Florida Conference approves disaffiliation for 55 churchesConference News
Fifty-five churches were formally approved for conditional disaffiliation from The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church at Saturday's virtual special session.
Those churches met the requirements in Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline regarding separation from the denomination over the issue of human sexuality. Those included meetings with their district superintendent to understand the ramifications, prayerful consideration for discernment, and open meetings with professing members in their respective congregations.
Their departures become effective on June 1 if they fulfill all financial and other requirements.
That includes producing a certificate of insurance to cover potential civil liabilities incurred before disaffiliation and the payment of all apportionments for 2023, plus an additional year. In return, they can keep their buildings and real estate, which would normally revert to the Conference.
"Any church that does not fulfill all those requirements would not disaffiliate by June 1," Florida Conference Bishop Tom Berlin said. "They would still be in process, so they would need to fulfill those requirements before the disaffiliation would occur.”
However, since they have already been conditionally approved for disaffiliation, those churches would have two more special called sessions this year in which to complete the requirements. Paragraph 2553 expires at the end of this year, meaning churches seeking to disaffiliate after that might be unable to keep their land and property.
The vote in the special session was 1,020 (93%) in favor, with 71 (7%) voting against it. The 55 churches were considered as a single slate.
“I’ve been trying to think of how one prays to close this experience," Bishop Berlin said before basing a prayer on Ephesians 1.
"If you’re like me and have been a lifelong United Methodist, it’s just not possible to see this day as a day of joy and happiness. ... The path of anger and hostility is not the Christian way."
Speakers were allowed to make arguments for or against the measure.
Barbara Jennings, a voting delegate from Riverdale UMC in St. Augustine, said lay leadership at her church unfairly lobbied for disaffiliation. She voted against the measure, even though she said she was ordered by a lay official at her church to vote in favor. Jennings said Conference rules prohibited such a mandate.
“Importantly, there was no meaningful discussion on matters of human sexuality, which is clearly stated as the only valid use of Paragraph 2553. That alone is reason enough to set aside their vote. But there’s more," she said.
“They pushed information that was strongly biased against the UMC. They pushed all those false rumors. Our lay minister was never a neutral party. He pushed for disaffiliation in meetings, in people’s homes, and in the pulpit. One Sunday, he even roared, ‘This is my church, my flock. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.’”
Jennings said that pushed some members in favor of staying into leaving the church long before the church vote took place.
Rev. Augie Allen of Riviera UMC in St. Petersburg urged voters to pass the measure.
“The harm of the past couple of years has already been done. It has been my experience leaving a church that was clearly going to disaffiliate, those who were able to find a (new) home in a church that going to continue to be UMC has already been working," he said.
Rev. Allen added, “At this point, I believe it is in the best interest to allow those churches who wish to disaffiliate to continue to do so.”
Voters in 2019 at the General Conference of The United Methodist Church established the disaffiliation process in the wake of controversy over the potential change in the Book of Discipline to allow for the ordination of LGBTQ+ pastors and to permit same-sex marriages at UM churches.
As of December 31, 2022, there were 29,257 professing members in the 55 churches, representing 15% of the 191,902 total membership in the Florida Annual Conference. Members of the disaffiliating churches who wish to remain United Methodists are free to join other churches.
The Conference placed the value of the assets in the departing churches at $35.8 million, not including real estate. The real estate is valued at $306.4 million. Those churches can keep those assets if they meet their other financial obligations.
Those churches also paid $13.6 million in apportionments over the last five years, representing 16% of the Conference apportionment receipts.
Additional special sessions to address disaffiliation are scheduled for August 5 and December 2.
The following churches were approved for disaffiliation, pending completion of all exit requirements.
|Atlantic Central District|
|Canal Point||Canal Point||$25,538|
|Community of Hope||Loxahatchee||$863,246|
|East Central District|
|DeLeon Springs||DeLeon Springs||$25,358|
|Gulf Central District|
|North Central District|
|Crystal River||Crystal River||$135,053|
|Grace at Ft. Clarke||Gainesville||$266,878|
|Spring Life||Spring Hil||$233,984|
|North East District|
|North West District|
|South East District|
|Korean American of S Florida||Tamarac||$152,573|
|North Hialeah Hispanic||Hialeah||$44,957|
|South West District|
|Port Charlotte||Port Charlotte||$182,934|
|St. James/New Beginnings||Sarasota||$69,192|
Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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