Several Panhandle churches involved in United Methodist Church disaffiliation dispute

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Several local churches continue to fight for more autonomy after the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed their case against the United Methodist Church. The plaintiffs claim the denomination is preventing them from disaffiliating.

Several Panhandle churches try to leave the United Methodist Church

“We would just want as a church council to have the opportunity to be able to vote and decide our church’s own future, and we weren’t afforded that opportunity,” Gulfview United Methodist Church Pastor Brad Zimanek said.

44 churches filed the lawsuit against United Methodist bishop David Graves and the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist church. The churches argue they should decide whether or not they disaffiliate from the denomination.

“We wanted to have the right to be able to vote. What happened at that point was that the annual conference altered those rules for the churches that had already disaffiliated,” Pastor Zimanek said.

Gulfview is one of the churches named in the suit. Pastor Zimanek said disaffiliation used to be much easier.

“What happened was they gave a date and it was a chance to disaffiliate for churches by December 31, 2023. Churches were going through a discernment process and filling out an application process that the conference trustees would look at. 240 churches did that, and they filed those rules and they disaffiliated,” Pastor Zimanek said.

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That’s not the case anymore.

“Our church, along with the other 45 in the lawsuit, were denied that right to vote at that particular time and were not able to before the December 31, 2023 deadline. That was the process. Then at the general conference, they put in place for churches not to be able to disaffiliate,” Pastor Zimanek said.

The issue stemmed in 2022, shortly after the United Methodist Church approved same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy members in the church. Pastor Zimanek says regardless of the controversy, his congregation has continued to do the work of god.

“During all this stuff that is going on, that to me is got to be the biggest focus. Are you doing the will of god? Are you doing what Jesus calls you to do?,” Pastor Zimanek said.

Pastor Zimanek says he doesn’t know what the next steps will be in their disaffiliation efforts.

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