Bishop Jones calls Special Session
By Lindsay Peyton
As part of a continuing effort to navigate the changing landscape of the UMC, Bishop Scott J. Jones called a Special Session for the Texas Annual Conference. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Houston’s First Methodist Houston West located at 10570 Westpark Dr. in Houston.
Three presentations, not requiring Annual Conference action will be offered that address questions arising from disaffiliating churches. These presentations include: a tentative 2023 spending plan provided by the Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A), the Center for Leadership Formation about new church start strategies, and a report from the Board of Ordained Ministry regarding withdrawing clergy.
In addition, the event will mark the election of Rev. Robert Besser as Conference Treasurer. The Rev. Carol Bruse, who has held the post since 2020, is retiring on Dec. 31.
The primary focus of the Special Session will be to grant approval to churches that have met the requirements for disaffiliation. Lay and clergy delegates from the previous Annual Conference will be voting on these issues.
Disaffiliation specialist Rebecca Adams explained that the number of churches electing to disaffiliate is constantly changing. A recent survey shows 300 churches in some stage of discernment or disaffiliation – out of the 600 congregations in the conference.
To date, 94 have voted for disaffiliation and 150 additional congregations have set church conferences to vote on the matter.
Bishop Jones explained that during the 2020 TAC, the “Principles Regarding Local Church Requests for Disaffiliation” were approved and established minimum requirements and steps to follow.
The process involves calculating apportionment and unfunded pension liability for the congregation, a vote from the local church, payment in full of both the previous year’s apportionment and current year’s apportionment, as well as coverage of unfunded pension liability.
Churches then work with their District Superintendents and the Center for Connectional Resources to complete the required steps for disaffiliation. A final vote from the Annual Conference is also necessary.
By the Special Session date, churches will have taken all of the necessary steps, Bishop Jones explained. The congregations will have paid their apportionments and met all requirements.
“In this challenging time, we have focused on grace and respect,” he added. “While I grieve seeing churches disaffiliate from the TAC, we want to support them on their journeys to serve Christ in whatever way they deem best.”
In that spirit, Jones wants to give congregations the opportunity to move forward without further delay, rather than waiting until the next Annual Conference.
A Future Discernment Task Force was established, chaired by Rev. Kip Gilts, Assistant to the Bishop, to communicate options available to local churches. The Center for Leadership Formation is also providing guidance to clergy who might want to withdraw from clergy membership – or move in a different direction than the congregation they serve.
“In the Texas Conference, we consider clarity, transparency and fairness our top priorities, as well as being fair, clear and comprehensive about our options,” Jones said.
He points to scripture, when Jesus declared in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
“Even in the midst of this storm, we must remain committed to demonstrating our love for one another, as sisters and brothers in Christ,” Jones said.
To learn more about the Special Session, visit the page on the Texas Annual Conference website.