DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — Covenant United Methodist Church in Dothan, Alabama has voted to leave its denomination.

According to Senior Pastor Kyle Gatlin, the vote ended with 87.5% of members voting to disaffiliate during a church conference Sunday afternoon.

“Not much will change at Covenant,” Gatlin said. “We are the same church we were last week, last month and last year. It’s obvious in the vote, that most of our members believed the future of the church would be better served by not being a part of the UMC.”

Covenant says that it will remain a United Methodist Church until its annual conference on May 7. During that meeting, all churches that followed the procedures set forth by the Alabama West Florida Conference will be officially voted out.

Covenant joins Harvest Church, which voted to leave the UMC in January.

Gatlin said that the process started last summer with a meeting of a small representative group. Gatlin then asked the church to spend the rest of 2022, reading, researching, and praying for discernment.

Then this year, the Administrative Council voted twice, both times at over 80%, to take the steps necessary to move towards disaffiliation.

“The vote Sunday had no winners or losers. I mourn over the loss,” Gatlin said. “The UMC has been my home since 1968. However, each time I speak about mourning, I always know there is hope on the other side. So, I am hopeful for our church. I am hopeful for those that agreed and disagreed with our decision. I am also hopeful because I know we are staying true to God’s Word and we will continue to pursue God and unleash compassion.”

Covenant joins 55 to 60 churches within the Alabama West Florida Conference that have made the same decision to leave a conference made up of nearly 600 churches.

Two special called sessions will be held in May and November of this year, where churches who have properly fulfilled all the necessary steps will be able to disaffiliate

Bishop David Graves of the conference has encouraged churches to stay a part of the conference and denomination until the 2024 General Conference which will be in April or May of next year.

“We grieve the loss of any United Methodist Church in the AWF conference connection,” a statement from the the Alabama West Florida Conference read. “Our conference leadership is focusing our efforts on those churches that are choosing to remain at UMC. We wish exiting churches the very best and pray they will continue to make disciples for Jesus Christ.”