CNN  — 

The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted Saturday to accept the decision of 261 congregations to leave the denomination over a divide on LGBTQ issues.

“I realize how sad this time is for many, including myself,” said Bishop Robin Dease, the leader of the conference. “I just hate that those who are leaving us, I will not have the opportunity to meet or to be with.”

The churches are breaking from the UMC after a 2019 decision by the national United Methodist Church to allow congregations to leave by the end of 2023, “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 of early August 2023, over 6,000 congregations of just over 30,000 in the United States have been approved for disaffiliation since 2019, according to the UMC’s website.

The 261 churches now leaving the North Georgia Conference of the UMC account for a sizable percentage of its nearly 700 churches, according to the conference’s website.

Their exit marked a “solemn day,” the North Georgia Conference of the UMC said in a news release.

More than 100 congregations had sued the North Georgia Conference for the right to have their disaffiliation requests heard, and a Cobb County judge agreed “a c