Michigan's largest United Methodist congregation votes to leave denomination
The largest United Methodist Church congregation in Michigan has voted to leave the mainline Protestant denomination over the ongoing debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Cornerstone Church of Caledonia, which has satellite campuses in Grand Rapids and the city of Wyoming, voted on Sunday to disaffiliate from the UMC and become a nondenominational congregation. The final tally was 616 in favor, nine against and two abstentions.
A spokesperson for Cornerstone directed The Christian Post to an article on the UMC Michigan Conference website, which noted that Cornerstone Pastor Ken Nash still wanted to work with the UMC on certain efforts.
“We like being networked and connected,” said Nash, as quoted by the conference. “We love the idea of connectionalism. So this isn’t a renegade spirit that we have. We want to have a connection in the future. It just doesn’t have to be as formalized.”
While Cornerstone has often been labeled conservative, Nash noted that the congregation has “a Methodist heart” and has “a lot of diversity of thought, theologically.”
“We realized we can have a gracious exit,” Nash confessed. “And because of the graciousness of [Michigan Bishop David Bard], we can have a gracious exit.”
“That allowed us an opportunity for more dialogue around how can we continue to be a bridge between the differences and not be forced into one camp or another.”
A spokesperson for the Michigan Conference emailed a statement to CP in which Bishop Bard was quoted expressing gratitude for Cornerstone and its cooperation with the disaffiliation process.
“Any separation in the church is painful for all involved,” stated Bard. “I am grateful for the ministry of Cornerstone Church over its entire history, and grateful that they have participated in the wider ministries of the Michigan Conference through the years.”
“I wish Cornerstone and its leaders well as they move into a new chapter of their ministry. I also pledge to work with any in the church that wishes to continue to be part of a United Methodist congregation.”
According to the statement, of the 721 member churches in the Michigan Conference, seven have officially left the UMC thus far, with another 23 congregations possibly leaving in June, pending a vote at that month’s annual conference meeting.
The third largest Christian denomination in the United States, the UMC has been embroiled in a divisive debate over whether to amend its rules to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of people in same-sex romantic relationships.
Although efforts to change the official rules have consistently failed, many progressive leaders in the UMC have openly defied the rules, such as opting to bless same-sex unions or approve the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
In May of last year, the Global Methodist Church was launched as a theologically conservative alternative to the UMC, with hundreds of churches voting to join the new denomination shortly after it was created.
Since last year, more than 1,800 congregations have voted to disaffiliate from the UMC, with most deciding to join the nascent GMC, while others have opted to become nondenominational.
Earlier this month, the largest UMC congregation in Arkansas voted to amicably separate into three different congregations rather than hold a congregational vote on disaffiliation.
Central United Methodist Church of Fayetteville recently announced that the main campus would remain with the UMC, while said campus would provide for the funding of a new conservative congregation to be founded by their present leadership, and a satellite campus known as the Genesis campus would become independent.