(Rev. Kelli Hitchman-Craig)-In this new chapter of United Methodist history, a new type of Methodist is becoming more and more prevalent: the church-less United Methodist. In the wake of recent disaffiliations with more disaffiliations on the horizon, many faithful United Methodists find themselves without a church home. This was the case for both Lee Thigpen and Charles Mason.
Lee Thigpen, M.D., is a lifelong United Methodist. Born to United Methodist parents, Dr. Thigpen was baptized and confirmed at Crestview First United Methodist Church. His love of the United Methodist church even travelled with him through life to both Florida and South Carolina where he sought out membership in United Methodist churches everywhere he went. Thigpen shared, “The United Methodist Church allowed me to be home wherever I was and that, to me, was everything.”
Dr. Thigpen has spent the last 30 years in service to the United Methodist Church, teaching Sunday School classes, leading in his local church, and serving on the Alabama West-Florida Board of Ordained Ministry. When his home church, Crestview First United Methodist Church, disaffiliated, Thigpen was shocked. “I never thought it would come to this. I’ve never been so crushed in my life,” he shared. “I believe in United Methodism and what it’s about,” he continued.
Following Crestview’s disaffiliation, Thigpen made the decision to move his membership to the General Church Roll. When asked about the membership transfer process, Thigpen shared that not only was the process very simple, it was important for him to do quickly. For Thigpen, maintaining his membership within the United Methodist Church was a way to stay connected to his upbringing and beliefs. “We need to keep that connection,” Thigpen insisted. “We love Jesus and we want to make this a better world!”
Dr. Thigpen is searching for a new United Methodist home, which has been made easier from the support and communication given by the Annual Conference now that he has transferred his membership to the General Church Roll. For Thigpen, the General Church membership roll has “bridged the gap” and “kept him uplifted” while he takes the next steps of his faith journey.
A similar story is true of Opelika resident and music lover, Charles Mason. Born and raised in a three-point charge in Pine Hill, Alabama, Mason is a lifelong United Methodist. Both in belief and in genealogy, Mason’s Methodist roots run deep! Mason is proud to be the descendent of patriarchs from both sides of his family who were influential in Methodist communities. Later in life, Mason was a member of Dauphin Way United Methodist Church and then First United Methodist Church in Opelika, Alabama.
As he reminisced on his childhood at Pine Hill United Methodist Church, he remembered singing those cherished words, “red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.” For Charles Mason, the United Methodist Church, “just feels like home; It’s where I need to be.” Mason has lived his entire life rooted in those truths that he learned so young at Pine Hill United Methodist Church: all are precious in God’s sight.
Recently, First United Methodist Church of Opelika voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, leaving Charles Mason without a church home. Mason vowed, “I’m going to stay a United Methodist!” “The United Methodist Church has always been a part of my life.”
When asked what words of encouragement he had for others going through the grief of church disaffiliation Mason advised, “stay strong, hopeful, and positive about the future and about what we can
do as United Methodists. Let’s be what John Wesley wanted us to be.” He shared these wise words given to him by his friend and Associate Pastor: “It’s going to be okay.”
Though much uncertainty lies ahead for many United Methodists in Alabama-West Florida, we are still connected by our love for Jesus and our love for each other. If you, like fellow United Methodists Lee Thigpen and Charles Mason, wish to remain connected to the United Methodist Church, follow these links for a list of new church starts as well as information on General Church membership.
New Church Starts Near You
Information on General Roll Membership
Form for Transferring Church Membership