July 18, 2022
An Update on the Disaffiliation Process from the Appointive Cabinet of the Arkansas Conference
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
¶ 2553 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church was adopted by the 2019 Called General Conference as a means for congregations to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church until December 31, 2023, for reasons of conscience concerning human sexuality. The General Council on Finance and Administration, Judicial Council, and 2021 Session of the Arkansas Annual Conference each shaped the way it might be utilized by our congregations. Those of us who are part of the Appointive Cabinet, in consultation with the Director of Administrative Services and the Conference Chancellor, designed the specific steps of the process that can be used by a congregation to discover God’s will for its future.
During a series of late winter and early spring meetings with clergy and laity, Bishop Mueller highlighted four things about this process. First, the majority of congregations and individual United Methodists in Arkansas, regardless of whether they are traditional, moderate, centrist, or progressive, will choose to remain in the denomination. Second, it is essential for the entire annual conference to embrace a heart of peace and not a heart of war, and to respect the decisions that congregations and individuals make. Third, it is important to help congregations land where God is leading them as quickly and easily as possible while protecting the legitimate interests of the United Methodist Church. Fourth, a minimum three-month discernment process will be used by congregations exploring the possibility of disaffiliation prior to any vote. While pastors have every right to express their opinion, this time of intentional prayer, study, reflection, listening to God, and conversation that allows all individuals the opportunity to voice their questions and opinions is the work of church members and will be led by laity.
Those of us tasked with superintending have encountered a steep learning curve as we have worked with churches in the past couple of months. We want to share some of what we have learned and how it will impact the process moving forward.
First, our assumption that the majority of Arkansas United Methodist Churches will remain in the denomination at this time has proved to be true for progressives, centrists, moderates, and traditionalists. Fewer than 10% of our churches have formally entered the process to possibly consider disaffiliation.
Second, we have experienced time and again how painful this process can be for congregations and individuals. We are grateful for the many laity and clergy who are embracing hearts of peace. At the same time, we are concerned that some are choosing to display hearts of war. If you have any doubt about why we are concerned, a quick survey of social media will make it abundantly clear.
Third, we honestly expected that laity would lead the congregation in a time of deep and prayerful discernment. While this certainly is happening in the vast majority of our churches, there are a few instances where the actions of pastors and congregations are contrary to our expectations.
Quite frankly, this caught us off guard. We have entered into conversations with these congregations and individuals, and are hopeful about the outcome. We also have revised the documents guiding the discernment process. This includes explicitly detailing expectations about the pastor’s role, providing additional details about the discernment process that must be agreed to before the Appointive Cabinet will approve a congregation’s discernment process, and making it clear that the District Superintendent will not certify the completion of a congregation’s discernment process if he or she does not believe it has been fair and open, which is a requirement before a Church Conference can be called to vote on disaffiliation. You can find all of the revised materials here.
These clarifications will apply to all congregations beginning the process, but will also be implemented as soon as possible in those congregations that already are involved in the process. Your District Superintendent will work with you to ensure as smooth a transition as possible on a church-by-church basis. These detailed clarifications are not intended to make disaffiliation more difficult. Rather, they simply are to ensure that the process reflects our original intention of enabling churches to discern God’s will for their future.
Fourth, we want to remind you that a church is not disaffiliated until it completes the standard Disaffiliation Agreement adopted by the Arkansas Conference Board of Trustees and the Annual Conference votes to ratify the congregation’s vote. Lay and clergy members of the Annual Conference ultimately make the final determination. While this may be a perfunctory act in most cases since congregations are following the principles previously adopted by the Annual Conference, those voting always have the right to vote their conscience in every situation.
We believe It is in the most challenging of times that we have the greatest opportunity to witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Another way of saying this is, “Never waste a crisis!” This is something all of us can do together. Let’s embrace a heart of peace and, even more importantly, demonstrate it through your words, posts on social media and actions. Let’s assume the best about others and respect their decisions. And let’s always keep the main thing the main thing – making disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Gary E. Mueller, Bishop
Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop
Blake Bradford, Northwest District Superintendent
Ann Ferris, Southwest District Superintendent
John A. Fleming, Northeast District Superintendent
Edna Morgan, Southeast District Superintendent
U.C. Washington, Central District Superintendent