Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Disaffiliation and the
Special Session of the Annual Conference to be held on April 22, 2023
1. What does disaffiliation mean in The United Methodist Church and The Florida Conference?
The United Methodist Church has wrestled with matters related to human sexuality since 1972.
With the most recent postponement of General Conference until 2024, and the launch of the Global Methodist Church, some churches are discerning they should disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. Some churches will become independent, and some will join other historic or newly formed Wesleyan denominations.
The Florida Conference lay and clergy leadership respects that the decision to stay or leave the denomination should be one of conscience. There is a fair, simple, and consistently applied process for those who have prayerfully discerned disaffiliation as their chosen option.
For those churches considering disaffiliating from the denomination for reasons of conscience relating to matters of human sexuality, Paragraph(¶) 2553 of the 2016 Book of Discipline as amended in 2019 (the “Discipline”) must govern this process through December 31, 2023, at which time ¶ 2553 will lapse. See Judicial Council Decision 1449.
Paragraph (¶) 2553 was added to the Discipline at the specially called General Conference in 2019. General Conference is the only body that can amend ¶ 2553.
Judicial Council Decision 1422, which was issued February 9, 2022, confirmed that any church seeking to disaffiliate for reasons of conscience over matters of human sexuality, whether conservative, moderate, or progressive, may use ¶ 2553 to do so.
Any church who chooses to explore disaffiliation needs to first contact their District Superintendent to learn more about the process established for Florida Conference churches. For any churches that wish to remain in The United Methodist Church, no action is needed.
2. How many churches in the Florida Conference are seeking disaffiliation?
In 2021 and 2022, 17 churches were approved to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church under ¶ 2553 by the Florida Annual Conference membership.
On April 22, 2023, the Florida Annual Conference lay and clergy members will consider 55 churches seeking to disaffiliate under ¶ 2553. The Florida Conference currently comprises over 550 churches.
3. Why is a Special Annual Conference being held on April 22, 2023? What business will be conducted?
A Special Annual Conference will be held on Saturday, April 22, 2023, to process disaffiliations under ¶ 2553 of the Discipline for churches that have met the requirements.
At 9:30 a.m., a Q&A session will be held for any members to ask questions pertaining to the Special Annual Conference. At 10 a.m., the Special Annual Conference will convene solely to vote on the request of 55 local churches that seek to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church over matters of human sexuality using ¶ 2553 of the Discipline.
4. What will be the voting procedure at the Special Annual Conference on April 22, 2023?
The names of each church requesting to disaffiliate under ¶ 2553 will be presented. The Annual Conference members will be given the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no.” There will be no amendments to the Disaffiliation Agreement for those churches seeking to disaffiliate under ¶2553 of the Discipline. There will be speeches “for” and speeches “against.” The simple majority of the body will prevail on the vote. For those churches seeking disaffiliation under ¶ 2553 of the Discipline, this process was approved by Judicial Council Decision 1420 on February 9, 2022.
5. What is The United Methodist Church trust clause?
United Methodists and generations of Methodists before structured ministry through a connectional system that sustains the work and mission of the church.
The trust clause is central to this approach. The United Methodist trust clause is specific wording in legal documents (deeds) declaring that the property and assets of a local church or United Methodist entity are held “in trust” to benefit the entire denomination. The trust clause applies to all United Methodist properties, even if it is not present in their legal documents, based on prevailing legal opinions from the courts. The trust clause ensures that United Methodist property will continue to be used for the purposes of The United Methodist Church.
Holding property in trust for The United Methodist Church means the “holder” must use the property exclusively for the purposes of and to benefit The United Methodist Church.
Because a local church holds its property in trust for the denomination, it has a legal obligation to maintain and protect that property so it can continue to be used as a United Methodist church. The local church does not own the property; rather, title is held in the name of the local church trustees, subject to the trust clause.
The Discipline sets forth detailed procedures a church must follow before taking most major actions affecting its property. By following the disaffiliation process, signing the Disaffiliation Agreement, and paying the disaffiliation fees and costs, the local church is being allowed to leave the denomination, free of the trust clause. This allows the local church to assume title to the property, real and personal, tangible, and intangible, subject to any third-party claims.
Learn more about the trust clause in an article from Ask the UMC.
6. What is included in the Exit Obligation for Disaffiliation?
In the event that a church seeks disaffiliation, two financial obligations associated with our connectional life together must be addressed. These are determined by ¶2553 and include the Conference’s share of the denominational clergy pension liabilities and the church’s share of apportionments for the current year and one additional year.
The Conference’s share of the denominational pension liabilities is determined by Wespath, and the Conference Treasurer will identify a disaffiliating church’s share of that liability. The liability is calculated on a market value basis, which reflects the ongoing risks associated with a long-term defined benefit liability. The Conference’s pension liability will be updated quarterly by Wespath.
The unfunded pension liability represents the cost of the pension benefits that have already been earned by our Conference’s clergy. That liability is the difference between the projected value of the Conference’s pension assets and the projected total pension liability. If the liability exceeds the projected value of the pension assets, there is an unfunded liability.
The apportionment obligation is the current year’s unpaid apportionments (Conference + District) and an additional 12 months of apportionments.
Both pension liability and apportionments reflect a commitment to honor decisions that were made collectively by members of the general church and the annual conference for clergy benefits and connectional giving.
7. What is the process for clergy choosing to withdraw from The UMC?
The decision of clergy to withdraw from The UMC is separate from the decision of a church to disaffiliate. Following the procedure as outlined by ¶ 360.1 of the Discipline, clergy must submit a written request for withdrawal from membership in The Florida Conference of the UMC to the Bishop and copy the Office of Clergy Excellence, their District Superintendent, and the Office of Pensions and Health Benefits. The withdrawal process is outlined here for all clergy credentials.
The expectation for previously retired clergy is that any retired clergy who wish to participate in any capacity in a disaffiliated church will withdraw their conference membership as they are unable to honor the covenantal commitment to steward The United Methodist witness nor fulfill the Disciplinary requirement (¶357.5) of holding a charge conference membership in a United Methodist Church.
8. If a church is disaffiliating on April 22, 2023, should lay membership who want to remain in The United Methodist Church move their membership prior to that date?
The disaffiliating church is a UMC until the effective date of the disaffiliation agreement, which is June 1, 2023 for this group of churches. Lay persons wishing to move their membership to a new church should do so before this date. Those persons wishing to remain United Methodist but are uncertain of their new church home can offer their names to the General Church Roll for one year as they discern next steps. To do this, contact Janet Earls in the Office of Congregational Vitality.
Our expectation is for a smooth and healthy process of separation for those leaving. While we understand some may have very strong feelings about the disaffiliation process, we seek to do our part to maintain integrity and a mindset of peace. In this way, we honor the grief and pain of those whose churches are leaving while they desire to remain just as we are honoring a process for a church to choose to leave.
9. What is the effective date of disaffiliation for the 55 churches being voted on April 22?
Disaffiliation is complete only if all obligations of the Disaffiliation Agreement are met by the effective date. For churches being voted on at the April 22, 2023 special session of annual conference, the effective date is June 1, 2023. Items such as a Certificate of Insurance and final payment of exit obligations are due before this date. Until the effective date, the local church remains a United Methodist Church, with their appointed pastor. The Annual Conference approving the Disaffiliation Agreement is one step, but it is not the final step.