Motion passes for three churches to disaffiliate

Date Posted: 6/2/2022

 
By Lindsay Peyton
 
During the recent 2022 Texas Annual Conference session, motions passed to allow three churches to disaffiliate from the UMC. Additional congregations are already in the discernment process. Treasurer Rev. Carol Bruse outlined the costs associated and the process involved in exiting the UMC.
 
She explained that the Book of Discipline offers two paths by which a local church may disaffiliate and depart with its property and other assets.

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. This paragraph has been sent to the Judicial Council by the Council of Bishops, adding  several questions to the Judicial Council Docket for a ruling by the end of June.
 
The other path for disaffiliation is outlined by paragraph 2553, which was added by General Conference in 2019, and allows local churches to disaffiliate only until the end of the year 2023. This requires a two thirds majority to pass.
 
Bruse explained that each Annual Conference in the UMC had some flexibility for outlining the steps to take for local churches to disaffiliate within the two paths.
 
Bishop Scott J. 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. One church disaffiliated soon afterwards; two additional churches disaffiliated in 2021 and early 2022.
 
“We adopted the Principles and they have been used to govern the disaffiliations that have already taken place,” he said.
 
The process set forth by the Principles involves a period of discernment, calculating apportionment and unfunded pension liability for the congregation, a vote from the local church, payment in full of the previous year’s apportionment and current year’s apportionment and coverage in full of their unfunded pension liability.
 
The church works with its District Superintendent and completes all required forms for disaffiliation. A recommendation from the Conference Board of Trustees and a final vote from the Annual Conference are also necessary, Bishop Jones said.
 
Recent events – including the postponement of General Conference and establishment of the Global Methodist Church contributed to more churches pursuing disaffiliation, Bruse said. She has already received about 60 requests.
 
A special session of Annual Conference will be held in the fall, giving churches the opportunity to disaffiliate at that time. Bishop Jones will determine the time and location for the meeting at a later date.
 
In the meantime, Bruse said that churches are already beginning the process of discernment – and may reach out either to their DS directly or to the treasurer’s office, cbruse@txcumc.org to
request an estimate of the disaffiliation cost. “That’s often part of the discernment process,” Bruse said. “And we can help with the mechanics of disaffiliation. Once a Special Session date is set, we can create a timeline for each church to follow.”
 
A motion passed on May 31 during the Texas Annual Conference reducing the amount churches are required to pay in unfunded pension liability. Bishop Jones said that before the proposal was presented for a vote, it was unanimously endorsed by the Board of Trustees, Council on Finance and Administration and the Board of Pensions.
 
“Changing the formula will reduce the cost for churches,” Bruse said. “The new formula takes into account that we have adequate pension reserves in place. We have adequate reserves.”
 
The new formula will subtract the amount in reserves from the total TAC unfunded pension liability. “We feel that this is more fair, and I’m grateful to the team that put it together,” Bruse said. “We want congregations to go where they are called to be to make disciples for Jesus Christ.”
 
A Future Discernment Task Force has been established, and chaired by the Assistant to the Bishop, Rev. Kip Gilts, to review options available to local churches. “The Conference wants to provide significant help as congregations move forward on whichever path they decide,” Jones said.
 
The Center for Leadership Formation is providing guidance to clergy who might want to disaffiliate – or move in a different direction than the congregation they serve. Director Rev. Morris Matthis and Associate Director Rev. Deborah Hawboldt will serve as the main contacts, along with Rev. Robert Besser, Associate Director of Church Leadership in the Center for Leadership Formation. “They will serve as subject matter experts,” Jones said. “They can support any pastors who need guidance.” To reach this team, go to: www.txcumc.org/staff
 
The bishop explained that, while it pains him to have churches disaffiliate, he wants to bless each congregation as decisions are made about the future. “In the Texas Conference, we are committed to clarity, transparency and fairness,” he said. “We are committed to treating each other with grace and mutual respect.”
 
Churches interested in disaffiliation have a checklist to follow. The conference website provides a number of resources. An online video offered by Bruse and Controller Mark Hellums is also available online.
 
Ultimately, Bruse hopes that the TAC can become a model for how churches can work in a time of change. “Our bishop and cabinet are committed to being gracious and helpful,” she said. “Every clergy person, every church needs to get where God is calling them. We want to be fair, clear and comprehensive about their options.”

7 steps of disaffiliation
The following are the minimum requirements for the Texas Annual Conference to approve a church’s disaffiliation under the current Book of Discipline:
 
Members of the local church must complete an appropriate process of discernment. The determination of whether a process is appropriate is made by the church’s District Superintendent.
 
Calculations are made to determine the balance of last year’s apportionments and this year’s apportionments, as well as unfunded pension liability. A motion in this year’s Annual Conference changed the way each congregation’s share of unfunded pension liability is calculated, and should reduce that cost for most.
 
The local church may vote to move forward with the disaffiliation process – simple majority for paragraph 2548.2 or a two-thirds majority for paragraph 2553 at a duly called church conference.
 
The local church must pay in full the previous year’s apportionments and the current year’s apportionments.
 
The local church must pay in full the unfunded pension liability, as calculated by the TAC Board of Pensions in accordance with Wespath’s guidance.
 
The local church must complete all forms in accordance with disaffiliation guidance.
 
The TAC must vote to release the local church.