A Portland faith group is joining three other congregations that have ended their affiliation with the United Methodist Church.
That comes as the United Methodist Church maintains policies prohibiting pastors from officiating same-sex weddings and LGBTQ people from ordaining within the faith despite years of pushback from parishioners to become more inclusive.
Members of HopeGateWay, a community of faith based in Portland, voted on March 28 to cease affiliation with the United Methodist Church. It joins three other congregations who have left the church in the past year due to what they felt were discriminatory church policies, according to the Portland Press Herald.
New Brackett Church, previously known as Brackett Memorial United Methodist Church, was the first church in Maine and the second in the country to vote to separate from the United Methodist Church. It was followed by the Chebeague Island UMC and the Tuttle Road UMC in Cumberland, which voted in February and March, respectively, to renounce their affiliation with the United Methodist Church.
The congregation had been anticipating a split to accommodate different denominations for quite a while.
Ophelia Hu Kinney, a worship coordinator at HopeGateWay, told the Bangor Daily News last winter that faith community was working to evaluate its decision on what members wanted future iterations of Methodist denominations to include. She felt the United Methodist Church had adopted policies that were discriminatory toward LGBTQ community members, and that these policies were the main focus of choosing to renounce their affiliation.
The Rev. Will Green, the pastor of the New Brackett Church, told the Press Herald that the United Methodist Church has been steadily moving toward more conservative policies since the 1970s.
In 2016, a “non-conformity” resolution was passed the New England Conference, which encompasses Methodist faith groups in Maine. This resolution pledged that conference members would not comply with discriminatory provisions that excluded LGBTQ persons.
However, in 2019, church leaders from around the world gathered in St. Louis and voted in a proposal called the “traditional plan,” which strengthens the denominations’ prohibitions against same-sex unions and “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Hu Kinney said that the overwhelming support for the traditional plan had implications for LGBTQ members that could drive them away from practicing faith.
In order to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, Maine congregations had to go through an 8-month-long process that explored the impacts of the decision to leave the United Methodist Church. The agreement had to be approved, and congregations had to reach a settlement in which they had to pay the United Methodist Church “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to the Press Herald.
The Rev. Sara Ewing-Merrill, the pastor of HomeGateWay, told the Portland newspaper that the faith group had to pay more than $350,000 to the United Methodist Church as part of the settlement. She said that the price was worth it, if it meant that the church could remain welcoming to all.
The final vote on HopeGateWay’s disaffiliation will come in June at the annual conference. In the meantime, it will work to create a strong foundation on which to form a new church.