Steps for Disaffiliation

What are the seven steps to the disaffiliation process?

  1. Request to Explore and Discern Disaffiliation– A Congregation’s Church Council votes to explore and discern disaffiliation and the Pastor notifies the District Superintendent of the desire to engage in the disaffiliation process. Timeline – June through September 2022.
  2. Discernment and Congregational Vote– Two Guides, appointed by the Cabinet and the Connectional Table, will work with a Congregation to explore disaffiliation. At least one will be a clergy elder of the church. Both will be trained in leading the process. The Guides will receive a stipend from the congregation for leading the disaffiliation discernment process. Timeline – throughOctober 2022.
  3. Relationship Covenant– Once a congregation votes to disaffiliate, the Guides will present and guide the congregation through a covenanting process about: A) ministries that may be continued to be shared with GNJ; and B) communication during the disaffiliation period. Timeline – date for the special church conference will be scheduled by November 23; the work on the relationship covenant will be completed by February 15,2023.
  4. Due Diligence– The Congregation gathers materials and documents necessary for disaffiliation including a review of the church deed(s). The Guides work with the congregation to respond to questions and gather all of the materials for presentation to the GNJ Board of Trustees. Timeline –  Must be completed by January 23, 2023.
  5. Term Sheet Review and Vote– The Term Sheet outlining the terms and costs of disaffiliation is prepared by the GNJ Board of Trustees and voted on by the Disaffiliating Congregation’s representative body. Timeline – Must be completed by March 1, 2023.
  6. Annual Conference Approval– Annual Conference regular session votes to approve a Congregation’s disaffiliation. Timeline – 2023 regular session of Annual Conference in May.
  7. Fulfill the Requirements of the Term Sheet– The disaffiliating Congregation makes all payments and fulfills the requirements for disaffiliation in the Term Sheet. Timeline – fulfillment of the Term Sheet must be completed by the day of disaffiliation and no later than December 31, 2023, in order for a congregation to disaffiliate.

I know the pastor is part of the church council. Can they vote when voting on the discernment process? My understanding is they are to discern what’s best for them and have no vote. Clarify please.
Pastors generally do not vote at church council meetings. However, the pastor is the administrative officer of the church and, therefore, is an ex officio member of most committees of the local church. As an ex officio member of a committee, the pastor may vote on decisions before the body.

There are two exceptions – the pastor parish relations committee and the board of trustees.
The pastor parish relations committee is the personnel committee that works with the pastor and other staff. The committee’s role includes recommending compensation and benefits, conferring on ministry effectiveness, health and well-being and annually evaluating the pastor.  The pastor meets with the committee, but cannot be a voting member.
The pastor meets with and participates in the discussions of the board of trustees, but the pastor is not a voting member unless specifically elected as a trustee.” https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-who-has-voice-and-vote-in-a-local-church

I would like to know if we as a congregation could decide on voting method at our church conference for disaffiliation. We would prefer open ballot by show of hands to secret written ballot.
All voting in the church conference will be by prepared ballot.

Clearly there is a substantial costs associated with the disaffiliation process. Yet, at the end(?) of the process, the Annual Conference is able to reject the request to disaffiliate. On what grounds can they reject the request? From what I read, it appears that a church can spend a lot to go through the process only to have the request arbitrarily rejected. That seems very wrong. If this is not the case, please explain it better in the FAQ.
The Annual Conference will be presented a motion detailing the names of the churches that have completed the discernment process, voted to disaffiliate, and have accepted the final term sheet for disaffiliation as presented by GNJ’s Board of Trustees. As with any legislative motion, an Annual Conference can choose to accept or reject the motion. Disaffiliation of a congregation is not final until approved by the Annual Conference and the final term sheet fulfilled before December 31, 2023.

Can a congregation disaffiliate under paragraph 2548.2 of The Book of Discipline?
The Judicial Council has ruled that paragraph 2548.2 may not be used for disaffiliation. You may read the Judicial Council ruling here: ResourceUMC | Judicial Council Decision Number 1449.

How many times can a congregation vote on disaffiliation?
A congregation can only vote on and go through the disaffiliation process once.

Are all pastors obligated to perform all weddings?
BOD 2016, ¶340 3a, Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Local Pastors. “The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and the responsibility of the pastor.” Therefore no one can require a UMC clergy person to perform a marriage ceremony.

What is a professing member?
“The professing membership of a local United Methodist church shall include all baptized people who have come into membership by profession of faith through appropriate services of the baptismal covenant in the ritual or by transfer from other churches.” BOD 2016, ¶215. Definition of Membership Non-professing members may attend the church conference without voice and vote.

Has the United Methodist Church changed or abandoned its beliefs that are now outlined in our Articles of Religion, specifically, the resurrection, and the Trinity? No this is false. While there have been rumors and articles where person have stated their opinions concerning a moving away from the denomination’s doctrinal standards, the UMC maintains the beliefs found in the BOD Articles of Religion and disaffiliation is strictly over issues related to human sexuality.

For more information see, https://www.umc.org/en/content/articles-of-religion, https://www.umnews.org/en/news/bishop-urges-end-to-falsehoods-pivot-to-future

Discernment process

What is spiritual discernment?
There are a variety of ways to make decisions. In the church, sometimes spiritual discernment is used particularly during deep and challenging decision making. Spiritual discernment is setting oneself or the community apart for a time of deep listening for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, insight and calling. It is not judging others (Matthew 7:1-2), but encountering God’s wisdom and understanding in others, the community of faith and ourselves for discerning God’s calling for the congregation and each of us individually.

What is needed for spiritual discernment?
There are four things needed for spiritual discernment.

  1. Creating space and time to listen deeply and contemplate.
  2. Prayer, scripture reading and the words of Jesus to center and root ourselves spiritually.
  3. Openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and others.
  4. Holy conversation that listens to understand, responds with grace and respect for God and one another and recognizes that we are in conversation with one another and with God.

Are all congregations expected to go through the disaffiliation discernment process?
No. Only congregations that are seriously considering leaving The United Methodist Church (UMC) and GNJ.

Does the Annual Conference have to approve a Congregation’s disaffiliation?
Disaffiliation is complete only when all payments due are made in full, the annual conference has approved the motion of disaffiliation and the effective date of disaffiliation set by the annual conference is reached. In order for a congregation to disaffiliate, the Annual Conference must approve the disaffiliation by a simple majority vote. https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-what-should-united-methodist-congregations-know-about-disaffiliation

When does the Annual Conference vote to on a congregation’s disaffiliation?
If all of the above steps are completed by March 31, 2023, the Annual Conference will vote at its May 2023 session. The Annual Conference must approve the disaffiliation for the congregation to disaffiliate.

When does a disaffiliating congregation officially end its relationship with the UMC and GNJ?
When all seven steps of disaffiliation are completed and the church makes all required financial payments. This must occur no later than December 31, 2023, for the congregation to disaffiliate.

If Annual Conference rejects the request for disaffiliation will the conference reimburse the church any of the funds it spent to move forward with disaffiliation?
This will be decision of the Annual Conference.

At what point in the process will clergy appointed to the congregation discerning disaffiliation have to express their personal decision regarding disaffiliation? What will the conference do to ensure the well-being of clergy serving in congregations that decide to disaffiliate but he/she/they decide to stay in the UMC?
All clergy are to complete and submit their clergy profile and requests to the superintendent by the end of the year.

Will professing members that are minors participate in the discernment process? If so, will they be offered an age-appropriate presentation about what’s happening? (Concerns of disillusion of younger disciples).
This is a good and sensitive question. One option is for young people to meet as a group and the guides will work with them. Another option is for the youth to sit with a sensitive adult who will help to explain to the youth the conversation and questions.

How will the process ensure that only professing members participate/vote in the church conferences?
Notifications about the meeting are to go to all members as outlined and provided to the church. Any professing member who has not voluntarily asked to be removed from the roles or was not removed by the 2021 charge or church conference is entitled to participate and vote.

How will ballots be collected at the special church conferences?
Churches will need to provide a sealed ballot box with a slot for ballots to be submitted.  It is acceptable to make one by simply cutting a slot in a cardboard box or we suggest purchasing one similar to this one found online.

Covenant Process for those who want to stay and ensure their traditions honored

Why aren’t superintendents leading the disaffiliation and covenanting process?
The District Superintendents will be working with the GNJ congregations who are discerning their pathway to future mission and ministry as we emerge from the pandemic. These pathways were identified in the second letter and may be found here. God has important mission and ministry for the congregations of GNJ, and this will be the primary focus of GNJ over the next year. However, click here to read the covenant your cabinet has made to you concerning this matter.

How much is the stipend for Guides who lead the disaffiliation discernment process?
Each Guide will receive $500 per session; and an additional $500 will be paid to Guides who receive, review and ensure all documentation is in order for the creation of the congregation’s Term Sheet.

Will the Guides represent a particular theology or viewpoint about ministry with and by LGBTQ persons?
Everyone has a theology and viewpoint, but Guides are not representing themselves or their theology and viewpoint. They are assisting a congregation to discern if it will disaffiliate from the UMC and GNJ. Successful Guides will be those whose theology or viewpoints are not detected by congregations in the discernment and decision process. The Guides will assist each congregation in discerning its future, not the desires of the Guide, GNJ or the UMC.

What will the congregation vote on to disaffiliate?
A congregation that discerns it wants to vote on disaffiliation will vote on legislation based on ¶2553 of The Book of Discipline which states:

Because of the current deep conflict within the UMC around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, 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.

The choice by a local church to disaffiliate with the UMC under this paragraph shall be made in sufficient time for the process for exiting the denomination to be complete prior to December 31, 2023. The provisions of ¶ 2553 expire on December 31, 2023 and shall not be used after that date.

The decision to disaffiliate from the UMC must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference. GNJ congregations are required to begin this process no later than September 30, 2022.

What will be the impact of disaffiliation on our appointed clergyperson?
Clergy persons who continue with The UMC and are appointed to a congregation that continues as a UMC congregation will their maintain membership in The UMC as a clergy person and participate in the appointment process as in the past. Clergy who are appointed to a congregation that disaffiliates, but the clergy person continues with The UMC, the cabinet will work to identify a new appointment and will require financial support from the disaffiliating congregation to maintain salary and benefits until the next appointment. Clergy persons who leave The UMC on their own accord or with a disaffiliating congregation, must surrender their membership credentials and join a another denomination or serve an independent congregation and the clergy person will need to be credentialed by the denomination or independent congregation.

What is the Connectional Covenant?
If a congregation votes to disaffiliate from the UMC and GNJ, in order to move to the next stage, it will need to enter into a covenant with the Cabinet and the Connectional Table about ministries that may continue to be done jointly. That covenant outlines outlines how to honor one another and what information will be shared with the public and the broader church, and if there is openness to reunification in the future.  Click here for the Connectional Covenant.

Please provide details on the process that the two guides will follow as they assist us in the discernment process. Will there be opportunity for the congregation to ask them questions and address any concerns prior to the church vote? At our first church meeting yesterday, many members expressed concern that the pastor and his leadership were giving only biased information on disaffiliation and joining GMC. We requested a presentation by someone who could explain the reasons for staying with UMC. This was denied and we were told that the guides would represent the UMC. I am deeply concerned about the safety of the many members who want to stay with UMC. Please help us to ensure that going forward, this will be a safe, fair and peaceful process.
The pastor will receive a letter that can be shared with the congregation. Together, guides will journey with the congregation through a spiritual discernment process that helps the church conference listen for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and insight in making a decision about your relationship with The United Methodist Church. The letter will identify dates for the Church Conferences and other pertinent information needed to prepare for the conferences. This is an anxious season for the congregation and its leaders. Guides will be impartial and unbiassed. They will lead the congregation through this season and the Church Conference will make its decision listening for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, not to decisions that represent the UMC. Pastors are to continue to lead the congregation by doing no harm and refraining from leading the congregation in one way or another.

Term Sheet

What is the Term Sheet?
A Term Sheet, which is developed by the GNJ Board of Trustees, is an agreement of the basic terms and conditions of the disaffiliation. The term sheet is reviewed by the Disaffiliating Congregation’s authorized local church governing body (Church Board of Trustees and/or Church Council or Church Conference) that votes to accept the terms of the established Disaffiliation Agreement. It is then signed by the local church pastor and the chair of the local church Board of Trustees.

How were the terms determined?
While paragraph 2553 authorizes the conference Trustees to develop the terms, they quickly realized that congregations leaving the denomination has a broad range of impact across the conference which they may not fully understand without obtaining feedback from a larger group and vetting the options.  Therefore, as terms were developed, they sought feedback from the Cabinet, Chancellor, Benefits Officer and Treasurer which are all required by paragraph 2553. The Trustees took the additional step of receiving feedback from the Connectional Table and reviewing other terms from other annual conferences.  While the Trustees, received input, ultimately it was their decision. The principle used was that any congregation that sought to leave the denomination would pay for what is required by paragraph 2553 and any additional costs that the conference would incur because of the congregation leaving. The GNJ terms include requirements of paragraph 2553 and any costs incurred by GNJ.

Why are terms different from conference to conference?
With the delay of the 2020 General Church Conference, it is unfortunate that a common set of terms was not developed and that each conference was left to figure this out on their own; hence, the terms across conferences are not comparable.  What is certainly the same across every conference, is that there are costs involved when churches disaffiliate, both for those leaving and for those who remain in the conference (either direct cost or indirect costs in the form of less available funds).  We cannot speak to the approach used by other conference Board of Trustees to discern and fully vet these costs, as our Trustees did. It is possible that some of the costs were overlooked or the conference was comfortable drawing from other designated funds/reserves to cover these costs, or possibly increasing Shared Ministry to cover the costs.

While we do not know how other conferences will cover these costs, the GNJ Board of Trustees  determined their fiscal responsibility was to avoid/minimize drawing from GNJ Designated Funds which are designed to fund GNJ’s Mission and priorities and to avoid/minimize increasing Shared Ministry Apportionments for congregations who elect to stay with GNJ.  This is a matter of fairness, not punitive in nature.  Let’s take a look at two examples:

  • Clergy Compensation – if an appointed Pastor chooses to remain with GNJ while the congregation disaffiliates, there may not be an immediate open appointment for that Pastor, yet they will continue to be paid.  Is it fair to increase Shared Ministry apportionments or draw from GNJ designated funds to cover this cost?  We also stipulated, in fairness, that should an appointment be made, any unused portion would be returned.
  • Missional Transitional Support – the GNJ Trustees recognize that the bank balances, investments, endowments, and reserves in every congregation are the result of faithful tithing by every member of that congregation.  If two-thirds of those members choose to leave GNJ, the remaining one-third will need to support to establish new or fund existing ministries for these members to join.  Isn’t fair that a portion of their tithing be used to support this cost, or should we increase Shared Ministry apportionments or draw from GNJ designated funds to cover this cost?

Can our congregation receive a term sheet prior to the church council vote to engage in the discernment process?The disaffiliation passage in The Book of Discipline is a result of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality. The church council should first determine: do we as leaders of the congregation believe our congregation wants to leave The United Methodist Church. If this is the case the church should move forward with discernment process. Discernment comes first before financial discussions. The projected term sheet will be provided in the first disaffiliation discernment Special Called Church Conference session with the assigned Guide.

What are the financial requirements in the Term Sheet?
The following is a summary of the financial items in the term sheet.

  1. Any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to the disaffiliation date, as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments.
  2. Any unpaid GNJ billings for the present calendar year, as well as all unpaid billings in previous years.
  3. Any GNJ grants received in the present calendar year, and the past two calendar years.
  4. All unfunded pension liabilities as identified by Wespath and apportioned by the GNJ Board of Pension and Benefits.
  5. All unfunded retiree health care liabilities as apportioned by the GNJ Board of Pension and Benefits.
  6. All BSA settlement contributions as apportioned by the GNJ Council on Finance and Administration (CFA).
  7. Any outstanding loans as identified by GNJ Loan Board; CFA or the GNJ Board of Trustees.
  8. For congregations that disaffiliate, and their appointed pastor(s) remain(s) in the UMC, the estimated clergy compensation including housing and benefits for 18 months and maximum moving expenses for two moves per individual. If an appointment is identified for the impacted pastor by June 30, 2024, any unused portion from this item will be reimbursed to the disaffiliating congregation by August 1, 2024.
  9. All property and congregational transfer costs including GNJ legal fees.
  10. All court costs and GNJ legal fees related to disaffiliation or suits related to disaffiliation of the church.
  11. A Missional Transitional Support that will be assessed by multiplying the three-year average of the total amount of all cash, bank balances, investments, endowments, and reserves by the percent of the votes against disaffiliation during the Church conference vote.
  12. A $3,500 administrative fee to defray the cost of the discernment and disaffiliation guides that will be used by the GNJ cabinet and the board of trustees to facilitate the process. Any unused portion of the administrative fee will be reimbursed to the disaffiliating church by or no later than 10 days after the disaffiliation date.
  13. Any other fees and costs identified by the GNJ Board of Trustees including but not limited to the determination that a contribution is in order related to the congregation’s real property. These may vary per case.

Is the Term Sheet negotiable?
The Term Sheet is not negotiable. These items are included by action of the General Conference and items added by the Board of Trustees with input from the Cabinet, Treasurer and Chancellor.

Disaffiliation is a limited option which suspends the Trust Clause of the UMC and allows a congregation to disaffiliate and take the property held in trust. As a connectional church, United Methodists hold property in common. Property of the UMC is held in trust for the United Methodist mission and ministry. When a church discontinues as a United Methodist congregation, either by closing or disaffiliating from the UMC, all real and personal property reverts back to the UMC to strengthen the witness and mission of the church. Since for this brief period of time, the Trust Clause is suspended, payments for the items listed in the Term Sheet are paid to ensure that past, present and future liabilities incurred by the congregation are paid. These liabilities are explained above under the Term Sheet.

May the Term Sheet payments be paid over several years?
The financial payments of the Term Sheet must be fully paid by December 31, 2023, for a congregation to disaffiliate.

What if there are land and/or building deed restrictions on the property?
All deed restrictions must be followed by the disaffiliating congregation prior to disaffiliation.

Question about “A Missional Transitional Support that will be assessed by multiplying the three-year average of the total amount of all cash, bank balances, investments, endowments, and reserves by the percent of the votes against disaffiliation during the Church conference vote.”

Is this saying that in the event of disaffiliation the UMC will actually take that % of the church’s money and investments? E.g., if a church has $100,000 and 20% of the members vote against disaffiliation, then the UMC will take $20,000? Or is it some percentage of that? Or something else?

In the case when a church votes to disaffiliate and it is not to a unanimous vote, the Missional Transitional Support help the members who want to stay with GNJ have a path to transition to a new place of worship. The Missional Transition Support will be assessed by multiplying the three-year average of the total amount of all cash, bank balances, investments, endowments, and reserves by the percent of the votes against disaffiliation during the Church conference vote. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.

Example: If the three-year average of all the church funds is $100,000 and 20% of the members vote against disaffiliation, the terms for disaffiliation include a $20,000 Missional Transitional Support.

I’ve watched your webinar for EPA conference and was surprised to find out that the term sheet may be revised as needed. Has there been any major change at a recent Board of Trustee meeting?
While the terms may remain the same, the amounts may change based on information that was not know at the time of developing the initial term sheet projection, changes in the market, items in the deed, outstanding loans and gifts from the annual conference that have not been paid, unpaid apportionment calculations and any other items that could not be calculated accurately at the time of preparing the initial term sheet.

As a part of due diligence, appraisal of all local church properties by a certified appraiser is required. What is the purpose of this requirement?
Due diligence in all land transfers requires an accurate accounting of values of all properties, particularly if any costs of the transfer are related to the property itself.