By Lindsay Peyton
The Future Discernment Task Force is coming soon to a church near you. The group is planning informative sessions throughout the Conference, stopping in each district. The schedule of meetings can be found here on the Texas Annual Conference website.
Assistant to the Bishop, Rev. Kip Gilts, who convenes the Task Force, explained that the group was established through a resolution at the 2021 Annual Conference. “The purpose was to establish a broad base of leaders within our Conference, who would educate laity and clergy on upcoming legislation and denominational options being considered at the General Conference,” he said.
Gilts explained that the Book of Disciple offers two paths where a local church can disaffiliate though our Principles of Disaffiliation.
One is under paragraph 2548.2, which allows an Annual Conference to transfer the property of a local church to another evangelical denomination, after certain requirements are met. This requires a simple majority to pass.
Another option for church disaffiliation is paragraph 2553, which was added to by the Special Session of General Conference in 2019. This option allows a local church to disaffiliate through the end of the year 2023. This disaffiliation option requires a two thirds majority to pass.
The Future Discernment Task Force planned two gatherings – one before the General Conference and a second afterwards to lead discussions about what happened. Six different subcommittees were formed – to examine legislation proposed as well as denomination options for disaffiliating churches.
Then, the General Conference was postponed. In the meantime, a Conference disaffiliation resolution was put before the Conference. “That put into effect the very things that were going to be discussed at the General Conference,” Gilts said.
Task force pivots
The Future Discernment Task Force pivoted – and proposed adapting their role to address changing circumstances. The group next planned district visits to facilitate discussions about disaffiliation as a conference.
“Then, the Judicial Council ruled that Annual Conferences cannot disaffiliate until the General Conference develops a pathway for such a decision,” Gilts said. “The Annual Conference vote on disaffiliation was now off the table.”
At the same time, he explained, local churches continued to talk about leaving the denomination. Questions kept arising about the steps to take in order to disaffiliate.
The Future Discernment Task Force again found a way to adapt to fit the need. During the recent Annual Conference, a motion passed to pave the way for district educational visits.
During the Annual Conference session, there was also an amendment submitted, which called for the addition of Bishop Scott J. Jones and a fiscal officer to attend each meeting. The bishop will be able to discuss the history of the disaffiliation process and denominational concerns, while the fiscal officer can outline costs involved.
In addition, the district meetings will include three speakers – one who will discuss the future of the UMC, another who will discuss the Global Methodist Church (GMC) and a third who can discuss other options, including the Free Methodist, Congregational Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Evangelical Methodist and Christian Methodist Churches.
Currently, five-minute videos are being prepared to outline the different options.
Each district meeting will be split equally between presentations and a Q&A session. “This is very intentional,” Gilts said. “We understand that there are more questions at this point than answers.”
Gilts said that any questions that cannot be answered during the session will be collected, reviewed and addressed later. Each meeting will be recorded and made available on the TAC website: www.txcumc.org three days after the session is complete. While the Q&A sessions will not be online, all of the questions raised will be made available at a later date.
In total, 10 meetings are planned, and sessions begin on July 9 in the East District at the Fredonia Hotel. The Southeast District will be the next stop on July 10 at Beaumont Wesley UMC.
On July 16, the Future Discernment Task Force heads to the North District for two sessions – one in Longview at FUMC Longview and the second in Texarkana at William’s Memorial UMC. Then, the group will lead a meeting in the Northwest District at Marvin UMC in Tyler on July 17.
The meetings continue on August 6 in the South District at Hope Church in Pearland, followed by St. Paul’s in Houston in the Central District later that day. On August 7, the Task Force goes to the Southwest District at St. Peter’s UMC in Katy.
Finally, the district meetings conclude on August 13. The day begins in the Central North District at Faith UMC in Spring and finishes in College Station at Christ UMC.
Clergy and church leaders are invited to attend. Gilts said that congregations already involved in the discernment process will want to take part and invite more representatives to participate.
He explained that the Book of Discipline offers two paths by which a local church may disaffiliate. One is under paragraph 2548.2 and allows an annual conference to transfer the property of a local church to another evangelical denomination, after certain requirements are met. This requires a simple majority to pass.
The other option is under paragraph 2553, which was added by the General Conference in 2019, and allows local churches to disaffiliate through the end of the year 2023. This requires a two thirds majority to pass.
During the 2020 TAC, the “Principles Regarding Local Church Requests for Disaffiliation” were approved and established minimum requirements and steps to follow. He explained that though our Principles of Disaffiliation cite two references in the Book of Discipline regarding disaffiliation, congregations are being encouraged to follow Paragraph 2553 which requires a two-thirds majority vote of a duly called church conference to disaffiliate from the UMC. The other reference is under review by the Judicial Council and may be declared inapplicable to issues of disaffiliation.
“We want to help congregations prepare as much as possible – and learn more about what’s involved, what a church should consider and what concerns pastors may have,” Gilts said. “Our goal is education not advocacy.”
The top priority, he explained, is creating a platform for conversation. “There will be many voices in the room, and this is an opportunity for discussion as a Holy family,” he said.
Ultimately, Gilts explained, each church has to discern where God is moving in the community and how to best follow His lead.
“Is the UMC an obstacle or a vehicle for fulfilling that God-given mission?” Gilts asked. “It all comes back to what God is calling you to do in ministry.”
For more information, go to Future Discernment Task Force