Disaffiliation Task Force Recommendations Prepared
The postponement of General Conference 2020 for the third time resulted in a heightened interest among some United Methodists to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. Conscious that a limited right to depart exists through December 31, 2023, as adopted by the 2019 Special Called General Conference, waiting to see what additional action might be taken by General Conference in 2024 is a future of unknown outcomes. Bishop Jung established a Disaffiliation Task Force in Wisconsin to clarify criteria and procedures for congregations seeking to separate “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline” on specified matters of human sexuality, or “actions or inactions of (the) annual conference” related to those Disciplinary provisions. The task force based its work on the 2019 General Conference legislative language which addressed the issue of how a church might leave the denomination while retaining their building and other assets, which are held in trust for The United Methodist Church.
The proposals of the task force provide additional process information to the Disaffiliation Agreement approved by the October, 2020 Wisconsin Annual Conference session. That policy is based on the Book of Discipline’s new Paragraph 2553, as adopted by the 2019 General Conference.
Key points of the task force’s recommendations:
- Eligibility to disaffiliate is based on criteria established by ¶2553.
- A Conference Disaffiliation Discernment Team is to be established to work with the district superintendents and local congregations considering disaffiliation.
- The process involves the local church, district superintendent, and the Conference Board of Trustees, and requires a discernment process culminating in a 2/3 vote of professing members present at a properly called church conference. A simple majority ratification vote by the annual conference is required.
- Payments required prior to the annual conference approving a disaffiliation request:
- the local church’s preceding 12 months of apportionments plus an additional 12 months;
- the local church’s pro-rata share of the Wisconsin Conference unfunded pension liability, calculated using the apportionment formula applied to the unfunded liability market value;
- any outstanding debt owed to the conference;
- and depositing in an escrow account the estimated cost of the annual conference’s legal expenses for that church’s disaffiliation. Any unused portion of that deposit in the escrow account at the completion of the disaffiliation process will be returned to the local church.
Resources from the Council of Bishops, the North Central Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops, the General Council on Finance and Administration, Wespath (the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits) and other annual conference treasurers and chancellors informed the work of Wisconsin’s task force.
The report of the Disaffiliation Task Force is being published in the 2022 Annual Conference Workbook, to be acted on at that session, allowing churches seeking to depart time to complete the process prior to December 31, 2023.
Thanks to the members of the task force for their faithful and committed work on this responsibility: Ben Brancel, Jeremiah Cottrell, Sue D’Alessio, Fran Deaner, Kate Croskery Jones, Francois Kazadi Mukosa, Kevin Rice Myers, Jean Ehnert Nicholas, Dorthy Radley, Marshall Schmitt, Dan Schwerin, Sarah Sneider, Lisa Wink, Tsuker Yang and Steve Zekoff, chair.
Frequently Asked Questions
DISAFFILIATION STEPS FOR WISCONSIN CHURCHES
The 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted legislation establishing the limited right of a local church to petition its annual conference to disaffiliate from the denomination “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.” This limited right, codified as the Book of Discipline’s new Paragraph 2553, expires December 31, 2023.
Local churches seeking to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church during this limited time frame are required by ¶2553 to fulfill the financial obligations specified in that paragraph. The 2019 Special Session also adopted ¶1504.23 requiring that a local church changing its relationship with The United Methodist Church shall contribute a withdrawal liability in an amount equal to its pro rata share of any aggregate unfunded pension obligations.
Judicial Council Decision 1424 affirmed that the Annual Conference has the authority to develop additional procedures and standard terms (which become part of the Disaffiliation Agreement) that are not inconsistent with the minimum standards for disaffiliation required by ¶2553.
Wisconsin’s Disaffiliation Task Force is recommending the following process and timeline for use by our annual conference’s congregations seeking to disaffiliate.
1. Initial Conversation: By September 1, 2022, the initial conversation between the District Superintendent and the pastor and/or lay leadership of the local church must take place.
2. Initial Meeting: By October 1, 2022, the initial meeting with the local church leadership, the District Superintendent and the Conference Disaffiliation Discernment Team must take place.
3. Follow up conversation between the pastor and the District Superintendent: At or near the time of the Initial Meeting.
4. Period of Discernment: A two-month period of discernment following the Initial Meeting to allow the church to make a fully informed decision about whether or not to explore disaffiliation.
5. Formal Request to Explore Disaffiliation: Local Church submits the “Formal Request to Explore Disaffiliation under ¶2553” application form no later than December 1, 2022.
6. Determination of Eligibility for Disaffiliation: Conference Board of Trustees reviews the “Formal Request to Explore Disaffiliation” and notifies the local church within 30 days of the date of receipt of the Formal Request whether or not the request meets the requirements for disaffiliation specified in ¶2553.1.
7. Pastor communicates his/her intentions: By December 1, 2022, the District Superintendent must receive a letter from the pastor indicating his/her intentions regarding continued service in The United Methodist Church.
8. Formal Application for Disaffiliation: If the Conference Board of Trustees determines that the Local Church’s Formal Request to Explore Disaffiliation meets the requirements of ¶2553.1, the local church desiring to continue the disaffiliation process must submit its “Formal Application for Disaffiliation” application form by January 15, 2023.
9. Required Documentation: By January 15, 2023, the local church submits required documentation, which must accompany the “Formal Request for Disaffiliation” form.
10. Request for Church Conference: By January 15, 2023, the Conference Disaffiliation Coordinator must receive a letter from the local church requesting a church conference for the purpose of considering a resolution on disaffiliation.
11. Preparations for the Church Conference: The Conference Board of Trustees, Treasurer, and District Superintendent prepare appropriate documents for the Church Conference referenced below.
12. Church Conference: By March 15, 2023, the church conference must meet and approve a disaffiliation resolution by a two-thirds majority of the professing members present at the church conference.
13. Action by the Annual Conference Board of Trustees and Cabinet: By April 15, 2023, the Conference Board of Trustees, Conference Treasurer, and Assistant to the Bishop must prepare a legislative item for Annual Conference action.
14. Payment of Financial Obligations for Disaffiliation: The local church must submit payment in full for all financial obligations due to the Annual Conference and for the escrow account no later than two weeks prior to the opening of the Wisconsin Annual Conference Session at which the disaffiliation request will be considered.
15. Annual Conference Action: In June 2023 (dates TBD), the Annual Conference must vote on the disaffiliation resolution prepared and submitted by the Conference Board of Trustees.
16. Implementation: By December 31, 2023, all terms of the disaffiliation agreement must be met by the local church.
17. Time Limit: December 31, 2023 – Date upon which disaffiliation agreement becomes null and void if any terms remain unfulfilled.
TEN STEPS BEFORE A CHURCH CONFERENCE VOTE ON DISAFFILIATION
Leadership in your congregation believes that during the limited window of possibility which exists until December 31, 2023 the time is right to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church under the criteria specified by the Book of Discipline’s new Paragraph 2553. The recommendations in the report of the Disaffiliation Task Force to the 2022 Wisconsin Annual Conference include multiple steps involving the local church and the United Methodist-appointed pastoral leadership that shall be taken before your congregation votes on their future relationship to our denomination.
Step 1. Initial conversation: When a) a District Superintendent learns that a local church is interested in and meets the criteria for disaffiliation under ¶2553 or b) local church leadership inquires, for example, about disaffiliation, information about the Global Methodist Church, another evangelical denomination, or independent status, the District Superintendent will communicate with the pastor and/or lay leadership and offer to come for a meeting to share the process. The initial contact/inquiry must come from at least one of the following: pastor; lay leader; or council/board chair no later than September 1, 2022.
Step 2. Initial meeting with Local Church Leadership: No later than October 1, 2022, the District Superintendent and members of the Conference Disaffiliation Discernment Team will meet with local church leadership to listen to their concerns, to share about the identity and the “value” of the Wisconsin Conference, and to share about the disaffiliation process. The Disaffiliation Discernment Team will come to the meeting with an estimated payment amount per the required terms.
Step 3. Follow up conversation with the pastor: Around the same time the initial meeting with church leadership takes place, but no later than December 1, 2022, the District Superintendent will also have an informal conversation with the pastor to discern where the pastor is in his/her alignment with the congregation’s desires, his/her leadership role in the departure process, and the implications of the church’s decision on his/her future in ministry.
Step 4. Period of Discernment: To avoid rash decisions and to ensure fully informed decisions are made, there will be a minimum two-month Discernment Period following the “Initial Meeting with Local Church Leadership” before moving forward with the disaffiliation process. During that two-month period the Conference Disaffiliation Discernment Team will hold at least one follow up meeting to which all professing members of the local church will be invited to listen further, answer questions that have emerged, and to continue discerning if the local church desires to move forward with the disaffiliation process.
There will be guidelines for this congregational discernment phase provided by the District Superintendent.
Step 5. Formal Request to Explore Disaffiliation: Following the two-month Discernment Period, a local church wishing to continue the disaffiliation process must submit a “Local Church Request to Explore Disaffiliation under ¶2553” application form, including an accompanying written statement on detailed reasons of conscience justifying its disaffiliation due to:
- “change[s] in the requirements or provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference” or
- “the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues….”
The statement must explain how the current Discipline or actions or inactions of the annual conference have affected the mission and unity of the congregation and how this has led to the congregation’s request to disaffiliate. The local church shall identify any contemporaneous evidence supporting its explanation, such as meeting minutes, public statements of its members, or results of surveys taken of members. The Wisconsin Conference Disaffiliation Coordinator must receive the “Local Church Request to Explore Disaffiliation under ¶2553” application form, and accompanying statement no later than December 1, 2022.
Step 6. Determination of Eligibility for Disaffiliation under ¶2553: The Conference Board of Trustees, in consultation with the Extended Cabinet, will review the “Local Church Request to Explore Disaffiliation under ¶2553” application and notify the local church within 30 days of receipt of the application whether or not it meets the requirement for disaffiliation of ¶2553.1.
Step 7. Pastor communicates his/her intentions: Pastor notifies the District Superintendent in writing of his/her intention to remain with The United Methodist Church, retire, or surrender credentials in order to continue to lead the local church after disaffiliation. The District Superintendent must receive this notification by December 1, 2022.
Step 8. Formal Application for Disaffiliation: After the period of discernment and exploration of the possibility of disaffiliation, if the church desires to continue the disaffiliation process, the church must submit to the Wisconsin Conference Disaffiliation Coordinator the “Formal Application for Disaffiliation under ¶2553” form, and the required documentation specified below, no later than January 15, 2023.
Step 9. Required Documentation: At the same time the local church submits the “Formal Application for Disaffiliation under ¶2553” form, it must submit specified documentation of the church financial accounts, debts, endowments, deeds, contracts, leases, loans, Wisconsin Conference grants, cemetery ownership, facility use agreements, trustee’s officers, successor church name, real property legal description, insurance policies and the professing membership role.
Step 10. Request for Church Conference: By January 15, 2023, the local church submits a letter requesting a church conference for the purpose of considering disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church. In the letter, the local church should indicate that they understand the estimated “costs” of disaffiliation (including the non-financial costs) that the District Superintendent and Conference Disaffiliation Discernment Team have shared with them. The District Superintendent must schedule the church conference within 120 days. All church conferences must comply with all requirements of ¶248 and ¶2553.
It will be upon the completion of these ten steps that the District Superintendent will authorize and preside over a church conference to vote on a request to disaffiliate. A 2/3 vote of the professing membership present at the church conference is needed to support a disaffiliation request. Neither absentee voting nor voting by non-members is allowed.
An involved process, but authorizing waiver of the trust clause detailed in ¶2501 of The Book of Discipline has not occurred previously in The United Methodist Church or its predecessors. Departing the denomination that established, nurtured and provided pastoral leadership for congregations now considering leaving is a step to be entered into only after due diligence by all parties involved.
FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS OF DISAFFILIATING CHURCHES
Though churches disaffiliating under the provisions of ¶2553 are allowed to retain their property and other assets, there are financial obligations they must completely meet before the disaffiliation date, no later than December 31, 2023. If the local church fails to satisfy all of its obligations the entire agreement shall be null and void.
There is a crucial deadline for payment of financial obligations for disaffiliation even before the Annual Conference can vote on a request that has been adopted by a properly called Church Conference. At least two weeks prior to the opening of the Annual Conference session at which a disaffiliation request is considered, the disaffiliating local church must submit to the conference treasurer payment in full for the following items:
- Amount due for any unpaid apportionments from the previous twelve (12) months
- Amount due for an additional twelve (12) months of apportionments
- Local church’s pro rata share of annual conference’s unfunded pension liabilities, calculated using the same formula as is used for apportionments
- Other outstanding debt owed to the conference
- Payment into an escrow account established by the Annual Conference to cover annual conference legal expenses related to the disaffiliation (The amount to be placed in escrow will be determined at the same time the Unfunded Pension Liability amount is determined and disclosed to the congregation at that time. Any unused funds remaining in the escrow account will be refunded to the congregation after the disaffiliation has been completed.)
The amount for unpaid apportionments from the previous 12 months (Item a) above) and the amount due for an additional twelve (12) months apportionments (Item b) above) shall be calculated based on the first of the month preceding the month in which the Annual Conference vote on disaffiliation takes place.
Payment for all amounts identified above must be received by the Annual Conference Treasurer no later than two weeks prior to the opening of the Annual Conference Session at which the Conference vote on disaffiliation takes place.
Once the Annual Conference Treasurer confirms the receipt of the required payments, the Annual Conference must vote to approve the disaffiliation resolution previously agreed to by the local church and the Conference Board of Trustees. Disaffiliation does not happen until after the Annual Conference votes. The Annual Conference must approve the legislative item by a simple majority of those present and voting.
Even after the Annual Conference vote, the pre-disaffiliation requirements are not complete. By the Disaffiliation Date, which must be no later than December 31, 2023, the local church must fulfill all of the terms of the Disaffiliation Agreement that has been approved including preparing and submitting a final statistical report, and deliver to the Conference Archives its church archives and records, as specified in ¶2549.4 of The Book of Discipline.
May 12, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the meaning and application of Paragraph 2548.2 in the Book of Discipline.
During a special meeting COB held May 12, 2022, via Zoom to discuss the recent Judicial Council decision, the bishops approved a request to ask the church’s top court to address eight questions relating to the Paragraph 2548.2.
Read full article here.
More articles regarding disaffiliating:
- What should United Methodist congregations know about disaffiliation?
- Bishops discern ways for churches choosing to separate from UMC
- Church court clarifies disaffiliation rules
- Church court: Conferences can't exit unilaterally
- Wespath FAQs Regarding Church and Conference Disaffiliations
- Wespath Clergy Withdrawals—Impact on Benefits of Terminating Annual