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New church forms amidst Methodist rift

Photo: The First Global Methodist Church was launched at the Cockrum Family Life Center on Aug. 20. (Courtesy photo)

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a Protestant Christian denomination in America that has been in existence since 1968. It was born with the merger of two churches, the Methodist Church formed in 1784 and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The merger talks for the two churches had been ongoing for about 10 years.  

The UMC has become one of the major denominations in the United States, but over the past four years in particular, it has been embroiled in disagreements that have resulted in a new church being formed.

The issues have concerned theology, especially in relationship to LGBTQ+ believers and their inclusion into the clergy, as well as the church’s stance on same-sex marriage.   About 6,100 congregations have “disaffiliated” since the conversation began, with about 4,000 congregations voting to take the action in 2023, as of June. As many as 232 Mississippi churches have taken the action.

A “church plant,” meaning a church by Methodist believers leaving their former congregation and coming together to form a brand new church, has started in the Cockrum Family Life Center building on Highway 305.  

According to founding pastor Stephen Sparks, First Global Methodist Church was launched officially on Aug. 20, but worshippers have been gathering for two months prior.  

“In June they started worshiping together at the Family Life Center in Cockrum, former Cockrum United Methodist Church, and now Cockrum Community Church,” said Sparks. “They blessed us with the opportunity to meet. We worshiped there on the gym floor.”

The initial group got together to start a new church for eastern and southeastern DeSoto County, said Sparks.

“None of these were preachers or paid staff,” Sparks explained. “They really started dreaming about what God could do and then stepped out in faith and started this new church. The first and most important thing that they did was to commit to prayer.”

Sparks said a prayer team was put together that meets weekly as well as a pastoral care team committee.

“All of the stuff that the church has accomplished has really been led by laypeople who are just humble folks that God told to step out and step up in faith and they did,” he said. 

Sparks, who was senior pastor at Maples Memorial United Methodist Church in Olive Branch for five years, was appointed as the church planting pastor by the leadership of the Global Methodist Church’s (GMC) Transitional Leadership Council and on July 1 was appointed as the founding pastor.

Sparks said the Global Methodist Church began in May with 3,200 churches having joined the GMC.

“By the end of the year we fully expect to be at around 4,000 and that’s not counting the churches we expect to be coming from Africa and the Philippines,” he said. 

The new church has in excess of 150 members with as many as 231 attending the launch service on Aug. 20. Those who have attended are not simply people leaving from one church. 

“People from other churches and other communities and people who didn’t have any connection to any churches are here,” Sparks said. “We have folks from all over now. It started as a group that came out of a UMC church but now we have folks from all over.”

Sparks says the members felt, given the sexuality issues, starting a new church was the right thing to do, but it comes without ill will toward the believers in the churches they are leaving.  

“There are a lot of good people in the United Methodist Church,” said Sparks. “There are good people and good leaders. There sometimes just comes a time when you can’t walk together.”

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