These are challenging times for the First United Methodist Church of Florence. The
United Methodist Church has struggled for some time with various issues, particularly
those relating to human sexuality. There is disagreement among faithful Christians over
this issue, forcing United Methodists to address the question of the degree to which we
are willing to stay connected with those who hold a different perspective than our own.
Some people in our congregation are prepared to leave the UMC over this issue and
would like our congregation to disaffiliate and no longer identify as a local United
Methodist Church. Others wish to remain United Methodists.
A decision of this magnitude can only come after prayerful discernment and a full
exploration of the issues and implications by the entire congregation. While the church’s
current leadership believes that remaining in the UMC is in the best interest of our
congregation, we are calling for every church member to join us in a time of
discernment and listening for God’s direction.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, the bishop of the North Alabama Conference, requires
that any local church considering disaffiliation commit to a minimum of three months for discerning their future. We must assemble a Discernment Team representative of our congregation’s theological diversity, select the discernment process we will use,
develop a timeline for completing this process, and then submit these plans to our
District Superintendent, Rev. Vicki Cater, for approval. Once approved, our church, led
by the Discernment Team will begin a series of informational meetings followed by small
group dialogue sessions.
This period of discernment is not only a time of discernment for our congregation but
also for each of us to individually discern God’s call for our future in the UMC. Steve
White, our Administrative Board Chairperson, will lead the Discernment Team and
assemble a group of diverse members representing our congregation’s various
theological perspectives. Both of our pastors will serve on the Discernment Team with a
voice but not a vote. Lisa Keys-Mathews, a member of our congregation who serves as
the Lay Leader for the North Alabama Conference, will also participate with a voice but
not a vote.
The Discernment Team will host gatherings where information is shared and dialogue is
encouraged. Upon completing these gatherings, the Discernment Team will compile the
results of the dialogue and research and then recommend to the Administrative Board
of First United Methodist Church of Florence whether to remain in the UMC or
disaffiliate. The Administrative Board will review the recommendation of the
Discernment Team and, after a period of discernment among the Board, will make the
decision as to whether the church will remain in or withdraw from the United Methodist
If it is discerned that the church should disaffiliate, the pastor will request a date for a called church conference from the district superintendent. In any case, however, the Administrative Board reserves the right to call for a vote if it is discerned this is in the best interest of congregational unity and closure. In the event a vote is taken, every church member will have the opportunity to cast a vote. The threshold to affirm disaffiliation is 2/3 of all members present and voting. Whoever shows up to vote
constitutes a quorum in the UMC. Disaffiliation also requires ratification by The North
Alabama Annual Conference at the next annual conference session.
The issues are far more complex than this simple communication can convey, and the
implications of a choice of this magnitude cannot be overstated. To make the best
decision for our congregation, we need and request every member to commit to the
faithful study of the issues from all perspectives, carefully listening to each other and
especially with those with whom we disagree, and maintaining a spirit of love and
respect toward our sisters and brothers in Christ.
We will share more information as the process unfolds; however, keep us in your
prayers as we work toward being faithful to God’s will for our congregation in these
Dr. Steve White
Rev. Dale Cohen
Rev. Dr. Terry Stubblefield