Dear Friends in Christ,
Recently I have received reports and updates on summer worship series, summer mission trips, and vacation Bible schools hosted through our congregations. Thousands of United Methodists in our congregations have been at work serving Christ by serving others (Matthew 25:31-46—Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me. – verse 45).
Another way we as United Methodists live out Matthew 25, especially verse 45, is through a common sharing of apportionments. Each week, a portion of what United Methodists give through the offering plate, online, or by mail supports ministries with others in our region and around the world. This year, our connectional ministries giving percentage is higher than last year. You are generous and we are grateful for your faithfulness.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), an organization encouraging congregations to leave The United Methodist Church, recently sent a letter to many United Methodists within GNJ encouraging them to tell their congregations to stop giving their apportionments. While this strategy may hurt the denomination, it will greatly impact those who need it the most. It will hurt our Hurricane Ida relief efforts, our grants to congregations in low-income communities, pastor’s salaries in low-income communities, our youth through the IGNITE ministry, our support for hospitals and clinics in Africa, the deployment and work of missionaries around the world, hunger and disaster relief efforts, and many more ministries that we share in through our giving.
You can read more on how you are helping people at home and around the world on the webpage: We Do More Together. As United Methodists we seek to live out Matthew 25, especially verse 45, every day. We apportion giving to serve Christ Jesus in more ways than any one congregation could do on its own.
We recognize congregations will leave The United Methodist Church at this time. Creating more dissention and disruption is a strategy to weaken The United Methodist Church and to weaken our mission to serve Jesus Christ, at home and around the world. We hold no malice toward the congregations who seek to leave. In fact, the denomination has lessened the burden for those who seek to leave.
Prior to the 2019 Special General Conference session, if a congregation wanted to leave the denomination it would have to forfeit its property or purchase full ownership of it. The Trust Clause in our Book of Discipline, paragraph 2501, like apportionments, is based on Acts 2:44 and 4:32—“They shared/had all things in common.” Today, because paragraph 2553 was added to The Book of Discipline in 2019, congregations temporarily may leave with their property for a fraction of the cost.
The WCA has targeted us because we, like other conferences, are being faithful to our Wesleyan heritage and the people who have served and shared faithfully. The WCA claims the terms developed by our Board of Trustees are punitive. Let’s look at each term.
- Any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to the disaffiliation date, as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments. This is required by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- Any unpaid GNJ billings for the present calendar year, as well as all unpaid billings in previous years. This is required by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- Any GNJ grants received in the present calendar year, and the past two calendar years. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- All unfunded pension liabilities as identified by Wespath and apportioned by the GNJ Board of Pension and Benefits. This is required by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- All unfunded retiree health care liabilities as apportioned by the GNJ Board of Pension and Benefits. This is required by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- All BSA settlement contributions as apportioned by the GNJ Council on Finance and Administration (CFA). This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- Any outstanding loans as identified by GNJ Loan Board; CFA or the GNJ Board of Trustees. This is required by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- 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. This is required by the General Conference and Book of Discipline.
- All property and congregational transfer costs including GNJ legal fees. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- All court costs and GNJ legal fees related to disaffiliation or suits related to disaffiliation of the church. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- 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. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- 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. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
- 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. This is permitted by the General Conference and paragraph 2553.
For most congregations, this will be a fraction of the cost associated with disaffiliating, as compared to a congregation having to relinquish all property or pay for all property (paragraph 2501).
Withholding apportionments will not only hurt our ministry for Christ Jesus among the least, but it may also make it more costly and difficult for a congregation to disaffiliate. Right now, we are in a season in which we can inflict more pain and harm to one another and to our witness for Christ… Or, we can recognize there are differences within the church, and together we will help those who seek disaffiliation to leave peaceably and with dignity, while ensuring that United Methodist needs and financial responsibilities are met.
The United Methodists of GNJ are generous. You have freely given; and collectively, our percentage giving this year is higher than last year. Thank you. Let’s continue working together to have a strong finish to this year, as we help the others in our region and around the world.
Our pledge is to work with all of our congregations, including those who seek to disaffiliate. We invite everyone to work together and not make a challenging time even more challenging for us all.
Keep the faith!
Bishop John Schol
The United Methodists of
Eastern Pennsylvania & Greater New Jersey
BishopJohnSchol@gnjumc.org | 732-359-1010
Equipping transformational leaders for
New Disciples | Vital Congregations | Transformed World
You are welcome to share this letter with others.
To learn more about how to grow your congregation, view our resource: Pathways
To learn more about continuing with The United Methodist Church and ensuring that your traditions and beliefs are honored in appointment-making and ministries, view our webpage: GNJ Covenanting Process
To learn more about the disaffiliation process, view our webpage: GNJ Discernment Process