by Dr. Maidstone Mulenga, Communications Director for the UMC Council of Bishops
March 8, 2022
The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether an annual conference can separate from the denomination under the provision of the Book of Discipline.
During a special meeting COB held via Zoom and through electronic balloting, the bishops approved a request to ask the church’s top court to address six questions:
May an annual conference of the United Methodist Church (“UMC”) within the United States separate from the UMC under the Discipline?
Since ¶ 572 of the Discipline already provides a process for annual conferences outside the United States to separate from the UMC “to become an autonomous Methodist, affiliated autonomous Methodist, or affiliated united church,” should the process and requirements of ¶ 572 be viewed as minimum standards devised by the General Conference for any annual conference to separate from the UMC under the holding in Decision 1366?
Pursuant to Judicial Council Decision 1366, must the General Conference first act to establish the procedure and requirements for separation of an annual conference within the United States before a vote can be taken by the annual conference to separate from the UMC?
If an annual conference within the United States takes a vote to separate from the UMC but the General Conference has not established the procedure and requirements for separation of an annual conference, what is the effect of the vote and what authority, if any, does the annual conference have to act on the vote and legally effect a separation?
If an annual conference within the United States may separate from the UMC, what are the requirements under the Discipline for a separation, including, but not limited to:
(a) the bodies (such as jurisdictional conferences and other annual conferences in addition to the separating annual conference) that must vote to approve the separation and the required vote(s);
(b) matters of church law related to use of the name United Methodist, or any part thereof, use of the UMC Cross & Flame or other intellectual property, including the United Methodist Hymnal;
(c) maintenance of retirement benefits and compliance with civil law and the requirements of WESPATH concerning the same;
(d) compliance with any applicable state law requirements, including such requirements related to foundations, credit unions, title to real property, and the annual conference’s articles of incorporation; and
(e) disposition of property held in trust for the denomination pursuant to the UMC’s trust clause, such as endowments, designated funds (including funds for specific ministries of the UMC), cemetery associations, camps, historical records and archives, and any other property held in the name of the separating annual conference?
Must any separation of an annual conference from the UMC provide dissenting members, local churches, districts, clergy, and affiliated entities such as camps, Wesley Foundations, and health facilities an option to remain a part of the UMC and join another annual conference?
The bishops are asking for an expedited ruling so that there is consistency among the annual conferences and to avoid action by individual annual conferences that may violate the Discipline.
“Delay in issuing the request for declaratory decision will increase frustration and anxiety among persons within the UMC and will likely cause harm not only to the denomination but to local churches, districts, annual conference institutions and related entities, pastors, and jurisdictions,” stated the bishops’ request.