Bishops discern ways for churches choosing to separate from UMC; seek court's guidance on Jurisdictional Conferences

March 17, 2022 | by Rev. Dr Maidstone Mulenga

Bishops discern ways for churches choosing to separate from UMC; seek court's guidance on Jurisdictional Conferences

The Bishops of The United Methodist Church in their March 15 called meeting discerned pathways for churches choosing disaffiliation and separation. The bishops have met two consecutive weeks to discern pathways forward in these changing times.
The bishops affirmed by an overwhelming majority that paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline would be the primary paragraph used for disaffiliation and separation. It is understood that different contexts may require utilization of additional paragraphs in the current Book of Discipline namely paragraphs 2548.2 and 2549: and that they would employ the values and principles as outlined in paragraph 2553.
It is also understood that paragraph 2553 is not operative in the Central Conferences but in matters related to disaffiliation and separation, the values and principles of 2553 would be used. Paragraph 2553 was added to the Book of Discipline at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.

 In addition, the Council of Bishops affirmed by a strong majority that they would hold to a set of values and principles in all matters of disaffiliation and separation:

  1. Mutual Recognition 
  • Declare mutual recognition of Christ in the other as individuals as well as constituted churches and look for the fruit of God’s Spirit in the ministry and mission.
  • Agree not to actively disparage one another with our words and actions that seek to undermine the ministry of the other. 
  • Will faithfully and carefully exercise the disciplinary requirements of the sacraments, ministry and mission.  
  1. Caring for pension liability
  • Even if the GMC assumes pension liability for active pastors moving forward, the unfunded pension liability for past service remains within The United Methodist Church.
  • Caring for Pension Liability is essential to protect the health and well-being of the denomination moving forward and to further ensure the protection of the clergy who remain as well as retirees who may depart. 
  1. Voting Threshold
  • Paragraph 2553 established the following voting threshold:  The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
          This threshold was affirmed by the Judicial Council in Decision 1379: “Any legislation of the  General Conference permitting the "gracious exit" of a local church must require at a minimum that (1) the disaffiliation resolution be approved by a two-thirds majority of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference, . . .”
  1. Ability to add additional standards
  • Paragraph 2553 established standard terms for any church disaffiliating including such things as apportionment payments, property, pension liabilities, and other liabilities.
  • In addition, Paragraph 2553 states, “Annual conferences may develop additional standard terms that are not inconsistent with the standard form of this paragraph.”

 The bishops empowered the Executive Committee to form a team that would assist conferences with best practices and resources needed for the work of separation and disaffiliation with the primary goal being to advance the mission of the UMC and assist those whose hearts and minds have already left to leave.

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Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga serves as the Director of Communications – Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church.