Lowcountry Methodist churches discuss separation of denominations

A total of 11 churches in the Charleston and Walterboro areas are stepping away from the denomination at the end of June.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 4:24 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:26 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A total of 113 South Carolina churches will be leaving the United Methodist Church over what could change in the future regarding clergy and same sex marriage.

total of 11 churches in the Charleston and Walterboro areas are stepping away from the denomination at the end of June.

One of the key issues for the split is whether these churches should be allowed to perform same-sex marriages and have clergy members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. That is not currently allowed, but there is a chance that it could change in the future.

“God’s instruction is in that text, but we also recognize that there were human hands involved with it,” Cokesbury United Methodist Church Pastor Bryan Pigford said. “In that humanness in it, there is room for interpretation.”

Leaders at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in North Charleston, which is one of the churches that will be stepping away, said they have been working on the separation for around a year.

“We would not recognize that because we feel like that is not biblically correct,” Aldersgate United Methodist Church Lay Leader Kay Lawhon said. “Does that mean we don’t want them to come to our church? That we don’t love them? That’s not true.”

“There are those that are leaving the denomination that believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God,” Pigford said, “and by being inerrant, they mean that there is no fallacy in scripture whatsoever, so that would probably be the big key difference how scripture is understood.”

Members of the United Methodist Church approved the separation of the congregations during their annual state conference in Florence.

They will not allow clergy members who identify as LGBTQ+, as they said it conflicts with their biblical beliefs, and said the change will bring more accountability to the denomination.

“We paid 10% of everything that we own,” Lawhon said. “We had to have everything appraised. It was a lot to go through, so we can continue to worship as we think we should.”

On the other side, Pigford said he’s staying with the denomination. He said the battle centers over the religion’s Book of Discipline, which is essentially their Constitution. He said that has been ongoing for 50 years.

“Surrounding human sexuality, there’s not much difference,” Pigford said. “Where there may be difference down the road is if General Conference does change the United Methodist Church’s language in our Book of Discipline next year to be more affirming and to be more inclusive in our language.”

Aldersgate’s congregation members said they stand by the church’s decision to step away.

“I know that we’re going to stay the same, and the church has a warm heart,” Joy Delk said. “We love everybody. Everybody is welcome to come to our church. We support and service anybody who walks in through those doors.”

As the identity of the Methodist church begins to change, Pigford said while it’s saddening some churches are leaving, he believes it presents an opportunity for religious growth.

“Now that this decision is behind us, we can look fully into our United Methodist identity and sit and discern how we can best serve our community,” he said.

Aldersgate leaders said they will still operate as a United Methodist Church until June 30 and will be joining the Global Methodist Church starting July 1. They said service will not be stopped during the transition.

They also said they will continue to host their cold night shelter and day care services, as the change has no effect on these programs.