What’s Going on With Methodism?
We’ve all heard a little about the inevitable split within the United Methodist Church. The division centers on the language within the church’s Book of Discipline (BOD) over matters of human sexuality. Specifically, the BOD prohibits “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from serving as clergy, barred clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages, and barred United Methodist churches from hosting same-sex weddings.
The split has led to a word we don’t want to hear: disaffiliation. This term revolves around the ability of a local UMC to leave the denomination. In the past, this has rarely occurred primarily because once a local congregation decided to leave, they left their building and assets behind.
The reason behind this abdication of assets is due to the Trust Clause. Local churches hold the title of the building but the building is held “in trust” through the Annual Conference for the entire United Methodist Church. Thus, once a congregation disaffiliated, the property and assets reverted to the United Methodist Church to ensure that the building and assets were used solely for purposes consonant with the mission of the entire denomination.
Knowing there was growing divisiveness within the denomination, The Taylor Disaffiliation Plan, or “paragraph 2553” was adopted to amend the trust clause from 2020 until December 31, 2023. This plan set forth a way to allow churches to leave the denomination and gain ownership of their property.
The requirements for disaffiliation under this paragraph are as follows:
- Discernment by the congregation of “reasons of conscience” related to the issues of human sexuality.
- Approval by 2/3 vote of the professing members present at a Church Conference.
- Approval by a majority vote at Annual Conference.
- The payment of two years of apportionment payments to the Annual Conference (apportionment is local church payments for mission purposes).
- The payment of the church’s share of the clergy pension liabilities.
Local Annual Conferences were given the leeway to place additional requirements upon local churches. Effective July 1, 2022, the Pen-Del Conference added:
- A payment equal to 50% of the assessed value of all real property.
- Pro-rata shares of unfunded pastoral health, dental, and life insurance obligations.
Disaffiliation is complete only when all payments are made, the Annual Conference votes to approve, and an effective date for disaffiliation is established. The deadline is December 31, 2023. After this date paragraph 2553 is void and the normal rules for disaffiliation are in force.
The UMC is not forcing anyone to leave the denomination. The United Methodist Bishops have reiterated that all congregations are welcome to remain part of a diverse denomination. Realistically, however, the church allows for a more amicable migration away from United Methodism for local congregations.
So, where do congregations go after they disaffiliate? They can join the newly created Global Methodist denomination, become an independent church not affiliated with any denomination, or join a different denomination. Some of the very large churches are remaining independent for now but numerous congregations are joining the more conservative Global denomination. In the meantime, the United Methodist Church remains a strong denomination making disciples for Jesus.
Here at Newark United Methodist Church, there has been no groundswell or movement for disaffiliation. Practically speaking the window to begin a disaffiliation process has closed. Furthermore, it would not have been economically feasible for our church. Currently, in the Pen-Del Conference, approximately 30% of local congregations have expressed a desire to leave the denomination. This is happening throughout the country at various Annual Conferences.
Like a local UM congregation, the larger UM church is a family that has differing opinions that need to be discerned, contemplated, and discussed. We need to be informed but we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by controversies going on elsewhere in the UMC. Our focus will continue to be on all the good things we are doing here in Newark.
We are a Reconciling Community where we love, affirm, and welcome all of God’s children. We are reaching beyond our walls to impact our community.
If you should have any questions, need further clarification, or seek to provide input about this subject, please contact Dan Logan (Church Council Chair), Pastor Kevin Benjamin, or Mark Werrell (Lay Leader).