversial issue around LGBTQ bans against clergy and same-sex weddings.
“You know, you can keep working at it, but you eventually become an enabler if you don’t take action,” said Rev. Hester.
According to the church, weddings in the church were discontinued in February 2016 in support of LGBTQ people. The church states it is looking forward to resuming ceremonies, when it is safe to do so after the threat of COVID-19 has lessened in Georgia.
For more information about Asbury Memorial Church and its plans, visit www.asburymemorial.org.