Skip to content

CLUB 444: …and in North Georgia….

June 10, 2022

Again, Wally and I were in both college and seminary together, and it’s with his graciously expressed permission that I share what he wrote today with you here. He entitles it, “Exit Now!” —

Atlanta drivers know if you wait until the last minute to try to cross 6 lanes of traffic to get to your exit, you are likely to either miss the opportunity and wait for the next one, or get run over by a delivery truck. Therefore, we have learned to get prepared to exit long before the exit appears.

The UMC made a provision for churches to disaffiliate (exit) from the UMC taking their property and all assets without any liability for future unfunded UMC pension benefits. It is described in paragraph 2553 of the current (2019) Book of Discipline.

However, this provision has an expiration date: December 31, 2023. There are costs involved, specifically paying the church’s share of the unfunded pension liability (the conference has to provide that number) and any unpaid current year apportionments plus one more year apportionments. Various other bishops and Conference Boards of Trustees have added other requirements, some quiet onerous.

The paragraph 2553 of the 2019 General Conference made provision for disaffiliation by a local church and was ruled constitutional in 2021 by the Judicial Council. This meant disaffiliation could be processed beginning in 2022. Seventy churches in North Georgia completed the process and were approved/ratified for disaffiliation at the June, 2022 Annual Conference.

The remaining churches wishing to disaffiliate have a very narrow window. They must complete the church decision making process and ask for a church conference to be scheduled January 1- February 28, 2023. The North Georgia Conference must vote on whether to ratify the local church disaffiliation agreement which is scheduled for May 31, 2023. No further opportunity for ratification is presently planned.

In order to meet this deadline it is imperative churches act now. The Annual Conference has published very specific procedures which must be followed exactly to be able to successfully execute this process. A sixteen page disaffiliation package has been prepared to help churches navigate this laborious process. The packet is available via email on request.

Please do not believe the speculation that there is no need to do anything before the 2024 General Conference. Also do not believe the speculation that the 2024 GC will make the process easier and less costly. Indications across the church reveal an agenda to thwart the process of disaffiliation. For example, one bishop has declared no churches will be allowed to disaffiliate until after the 2024 GC. Another has required churches to surrender 1/2 of their assets in addition the Disciplinary requirements. Further, the centrists and progressives who were involved in the negotiations which resulted in the Protocol for Separation have withdrawn their support for the legislation in the 2024 GC. The NGA bishop has declared, “The Protocol is dead.”

There is not sufficient evidence to believe the 2024 GC will adopt a new version of Paragraph 2553 nor make leaving less onerous, if even possible. Many have speculated they will, but this a very unlikely outcome.

Therefore, I believe you will have one opportunity: Annual Conference 2023. If you miss the exit, you will have probably made a very costly mistake.

In order to avoid missing the exit, you must begin moving toward it now, not later. Now. No one knows how many NGA churches will seek to disaffiliate in 2023. It could be hundreds. The exit ramp is fast approaching and the exit lane will fill quickly. You need to move toward it quickly.

Please do not let conference leaders, centrist/progressive clergy, or other church members convince you there is no hurry. The time is now.

There are folks available to speak with you, your church leadership, your church or a group of churches to help with understanding the current situation and the necessary process to successfully get through this exit.

In many churches there has been little or no discussion of the whole matter forcing the decision. Often that may be the natural state of inertia in many of the congregations of the UMC. Or it may be a theological misalignment of the pastor and the congregation. Further, it may be the fear of conflict in the congregation. Now is the time to face the fears and the consequences. Time is of the essence.

Disclosure: after 50 years of ministry in the UMC I transferred to the Global Methodist Church. It was in some ways a very sad and difficult decision. However, it was for missional reasons, first, then doctrinal and theological reasons. I believe we have a great missional future together. Our Wesleyan heritage is one of outwardly focused mission. It’s time to pursue it again.

— Dr. Warren Lathem,

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: