ALCOA, Tenn. -- The Rev. Susan Arnold knows what it’s like to lose your church home to disaffiliation. The church that was the site of so many family weddings and funerals – the church where a hand-hewn cross from her great grandfather’s farm is on display – voted to leave The United Methodist Church.
“It hits close to my heart,” says Arnold, Holston director of congregational development. “I get it, it’s hard.”
Hoping to help displaced members whose churches are exiting the denomination but who want to stay United Methodist, Arnold and other Holston Conference and district staff are reaching out to members to help them grieve and discern next steps.
As of April 27, 169 people have moved their church memberships to their district offices, a holding place until they have time to discover options and make decisions about a more permanent church home, said the Rev. Tim Jones, Holston communications director.
The number of people transferring their memberships to district offices has increased daily since the disaffiliation of 264 churches was ratified during a ceremony on April 22, Jones said.
Get form to transfer your membership.
While Holston’s total membership will drop from 148,580 (in 842 churches) to 117,378 (in 578 churches) once disaffiliations are final on May 29, membership numbers are expected to fluctuate as members who disagree with their congregation’s vote search for new church homes.
“We really want to listen to where people are, instead of saying, ‘We think this is where you need to be,’” Arnold said. “We want to help people heal and walk their next steps toward God.”
Here are some opportunities for displaced United Methodists in disaffiliating churches, with more to come:
Facebook or Zoom groups
“Communitas” is a Facebook group for members who have transferred their memberships to the district. “This group is designed as space where you can go to interact with others, in Holston, that are on a similar journey,” Jones said. For information about joining this group, email Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zoom group discussions (called “Now What?”) are also available for groups of United Methodists located in the same region. Contact Arnold at email@example.com.
Some of Holston’s nine districts have made plans to accommodate displaced church members in their regions. The Tennessee Valley District has arranged for a retired pastor, the Rev. Jim Bailes, to provide pastoral care. The Mountain View District offered fellowship and worship at First United Methodist in Morristown on April 5, with additional opportunities to come. The Clinch Mountain District is planning five worship services for United Methodists to gather under the theme, “There’s More to the Story.”
For more information about opportunities in your area, contact your district office.
Some members have already transitioned to an existing United Methodist church in their region, as exemplified in the “Why I Stayed” series in The Call. Many Holston churches are also extending invitations to their neighbors on social media and their signs. The Clinch Mountain District is creating yard signs expressing love and an invitation to the nearest United Methodist church.
If you need recommendations of United Methodist churches in your area, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holston’s Congregational Development office is working with district offices to start new churches or foster new expressions of Methodism in the conference, Arnold said. Contact her at email@example.com.
In a visioning segment of the April 22 Special Called Session, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett said a goal is to increase membership and worship attendance in the Holston Conference.
"Our vision is that each time we gather, we will have additional people among us, new worship services, fresh expressions, people who have come to Christ through the ministries of our churches," she said.
Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.