At Ask The UMC, we continue to answer questions from congregations wondering about the future of The United Methodist Church, whether they should consider disaffiliating from it, and what happens if they do.
This is the seventh of a series of articles offering factual responses to questions we continue to receive at Ask The UMC. This article addresses matters relating to annual conference disaffiliation policies, the United Methodist Church’s settlement with Boy Scouts of America, and retired clergy whose charge conference membership is in a church that is disaffiliating. All of the articles in the series are available here.
We welcome your questions and invite you to contribute to future articles in this series by sharing what you are hearing about the process of disaffiliation or the future of The United Methodist Church. Write to [email protected].
Is The UMC really…?
25. Allowing annual conferences and their boards of trustees to set their own terms for disaffiliation over and above those set forth in Paragraph 2553?
The answer is yes.
From Paragraph 2553.4:
“If the church conference votes to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, the terms and conditions for that disaffiliation shall be established by the board of trustees of the applicable annual conference”
From Paragraph 2553.4.a:
“Annual conferences may develop additional standard terms that are not inconsistent with the standard form of this paragraph.”
The result of these two statements is that disaffiliation policies vary widely from conference to conference.
There are some conferences, such as South Carolina, that interpret the language of Paragraph 2553 literally and find that few, if any, congregations in the conference can qualify under those terms. At stake is the fact that Paragraph 2553 creates a limited right for disaffiliation. One of the limits is time. The provisions of the paragraph expire on December 31, 2023. The other limit is purpose. Paragraph 2553 limits the purpose of disaffiliation under its terms solely as a remedy for those congregations disturbed by the changes made to policies regarding homosexual practice, marriage, and ordination by the 2019 General Conference, or "by action or inaction of its annual conference related to these issues which follow." The South Carolina Conference has fully implemented the changes. This means, per the interpretation of the leadership of that conference, that traditionalist congregations in South Carolina have no basis to claim either of the opportunities for disaffiliation offered by Paragraph 2553.
Most conferences have instructed their trustees to consider requests for disaffiliation a bit more broadly, either by allowing for disaffiliation because of any matter of conscience regarding homosexuality, or, in some cases, for nearly any reason, provided all other terms set by the Discipline and the conference are met.
Most conferences have also required that congregations enter a process of discernment prior to requesting a called charge conference for a vote on disaffiliation. The length and the expected content of such discernment processes also vary by annual conference.
A few conferences, such as California-Pacific, Illinois Great Rivers, and Baltimore-Washington, have required payments for some percentage of the local church’s property value in addition to the payments named in the Book of Discipline as a condition of disaffiliation.
26. No longer providing coverage under the settlement agreement with Boy Scouts of America for UMC congregations that disaffiliate?
The answer is complicated.
Here are the key facts.
1. The Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy can only resolve scouting-related claims that involve allegations of abuse occurring prior to February 18, 2020, which is the date the petition for bankruptcy was filed. The settlement negotiated by the United Methodist Ad Hoc Committee does not distinguish between claims that involve a current or former United Methodist church.
The settlement agreement covers no claims for any United Methodist or disaffiliating congregation for alleged abuse that happened after February 18, 2020.
2. Protection for UMC congregations after February 18, 2020 is provided in part by the changed nature of the agreement a local church enters into with the Boy Scouts of America. United Methodist congregations may extend their current charters and be protected from harm under Boy Scout coverages through the end of 2022 for claims of events between February 18 to the end of 2022.
3. After that time, all UMC congregations are generally expected to shift to a Facility Use and Indemnity Agreement or an Affiliation Agreement that will provide ongoing legal liability protection for United Methodist local churches.
Details about the settlement and regularly updated documents for United Methodist congregations can be found here.
If your congregation disaffiliates, your leadership will want to consult an attorney with expertise in these matters or, if your congregation joins a different denomination, with that denomination for guidance on whether and how to continue to structure your relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. To date, the Global Methodist Church has not published any information on its website relating to its plans or processes for managing these relationships.
27. Requiring retired clergy who hold charge conference membership in churches that vote to request disaffiliation to move their charge conference membership?
What makes this “mostly” rather than a firm yes is the nature of membership retired clergy have.
They do not become professing members in a local church. They retain their membership in that sense in the clergy session of the annual conference.
Instead they take a seat in a charge conference, and become active in a local church that is part of that charge and have most of the rights of professing membership in that local church. (See Paragraph 357.5 of the 2016 Book of Discipline).
The key here is that church and charge may overlap, but are not necessarily entirely identical.
If the charge is one local church, charge and church are, in effect, both overlapping and identical. If a church on a one-point charge votes to request disaffiliation, this means that charge is going to disaffiliate as well. The same is true if every local church on a multi-point charge votes to request disaffiliation.
In these cases the retired clergyperson should promptly contact the district office, request a list of charges that are not disaffiliating, and choose among these the charge conference in which to take a seat and the congregation in which to become an active participant. This transfer needs to happen before the effective date of disaffiliation of the charge as set by the annual conference.
In multi-point charges where not all of the congregations on the charge request disaffiliation, however, the charge conference and the local churches overlap but are not identical. One or more congregations may disaffiliate, but those that remain are still, at least at that time, part of the same charge. In this situation, the retired clergyperson may become active in one of the non-disaffiliating churches in the charge while retaining membership in the same charge conference. This requires simple notice to the district superintendent of which church the clergyperson will participate in. It does not require a transfer to another charge at that time.
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.