SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Two Savannah churches are coming together to form one larger congregation.
Asbury Memorial Church announced its merger with Wesley Oak Church Wednesday after the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) approved its disaffiliation in support of LGBTQ+ rights.
“We’re in such a climate of divisiveness, it’s a tough time,” Asbury Memorial Pastor Billy Hester said. “And we have the opportunity to collaborate. We hope to be an example of what we should be doing.”
Both Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak’s desire to disaffiliate from the UMC was triggered by a 2019 vote to uphold bans against LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings.
“We’ve had some very sorrowing moments of rejection or discrimination,” Wesley Oak Pastor Lynn Drake said. “And that’s been hard to be a part of. So now, we have tears of joy.”
Fifty-four percent of UMC clergy members voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
A large majority of members from both Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church as a result.
“I just officiated my first same-sex union after hoping to do it for over 30 years,” Hester said. “Oh boy, that was wonderful. There are congregations here that will say, ‘No, we can’t have same-sex unions.’ But no, we want same-sex unions.”
Asbury Memorial Church members say they welcome the merging with the like-minded Wesley Oak congregation.
“I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s something that’s long overdue,” church member Tim Callaway said. “A lot of people have had a really hard time with it. But the people in this church have a special spirit about them.”