March 5 Info Meeting Written Notes

March 5 Info Meeting Written Notes

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Congregational Meeting – Led by Rev. John Hice

This informational meeting was to hear about what it would entail for our congregation to remain aligned with The United Methodist Church (hereafter, UMC). The presenter was our district superintendent, the Rev. John Hice.

The following are the notes of the meeting taken by a church member. Note: in the notes, the term “human sexuality” is a reference to the LGBTIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual) issue.

You may listen to an audio recording of the March 5 meeting.

Opening Statement

Rev. Hice opened with prayer and made the following two points (written summary provided by Hice):

  1. The Methodist Movement since John Wesley has been intentionally non-confessional. In the words of Wesley, “As to essentials we hold firm; as to opinions we think and let-think.” Rather than constructing an exhaustive doctrine or catechism with very specific questions with rigid answers which all members in good standing are expected to embrace, we have encouraged discussion, study, new discoveries and insights, and debate for many theological, scriptural, and ministry issues. This, we have believed, challenges us to grow in our faith and sharpen our thinking as we engage in the quest to be ever-more Christlike – “go on to perfection.” The United Methodist Church of the future is likely to continue in this non-confessional approach.
  2. United Methodists tend to be moderates We have members and leaders and teachers that range across the conservative to progressive continuum, most of us (80%, at the last measured study I have encountered) tend to hover near the center where we might be right or left of center, but be compatible with those who think differently. Only about 10% of those at the extreme ends are not tolerant with those who disagree with them.

Questions from the Audience

  1. What are we voting on?
    He explained that the human sexuality language in the Book of Discipline has become an issue. In 2019 a special general conference was held to vote on this issue. The vote was to uphold the traditional language that was in the Discipline. Also, at this time language for a church to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church was created. This is called Paragraph 2553. At the time, it was thought that the progressive people in the UM would disaffiliate, but the Wesleyan Covenant Association has created the Global Methodist church.
  2. Is the current United Methodist Church adhering to the amended 2019 Discipline?
    Rev. Hice explained that every time General Conference meets the Discipline is reviewed and experiences changes. The next General Conference meets in 2024. The United Methodist Church will follow the 2024 Discipline. Rev. Hice suspects that the language regarding human sexuality will be removed and that issue will be left to local congregations.
  3. As churches leave, how will these affect local church budgets i.e. ministry shares?
    The Michigan and General Conferences are being substantially reduced in light of the reality of churches disaffiliating. In recent years, the Michigan Conference has reduced the number of districts. In July the districts will once again be reduced from 9 down to 7. All but one district office have been closed. Major staff restructuring is taking place.
  4. What happens to the physical property if we disaffiliate?
    1. Each church owns their property but hold the deed in trust for the Conference. If a church closes, the Conference trustees retrieve the deed and assume responsibility for the property. The property is sold and the money used for the ministries of the conference.
    2. Disaffiliation: If a church decides to disaffiliate, the trust clause is invoked. Paragraph 2553 lays out a way to release the trust clause. (There was an explanation of what happened first. I just included what happens now.) In order to release the trust clause, the church must pay two years of ministry shares. In our case the cost would be $78,332. (Another financial obligation is covered in another question. This just releases the trust clause and allows a church to take their property).
      • Another path for the trust clause release was mentioned. A church must be current in paying ministry shares and have paid them in full for the past 36 months. They also would have to have applied and been accepted into the Global Methodist Church or other denomination. If these conditions are met, the trust clause could be released.
  5. What is the difference between the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church?
    Rev. Hice said he would try to answer this question, but also said that Rev. Dan Bowman, who is coming to speak about the Global Methodist Church, may have a different answer. The following is his opinion.
    • The United Methodist Church will stick to the essential beliefs, (the Apostles Creed) and hold a diversity of opinions. It will be a big tent holding a diversity of people and opinions. There will be less restrictions regarding human sexuality.
    • The Global Methodist Church will most likely have more specific requirements of belief. Opinions will be solidified (one belief rather than a variety of opinions).
    • Both will still be missional in outreach.
  6. Are there more issues other than human sexuality separating us?
    Paragraph 2553 only applies to the human sexuality issue.
  7. I heard that the Discipline is being used as a rubber band that stretches or that it is not being strictly applied. (Note: I didn’t clearly hear this question so this is my best interpretation of what I heard. The answer below I did hear clearly).
    Rev. Hice answered this carefully. He said that there have been a variety of accusations and rumors around human sexuality and the Discipline’s current language. There are agreements made between the conservatives and progressives that allow us to live together until the 2024 General Conference. The agreement states that complaints made against clergy regarding the issue of human sexuality would be held in abeyance by the Bishops until the next general conference. This means if a human sexuality complaint is made against a pastor the Bishop receives the complaint, but according to the current agreement, the complaint is held in abeyance until the 2024 General Conference has been held. Rev. Hice noted that this abeyance is being used to say that the United Methodist Bishops are not following the Discipline.
  8. Are other denominations facing this issue? What about evangelicals?
    Most mainline denominations are struggling with this issue. Very conservative evangelicals say this is what the Bible says. End of issue. Another wave of more socially and theologically progressive evangelicals say there is room for debate.
  9. The Book of Discipline is clear on what clergy can and can’t do regarding same-sex weddings. If this is opened up, how would it affect appointment-making?
    The cabinet recognizes that some clergy will conduct same-sex weddings and some will not. They also recognize that some congregations will allow same-sex weddings and welcome a self-avowed practicing LGBTQIA+ clergy person and other congregations will not. The cabinet also recognizes that congregations may reflect a diversity of opinion on the subject. They will carefully consider all aspects and do their best to match the clergy with the majority of the congregation. That said, there is a statement that a church can sign stating that they consider themselves a traditional church and they do not want a LGBQIA+ pastor or same-sex weddings. This written statement will be honored by the cabinet.
  10. If the church has that option, why vote?
    A church does not have to vote.
  11. Why not ride this out especially if the can is kicked down the road for another 10 years?
    The can isn’t going to be kicked down the road. At the 2024 conference a petition will be presented to make the United States a region of the United Methodist Church. This allows the Discipline to be applied contextually.
  12. Are there other costs to disaffiliation?
    There is an unfunded pension liability cost. Westpath is the name of the General Board of Pensions. While the pension fund is currently fully funded, there are the future costs. Each church that disaffiliates must pay that future cost up front. Our cost of this is $242,300. (This is in addition to the ministry share payment mentioned in 4b.)
  13. Voting Process:
    1. A special Church Council for the purpose of voting cam be called by either 1) the Church Council or 2) a petition signed by a minimum of 10% of the professing members.
      • A professing member is someone who has taken the vows to join the church.
      • Constituents are friends of the church who attend and may be active, but have not taken the vows to formally become a member.
      • Baptized members: traditionally children and youth
    2. At the church conference voting is limited to professing members and retired, ordained clergy. There is a standard ballot.
    3. 2/3 of the people present at the church conference must vote to disaffiliate in order for disaffiliation to happen.
  14. Information about Disaffiliation
    • This is done under the terms of Paragraph 2553. This paragraph expires on December 31, 2023.
    • Disaffiliation must be approved by the Annual Conference.
      • May 1, 2023 is the deadline for a church to disaffiliate by the time of the June Annual Conference. They will leave the conference on June 30.
      • A Special Annual Conference will be called for November 30th for those churches wishing to disaffiliate by December 31. The deadline to apply for that is November 1. These churches will leave on December 31.
      • All financial obligations MUST be paid before disaffiliation.
    • After 2023 should a church wish to leave the United Methodist Church but continue as a congregation, there is a strong likelihood that the church closure paragraphs would be used and conference would work with the church on a financial arrangement similar to what is currently in place. (This is his best guess, not the formal policy of conference.)

    Meeting ended.


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