A megachurch in Georgia has agreed to pay $13.1 million to leave the United Methodist Church with its property, ending litigation between it and the mainline Protestant denomination.
The Marietta-based Mt. Bethel Church, which boasts around 10,000 members, recently announced that it had settled with the UMC North Georgia Conference.
According to the settlement agreement, approved in Cobb County Superior Court on June 3, Mt. Bethel will pay $13.1 to keep its property and assets, while being officially allowed to leave the UMC.
“We are thankful that we have reached a settlement with the Trustees of the North Georgia Conference that puts an end to litigation and enables us to move forward in faith as an independent church,” stated Mt. Bethel.
“We praise God for His provision and offer gratitude for all the parties involved in reaching this peaceful resolution. We extend abundant thanks to our members, faith community, and partners who have been praying for a God-honoring outcome.”
For its part, the conference released a statement on Monday saying it was “appreciative of the Cobb County Superior Court” for giving “final approval of the mediated settlement agreement.”
“We anticipate full resolution in the next 120 days,” the conference added. “As stated in the agreement, we are all part of one universal church and look forward to moving ahead in service to Jesus Christ.”
In April 2021, Mt. Bethel's 50-member administrative council unanimously voted to begin a discernment process for leaving the UMC, citing the reassignment of their lead pastor and the general direction of the denomination as reasons.
Last July, the conference announced that it had seized control of Mt. Bethel's assets, citing "exigent circumstances" to justify its actions and saying it was done "out of love for the church and its mission."
For its part, Mt. Bethel denounced the seizure and took issue with North Georgia Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and the conference claiming "exigent circumstances."
The church pointed to contrary examples, such as having a growing congregation, financial stability and adhering to UMC Book of Discipline rules regarding the appointment of clergy.
"Mt. Bethel has not violated the Discipline by hiring its' preaching pastor,' nor has it allowed uncredentialed use of the Pulpit," stated Mt. Bethel at the time.
Mt. Bethel filed an injunction request in county court last October to try and stop the conference from interfering with a congregation-wide vote over seeking dismissal from the UMC.
Mt. Bethel is not the only congregation leaving the North Georgia Conference, as the overall UMC is experiencing schism over their years-long debate on homosexuality and gay marriage.
Earlier this month, the conference announced that 70 congregations representing 9% of the regional body’s churches would be officially leaving the UMC by the end of the month.
Many, if not all, of these departing congregations plan to join the newly created Global Methodist Church, which was launched as a conservative alternative to the UMC.