While only one church – Cherry Run UMC in Hedgesville – requested to be formally closed at this year’s Annual Conference Session, over the past three years the BWC has seen a spike in church sales, said the Rev. Sheridan Allmond, the chair of the Conference Board of Trustees.
From 2012 to 2018, a total of 13 churches were sold at an average of 1.9 churches per year with an average sale price of $334,000, Allmond reported. The total proceeds for those sales were $4.3 million.
However, “it was then somewhat unexpected that in the three years starting with 2019, in the midst of the pandemic, the rate of church sales tripled to an average of 5.7 churches per year,” Allmond said. “This generated $5.9 million in total proceeds as the average sale price remained somewhat constant at $350,000.”
The costs of maintaining a closed church facility are high, averaging 14 to 18 percent of the sale price. But overall, Sheridan said, the net proceeds for the two periods in time are relatively equal with $3.7 million net proceeds from 2012 to 2018, and $3.8 million net proceeds from 2019 to 2021.
Conference Trustees hold net proceeds from closed church sales in the Closed Church Sales Reserves. The balance of the reserves at the end of last year was $7.2 million. Starting with the 2019 Annual Conference budget, the Trustees have been drawing 5 percent from the Closed Church Sales Reserves to fund new church starts and new ministries.
In keeping with the Trustee’s value of being transparent about the use of all of its funds, Allmond reported the draws from the reserves for new church ministries started at $200,000 in 2019 and it has increased to $625,000 in the 2023 budget proposal that is before the Annual Conference Session this year.
Among the projects funded from the closed church sale reserves are Resurrection Sandtown in the Baltimore Metropolitan District, the Affordable Housing Initiative in Greater Washington, and the Solomons Island Mission Center in the Washington East District.
The BWC’s Board of Trustees also noted that two churches – Mountain View UMC in Damascus and New Beginnings Fellowship UMC in Jarrettsville -- came before the Annual Conference Session for a vote to allow them to disaffiliate from the Conference and the denomination.
In the Trustee’s report, Allmond outlined the BWC’s Local Church Disaffiliation Process and noted some changes to the process. The disaffiliation process relates to Paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline, which addresses churches leaving the denomination over issues involving human sexuality. See a related story on the disaffiliation process.