Letter to the editor: What’s ahead for United Methodist churches?

Published 10:21 am Monday, April 4, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

To the editor:

Local United Methodist Churches are facing issues of a magnitude never before encountered in the denomination. Questions pertaining to human sexuality have been debated for years. In 2019 the General Conference (the UMC governing body, hereafter “GC”)  attempted to resolve those issues by deciding to retain its traditional view (the Traditional Plan) and policies on that issue. Not everyone agreed and in 2019 the Western North Carolina Annual Conference (hereafter WNCAC) voted to reject the Traditional Plan in defiance of the General Conference decision.

The dissension among the Methodists on numerous issues has driven local churches to consider disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church. In 2022, there are 21 churches in the WNCAC seeking to leave the United Methodist Church. A major obstacle is John Wesley’s structure of all local church property being held in trust for UMC.

At the present there are other denominations courting disheartened United Methodists, including groups known at the Global Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation out there due to the policy of the UMC, the local Conferences and delegates not to discuss the issues with their congregations. Also, a lot of the information provided by new denominations is misleading and cannot be relied upon.

The main concern of local churches is how to retain their property without paying for it again. A major  concern of the UMC is to replenish a deficit in its Pension Fund that will be further eroded by the loss of revenue from disaffiliating churches.  There are only two methods for a local church to get out of the UMC:    

a. Close and all its property reverts to the United Methodist Church; or

b. Disaffiliate from the UMC pursuant to a procedure (called Section 2553) adopted by the UMC in 2019.  This procedure expires Dec. 31,2023.

The disaffiliation procedure requires a formal church conference, a two-thirds vote on narrow issues involving human sexuality, approval by the WNCAC and payment of that church’s apportionment and share of the unfunded pension. For most churches the disaffiliation payment to the UMC equals about 8.5 times its annual apportionment. The amount of the disaffiliation payment varies with the performance of the UMC Pension Fund investments in the stock market.The payment releases the UMC’s claims to the property of the local church.

Local Methodists have been advised to wait and see what the GC will do. The hope is that the UMC will later let local churches out of the conference without any payment. The 2022 session of the GC has been postponed until 2024 so no other favorable exit strategies exist. The proposal to split  the church (the Protocol) is off the table for at least two more years.  While other denominations have solicited local Methodist congregations to join them and imply no payment will be required, there is no legal way for a local church to join another denomination without first disaffiliating.

Any local Methodist Church seeking to get out of the United Methodist Church must take immediate action.  The disaffiliation process takes about six months and the request must be approved by the Annual Conference that meets each June. Therefore, any requests to disaffiliate must be submitted to the 2023 Annual Conference by its deadline of April 1, 2023.  Waiting and seeing will be too little too late.

Grady L. McClamrock Jr.