One of the craziest phenomena I have noticed this annual conference season is the tremendous difference between the way the Susquehanna Annual Conference and the New England Annual Conferences are handling disaffiliation of local congregations. For the uninitiated, disaffiliation is the process that allows churches in the United Methodist church to leave the United Methodist church with all their property.
Less than two weeks before our session of the annual conference, the trustees of the conference sent us an email with one paragraph announcing that they would propose a resolution to approve the disaffiliation of a church in our annual conference using paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline. They sent a new email this week with revisions, but still one paragraph. I found this upsetting.Last year we had churches request disaffiliation. We barely received any information about their requests other than the conference trustees approved their requests. It kind of bothered me, but I did not think too hard about why it bothered me. After seeing what happened in New England last week, I now have a better understanding of why this all bothers me. At the heart of it, we do not know what we are voting on. The disparity in the disaffiliation process and disclosure between our conference and New England is troubling. They knew what they were voting for and why. Members of our conference do not really know what they are voting for in the disaffiliation resolution.
What exactly does the congregation disagree with in terms of the decisions made at the 2019 General Conference? Are their consciences bothered the UMC became more punitive? Is it upsetting to them we strengthened the position we have had since 1972? Does this church in Perry county yearn for a more inclusive future?
Do we know what real property and assets the conference will lose? Did anyone do a missional impact study to see what disaffiliation means for the congregation, the community, and the conference? Did the congregation have a discernment process or is this an excuse, not a matter of conscience, to leave the denomination?
I discovered last week that other conferences are handling disaffiliation differently. A pastor I highly respect in the New England Annual Conference is going through the process of disaffiliation with her congregation and two other churches in Maine. As I was seeing people post on Facebook about it and the controversy in the annual conference session related to the disaffiliation resolutions, I was curious what sort of information they presented to the conference. So I looked at their pre-conference workbook.
Looking at the Pre-Conference Workbook there is a huge disparity between what we can find in the New England Conference workbook and what the trustees of our conference have given us in terms of documentation. The church she serves submitted:
- a Disaffiliation Agreement
- Community and Constituent input from the church requesting disaffiliation
- A letter from the conference chancellor
- The theological and missional foundations for requesting disaffiliation
- A discernment report
- An inventory of tangible property owned by the church
- An impact statement from the Annual Conference leadership
The other churches requesting disaffiliation submitted similar documents. Again, our conference received a paragraph with very few details. I contend we do not know what we are voting on. We do not know if anyone did due diligence. Obviously, the trustees would contend that they did due diligence, but where is the work?
Some might make a case that the documentation for the New England conference is excessive. I believe I could make a stronger case that our process is inadequate and/or lacks transparency. Without documentation, we do not know what we are voting on and that is troubling to me.
In theory, I think we should bless churches that have discerned that they need to leave the UMC. It is heartbreaking, but we reap what we sow. I appreciate how the New England Conference shows the due diligence and discernment behind the process in their annual conference. I wish the Susquehanna Conference had the same standards and/or level of transparency. When we vote, I do not think I will protest the vote or speak against it, but our approach is problematic. Again, we do not know what we are voting for or against at Annual Conference in terms of disaffiliation of this congregation.