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Annual Conference Members Will Consider Churches’ Disaffiliation Requests

Posted: May 3 2023 at 09:42 AM
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Ten churches’ request for disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church will be considered by Northern Illinois Annual Conference session members on June 6. 

These churches, constituting 2.8 percent of NIC congregations, completed a set of required steps that the 2019 UMC General Conference, in special session, passed as church law. 

“As a connectional community of faith, the Northern Illinois Conference values our diversity,” said Bishop Dan Schwerin. “We enter this season of disaffiliation in prayer and with discernment, recognizing that for some the theological differences are so great as to require separation. It is our pledge to do this work with respect and grounding in our faith as we bless those who must set out on a new path, all to the glory of God.” 

The 2019 process, codified in paragraph 2553 of The United Methodist Book of Discipline, allows churches that no longer wish to remain United Methodist “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” to withdraw from the denomination. To be eligible for consideration, churches must complete the required process by Dec. 31, 2023. 

Over the past year, our bishops and the cabinet worked with the 18 congregations that expressed interest in exploring this option. Those churches first contacted their district superintendent to learn about the process. The district superintendent and Rev. Arlene Christopherson, the assistant to the bishop, sent explanatory documents and met with churches to present more information. 

If a church then wanted to pursue the possibility further, the entire congregation was invited to attend a discernment process involving three sessions on local church identity, United Methodism, and practical steps toward moving away from the connection. Retired UM clergy and lay leadership facilitated these sessions, which were resourced by conference staff.  

Once the church completed the discernment process, it took a straw poll to determine whether to continue in the process. Some churches at this point decided against continuing toward disaffiliation.  

Those that chose to move forward then engaged in financial conversation with the NIC Board of Trustees and Lonnie Chafin, conference treasurer.  

The conversations address five areas of financial concern. Paragraph 2553 requires that exiting churches remit two years of apportionments (the current and one future year), pension liabilities, and any arrearages and repayment of conference grants. In the NIC, these churches are also obligated to contribute to the conference Repair the Harm to Children Fund and to a future United Methodist ministry developed for that region. In cases of churches that have outstanding loans, these must be satisfied or refinanced by a newly incorporated congregation. 

Following these conversations, the district superintendent presided at a church conference wherein members voted on disaffiliation. The decision requires a two-thirds majority vote.  

The ten churches that completed the process are listed in the Disaffiliation Resolution that will be considered at the next Annual Conference. (Proposed legislation, including this resolution, will be posted at umnic.org on May 5.)  

During the first plenary session of the Annual Conference on June 6, the cabinet and NIC Board of Trustees will report on the matter and session members will vote on each church individually. Passage requires a simple majority. Once these resolutions are ratified, disaffiliating churches must meet all terms and conditions to disaffiliate by June 30.  

“This has been a long and difficult journey for congregations exploring their past and future, for staff giving countless hours to the work, for our Trustees as they did the hard work of talking about finances, and for those who are caught in the middle between their love for their congregation and their belief in the United Methodist Church,” Bishop Schwerin said.  

While members have left the UMC before and congregations have closed, this is the first time in denominational history that a congregation can leave the denomination and, if it meets the requirements of the new church law, retain the church property. Per the “trust clause” in The Book of Discipline (paragraph 2503.1 and elsewhere), church buildings are the property of the annual conference. Denominational law requires that such a trust clause appear in all deeds of all UM properties. The rule dates to the leadership of John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement in England.  

In the coming months the cabinet and staff will work on ways to care for individuals who wish to remain United Methodist though their churches are disaffiliating. Cabinet and staff will also address the trauma congregations experienced during this process.  

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