July 15, 2021 - Asbury Memorial Church announced its merger this week with Wesley Oak Church in Savannah’s Thunderbolt neighborhood. Recently, the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) approved the disaffiliation of Wesley Oak from the United Methodist Church, in support of LGBTQ rights. Asbury Memorial church members, who disaffiliated from UMC in 2020 due to its unequal treatment of LGBTQ people, welcomes the merging with the like-minded Wesley Oak congregation.
Asbury Memorial Pastor Billy Hester said, “There is a long history between Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak. When I first returned to Savannah after my ordination, nearly 30 years ago, I was the minister for both churches, as neither Asbury Memorial nor Wesley Oak were large enough to financially support a full-time pastor role. By 2001, Asbury Memorial had grown enough for me to become full-time, so we split and Rev. Lynn Drake, who was an associate minister at Asbury Memorial, became the pastor at Wesley Oak. Twenty years later, I am very happy that we have come back together, as two churches under one umbrella as an independent non-denominational church. We congratulate Rev. Lynn Drake and the members of Wesley Oak in becoming an ‘altars for all’ church. I look forward to the relationship our congregations will build together. It has been a thoughtful and prayerful process as we are committed to inclusion for all through our joint ministries.”
The newly merged churches intend to remain as two separate locations in Savannah: Asbury Memorial Church in a larger building at 1008 E. Henry St. and Wesley Oak at a smaller chapel located at 3124 E. Victory Drive, as plans evolve for the streamlining of church ministries and worship. Both churches have returned to in-person worship as the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic ease and Asbury Memorial is retaining the virtual worship option.
Rev. Lynn Drake said, “We are thankful and excited about the merger with the great folks at Asbury Memorial and it is wonderful to have another place of worship that is fully inclusive. In many ways, it feels we have come full circle based on the history between our two churches. Though Wesley Oak is smaller in both membership and physical space, there is a strong liturgical tradition for worship and commitment to ministries of discipleship, service, and hospitality. Looking to the future, we will continue to prayerfully discern the best way forward with Asbury Memorial and to joyfully share our community initiatives with them.”
Both Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak’s desire to disaffiliate from UMC was triggered by the February 2019 United Methodist Church Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis, where a critical vote took place about the controversial issue around LGBTQ bans against clergy and same-sex weddings. At the conference, 54.5 percent of the 823 clergy members voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, which reinforces a United Methodist Church policy established in 1972 stating that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." The Traditional Plan’s success was because of an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and these representatives overwhelmingly supported the LGBTQ bans. A large majority of members from both Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church as a result of the adherence to the Traditional Plan. Asbury Memorial’s disaffiliation was completed in September 2020 and Wesley Oak’s in June 2021.