Roaring Fork Valley Methodist churches double down on affirming the LGBTQ+ community

Hundreds of churches in the U.S are leaving the United Methodist Church. These Roaring Fork Valley churches are staying, hoping to spark change within the church systems.

Kristen Mohammadi
The Aspen Times
Snow covers the roof of the First United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs on Monday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

The United Methodist Church’s first openly-lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto, came to speak at Aspen Chapel on Sunday to kick off Gay Ski Week, which made for a small yet seismic ripple in a wider theological paradigm within the United Methodist Church.

In recent years, churches in the United Methodist denomination have been leaving in droves due to an ideological schism that was in part catalyzed by differing views on same-sex unions and the acceptance LGBTQ+ clergy, according to United Methodist News.

By 2022, it was reported that 2,003 churches in the United States had officially left the organization. In Texas alone, more than 400 churches had left the organization — a “max exodus” consistent with other Southern states, including Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, according to Politico.

Jerry Herships, a pastor at Aspen Community Church, estimated that around 11 churches in the Mountain Sky Conference have left the organization. Bishop Oliveto is the leader of this conference, which is comprised of 378 churches spanning Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and one church in Idaho.

The churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church are leaving to form the Global United Methodist Church, which will follow a more conservative ideological framework, Herships said.

“The Global Methodist Church has a stance that is probably what most would consider far more conservative than what is now what I would label the new United Methodist Church, which is far more progressive, open, and affirming,” he said.

While the United Methodist Church is undergoing this shift within their congregation based on ideological fractures, the Book of Discipline explicitly states: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In 2019, the United Methodist Church’s general conference voted to follow a “traditional plan,” embracing more conservative tenants of Christianity outlined in the aforementioned clause.

That same year, the church gave local churches the opportunity to disaffiliate from the denomination “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference,” according to The United Methodist Church.

Therefore, although the church voted to follow a more conservative approach, the churches leaving to form the Global Methodist Church are doing so in part because the framework is not conservative enough for them.

Despite the “tradition plan,” churches can still be considered a “reconciling ministry,” a network within the United Methodist Church that can openly welcome the full participation of the LGBTQ+ community, said Rebecca Dunagan, a Roaring Fork Valley pastor and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

Rev. Rebecca Dunagan, pastor for the Roaring Fork United Methodist churches in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, introduces Mountain Sky Conference Bishop Karen Oliveto, left, during an Aprés Ski outdoor worship service last weekend at Carbondale Community United Methodist Church.
Klaus Kocher/Courtesy photo

The reconciling-ministry distinction “helps the queer community know where those safe worshiping spaces are in advance,” she said.

Herships said the Aspen Community Church is the first reconciling congregation in Colorado. To him, the church taking this lead is consistent with Aspen’s history of progressive values and “gonzo spirit” that have endured through socioeconomic shifts.

In the broader Roaring Fork Valley, United Methodist Churches in Glenwood Springs, Basalt and Carbondale are working to form a “cooperative parish,” whereby they’ll form a cooperative council, share pastors, and work together more closely.

In addition, these churches are also undergoing the shift to become reconciling congregations. According to Dunagan, the process and timeline varies, depending on the congregation. As of right now, the Roaring Fork Valley churches are in “the beginning phases,” she said.

“Our real hopes and goals in this work is that, as a faith community, we are able to connect with and meet needs in our community,” she said.

While the schism in the church is underway, Herships sees the divide as an opportunity for the church to reform.

“There really is the hope that United Methodism, in this split, will have a rebranding and a rebirth, sort of a phoenix rising from the ashes, so to say,” said Herships. “The United Methodist Church will be the one that will hold on to progressive thought and progressive understandings and will look at theology and God through that lens rather than something more conservative.”

To reach Kristen Mohammadi, call 304-650-2404 or email

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