Breakaway group hopes to form new church

After popular music director Albin C. Whitworth was fired in September, Lexington's First United Methodist Church went through division and tumult.

Members who were angry and left the church will worship as a group beginning Sunday, hoping to start their own non-denominational church, said Jim Averitt, one of the group's organizers.

The group, calling itself Faith Fellowship, has rented space at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Lane Allen Road, Averitt said. The church will be available because it holds its services on Saturdays.

J. Ellsworth Kalas, a prominent author and retired United Methodist minister, says he will preach intermittently at Faith Fellowship, beginning Jan. 18. And Whitworth, who was the music director at First United Methodist for 31 years, will conduct the music when he is available.

"They are very sincere Christians and I want to be helpful in any way that I can," says Kalas, who is also the acting president of Asbury Theological Seminary.

A retired United Methodist minister who had agreed to preach at the first service on Sunday canceled, saying that officials at the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church asked him not to preach there, according to Averitt. He declined to identify the minister.

Lindsey Davis, the bishop who oversees the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, did not return a phone call asking for comment.

Other United Methodist ministers and clergy from other Christian denominations will also be invited to speak at the group's services, Averitt said.

Averitt is still a member of First United Methodist Church on West High Street, but he says he no longer attends because he has concerns about the church's administration and the firing of Whitworth.

Whitworth, an internationally known musician, played at the White House during a Christmas event hosted by George and Laura Bush.

The 1,800-member First United Methodist, founded in 1789, suffered what many in the congregation called a painful division after Whitworth, 70, was fired. The numbers of those singing in the choir and attending Sunday services dropped.

First United officials say their church is strong and united now. They have declined to discuss the reasons for Whitworth's firing.

In a Sept. 10 letter, the church's staff-parish relations committee told Whitworth that his actions "demonstrated a refusal to work positively with the staff."

Whitworth has said the firing surprised him because he thought he was being given time to work out differences over "leadership styles" with the Rev. J. Paul Brunstetter,

Whitworth said he will be out of town for the rest of the month, but will participate in the new group when he returns.

"We are finding that people are really suffering," said Whitworth. "They want the music that's important to them. They want the fellowship that they had."

Faith Fellowship will also hold an all-musical service every Fifth Sunday, similar to the performances that Whitworth oversaw at First United.

Lexington physician David Kirn, who left First United Methodist and is joining the group, said he hopes the fellowship becomes a church congregation.

"I'm very excited about it," Kirn said. "I think it is one of the most positive things that has happened in the last year or so."