Church court addresses disaffiliation questions

March 02, 2023 | by Heather Hahn

Church court addresses disaffiliation questions

The United Methodist Church’s top court released nine rulings March 1 related to a church law that governs how congregations can leave the denomination with property.

The eight decisions and memorandum from the United Methodist Judicial Council all stem from questions raised about the Book of Discipline’s new Paragraph 2553 — approved by the 2019 Special General Conference in St. Louis.

The church law essentially offers a limited way for congregations to gain release from The United Methodist Church’s centuries-old trust clause, which states that church property is held in trust for the benefit of the entire denomination.

In upholding the church law, the Judicial Council spelled out that any disaffiliation must include:

  • Approval for disaffiliation by at least a two-thirds majority of a church’s professing members present at the vote.
  • Establishment of terms and conditions between the exiting local church and its annual conference’s board of trustees.
  • Ratification of a church’s disaffiliation by a simple majority at an annual conference session.

Paragraph 2553 also says annual conferences — the denomination’s regional bodies — “may develop additional standard terms that are not inconsistent with the standard form of this paragraph.”

In these new rulings, the church court addresses more detailed questions about, among other things, the eligibility of some churches to use the law and the role of conference trustees in setting the terms for disaffiliation.

However, the church court has deferred ruling on whether clergy who disaffiliate are deemed to have surrendered their credentials and is instead asking for briefs on the matter. Briefs are due March 31 and reply briefs on April 10.

Already, 2,036 congregations have used Paragraph 2553 to exit the denomination. That’s less than 7% of U.S. congregations withdrawing since the measure took effect four years ago.

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Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or