Disaffiliation Q&A for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

Why are churches disaffiliating?
Following a Special Session of General Conference in 2019, which addressed the church’s stance on homosexuality, congregations and clergy had the opportunity to engage in discernment around their desire to either remain within The United Methodist Church or pursue disaffiliation and leave the denomination. Para. 2553 was added to the Book of Discipline to outline the procedure for churches seeking to leave the denomination for a limited time through December 31, 2023.

What does a church need to do to disaffiliate?
The requirements of 2253 and the policy of the BWC can be found at www.bwcumc.org/administration/discerning-our-future. Churches that met all the requirements, including a two-thirds vote of their professing members at a church conference, will need a majority vote of the annual conference this June. Following an affirmative vote of the conference, the local church must meet all the requirements of 2553 and the BWC policy in order to finalize the disaffiliation.

How many churches in the BWC are seeking to disaffiliate this year?
Twenty-three churches have completed the discernment process and met the requirements to seek annual conference approval. See a list of the churches.

What process will be used for voting on the disaffiliating churches at the Annual Conference Session?
All churches that reached the two-thirds vote of their professing members threshold to disaffiliate will be placed on one ballot at the Annual Conference Session. A simple majority of Annual Conference members present, and voting, is required to affirm disaffiliation. If the Annual Conference does not affirm the disaffiliation, the churches remain United Methodist. There is no other mechanism to disaffiliate under our current Book of Discipline.

Can a church be removed from the block vote for separate consideration?
The Annual Conference has the duty and the right to ratify the decision of the local churches. If there is concern that the integrity of Para. 2553, or any part of the disaffiliation process, including the procedures laid out by the Annual Conference, were violated, then a church may be lifted from the ballot for individual consideration. The request, which must identify how Para. 2553 or the conference procedure was violated, must be submitted to the BWC Secretary before noon on June 1.

When does the disaffiliation become official?
Churches will be officially disaffiliated on the date all paperwork and payments are received by the conference Board of Trustees. The deadlines will be determined by mutual agreement of the local church and conference, and must be completed by December 31, 2023.

What if a church didn’t meet the requirements of Para. 2553?

Para. 2553 provided a limited pathway for disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church by relaxing the Trust Clause. It was not intended to be an open-ended mechanism. If a church did not meet the requirements to disaffiliate, then they remain within the UMC.

What are the consequences of disaffiliating from the UMC?
A church that disaffiliates will have no official connection to the UMC. Its members will no longer be United Methodist. The bishop will no longer appoint clergy to serve as its pastor, and its pastor and members will no longer participate in Annual Conference teams or sessions. Additionally, the pastors will not be eligible to participate in the conference's active clergy health plan or benefits, and the congregation will not be eligible for any grants or assistance from the conference.

What should lay members who wish to remain in the UMC consider?
For those who wish to stay, it is important that they transfer their membership BEFORE the final date of disaffiliation; otherwise, their membership in the UMC will be terminated. Bishop Easterling has stressed to these members that, “There is a place for you in the UMC. While it regrettably is not with the congregation you’ve called your church home, there are hundreds of other United Methodist churches ready to receive you.” If someone cannot find a church near them, they should speak with their district superintendent, who can help them find a new community of faith. Learn more in Beginning Again: A Guide for Remaining in The United Methodist Church.

What is a Lighthouse Congregation?
For those who need a little time to adjust to the sudden change, the BWC has identified several Lighthouse Congregations, where United Methodists who wish to remain in the denomination can move their membership temporarily until they are ready to decide where they would like to become active participants. See a list of Lighthouse Congregations.

What happens to the pastors of disaffiliating churches?
Clergy cannot hold membership in more than one denomination. If the current pastor of a disaffiliating local church wishes to remain with that local church, they will need to withdraw their membership from the UMC. Active and retired United Methodist clergy who remain in the UMC will not be appointed to churches that disaffiliate.

Can a pastor be a member of both The United Methodist Church and another denomination, such as the new Global Methodist Church?

No. A clergyperson cannot hold credentials in The United Methodist Church and another denomination. Judicial Council Decision 696 asserts: “There is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained United Methodist minister to hold membership simultaneously in another denomination. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated.” 

Will clergy credentials be transferable to another denomination? What is the process?
The United Methodist Church does not transfer United Methodist credentials to other denominations.

United Methodist clergy who choose to leave the denomination do so by notifying their district superintendent and working with the Board of Ordained Ministry to follow the steps outlined in Book of Discipline ¶360.1 and ¶360.2.

Another denomination may recognize the ordination that occurred in The United Methodist Church and records of that action would be provided by the UMC if requested. The receiving denomination could have additional ordination or licensing requirements.

Can a clergyperson join another denomination and later return to The United Methodist Church?
Yes, the Book of Discipline currently contains processes for the reinstatement of orders or licenses for ministry. These processes are not quick nor automatic, but they do exist and have been used previously.

If a clergyperson leaves the denomination, do they lose their pension earnings?
Clergy who withdraw from membership in the UMC will not lose their pension earnings, and they can keep those funds invested at Wespath. The Wespath website has a very helpful guide with more details.

 What, specifically, will Elders, Deacons, provisional members, associate members, seminarians, local pastors, retirees and others give up if they leave The United Methodist Church?
This helpful chart outlines details.   

Can the churches that sued the BWC still pursue disaffiliation?
Several churches seeking to leave the denomination have pursued legal action against the conference to bypass the process outlined in Para. 2553. By suing the conference, they have surrendered the possibility of disaffiliation. Even if the court rejects these lawsuits, disaffiliation will not be an option as Para. 2553 is a temporary option that expires this year. The upcoming annual conference session is the only option for ratifying a church’s vote to disaffiliate under Para. 2553.

Is there a chance a new process for disaffiliation will be adopted at the 2024 General Conference?

We do not know what the future holds. The General Conference may or may not address this issue in future sessions. However, the only current provision for disaffiliation expires this year.

In the meantime, we encourage clergy, laity and congregations to continue to deepen their faith and seek to live in love with Jesus, serving the needs of our communities with God’s transforming, redeeming, and liberating grace.

What if a church that disaffiliates wants to return to the UMC?
If a congregation disaffiliates from the UMC and later desires to return to the UMC, they would need to go through a chartering process that all new churches must follow, per the instructions in the Book of Discipline.

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