Methodist breakaway leader plans to leave Alabama

By Greg Garrison

Holding a sword in one hand and a ploughshare in another, the Rev. Vaughn Stafford spoke on Dec. 10, 2022 outside the BJCC after 198 congregations disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church. He said the church needed to metaphorically put down swords and pick up ploughshares, quit fighting about sexuality issues and return to evangelism. (Photo by Greg Garrison/

A Methodist pastor who has played a major role in leading the movement of churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church in North Alabama plans to leave the state.

The Rev. Vaughn Stafford, senior pastor of the 2,000-member Clearbranch Methodist Church in Trussville since 2013, has accepted the position of senior pastor at First Methodist Church of Columbus, Miss., effective Oct. 1. He will preach there on Oct. 15 at the 8:45 and 11 a.m. services, according to an announcement by Columbus First Methodist.

Vaughn previously served as youth minister at Columbus First Methodist from 2002-2004. While there, he also helped launch the contemporary worship service.

Stafford served aspresident of the Wesleyan Covenant Association of Alabama andhas been serving as president pro tem of the North Alabama Provisional Conference of the Global Methodist Church, founded last year as a traditionalist movement to accept congregations disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church.

Clearbranch, which has services in a 1,500-seat sanctuary at the Argo exit on Interstate 59 north of Trussville, was one of 198 churches in the North Alabama Conference that was approved for disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church on Dec. 10, 2022.

“We just want to get back to the main things,” Stafford said that day after the vote, when he led a group of disaffiliated pastors to a prayer outside the BJCC. “We’ve been fighting inside the church for way too long. It’s time to get back about the kingdom business of not winning arguments, but winning souls to Christ.”

Although the United Methodist Church still holds its traditional stance banning same-sex marriage and ordaining openly gay clergy, decades of fighting on the issue prompted many conservatives to leave when a door was opened clearing the way for them to take church property with them.

The North Alabama Conference had 638 congregations at the start of the day on Dec. 10, 2022, and then 440 remaining after the vote that day allowing the 198 churches to leave. On May 11 this year, another 132 left. Another 18 left in the final disaffiliation vote for the North Alabama Conference on Sept. 12.

Counting Alabama churches that have left the Alabama-West Florida Conference, more than 500 congregations in Alabama, about half, have left the United Methodist Church since 2021, including what had been the largest United Methodist congregation, the 7,000-member Frazer Memorial Methodist in Montgomery, which is now affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.

“Vaughn was very faithful and provided great leadership in a time of great vulnerability, in a time when the church was going through transition,” said the Rev. Paul Lawler, former pastor of Christ Methodist Church in Birmingham and currently pastor of Christ Methodist Church in Memphis, both of which are now part of the Global Methodist Church.

Methodist disaffiliation
The Rev. Vaughn Stafford speaks to a reporter on Dec. 10, 2022, after 198 churches disaffiliated from the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. (Photo by Greg Garrison/

Since 1996, Stafford has served several congregations in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi as a youth pastor, worship pastor and senior pastor. He was pastor of worship at St. James United Methodist in Montgomery from 2008-2013.

But his earliest ministry was as a singer who performed with gospel legends Sandi Patty and the Gaithers.

Stafford was born in Livingston, Alabama, and moved to Eufaula when he was three. His father, Butch Stafford, was a basketball coach who led Eufaula to the 3A state title in 1978.

His father then took a job in Anderson, Indiana.

Stafford was attending vacation Bible school with the Eastside Church of God in Anderson as a 12-year-old when he was discovered as a singer. He performed with Sandi Patty at Gaither Studios there and began touring as a singer. He appeared in several of the Gaither Homecoming videos. His singing career and music touring ended at age 25 as he decided to go into local church ministry.

Stafford received his bachelor’s degree in accounting and minor in vocal performance at Anderson University and a master of divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary. He was commissioned as a provisional elder in June 2012 by the Alabama-West Florida conference.

Despite serving as a leader in the conservative movement that helped launch the Global Methodist Church last year, the vote to leave the United Methodist Church was still emotional for him, Stafford said at the time.

“I’ve given 26 years of my life in the United Methodist Church,” he said. “To see that change, to turn the page, is very emotional. We ultimately serve the same God.”