By Heather Hahn for UM News
U.S. annual conferences have no authority under current church law to withdraw from The United Methodist Church, the denomination’s top court ruled.
“There is no basis in Church law for any annual conference to adopt stopgap policies, pass resolutions, take a vote, or act unilaterally for the purpose of removing itself from The United Methodist Church,” the Judicial Council ruled in Decision 1444.
The church court said only General Conference — the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly — can set the process and conditions for these regional church bodies to leave the United Methodist connection.
But as of now, General Conference has not established such a process for annual conferences within the U.S.
“Absent General Conference legislation, any vote and actions taken by an annual conference to separate are unconstitutional, null and void, and of no legal force or effect,” the Judicial Council said.
The church court released the ruling May 10 as U.S. annual conferences are about to begin their season of yearly meetings.
Judicial Council member Beth Capen issued a separate opinion that concurs in part and dissents in part. Capen concurred with the ultimate holding but approached the issue differently.
The United Methodist constitution describes an annual conference as “the basic body” of the denomination. Each consists of multiple congregations and other ministries such as camps and college groups in a geographical area. The United Methodist Church has 53 annual conferences in the U.S., and 80 spread across Africa, Europe and the Philippines. A bishop presides at each annual conference.
Decision 1444 responds to questions brought by the United Methodist Council of Bishops about U.S. annual conferences. The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, has a lengthy process for conferences outside the United States to become autonomous.
The bishops are dealing with a splintering in the denomination. After years of intensifying internal disputes around the status of LGBTQ people, the coming General Conference faces proposals for some kind of denominational separation including the disaffiliation of annual conferences. However, not one of these separation proposals has received a General Conference vote.
Complications from the pandemic have caused three postponements of the international legislative assembly, from May 2020 to now 2024. With the third postponement, some theological conservatives decided to stop waiting for General Conference action and instead launched a breakaway denomination — the Global Methodist Church — on May 1.
But with no General Conference-approved separation plan in effect, the bishops asked whether U.S. annual conferences can leave under current church law.
As the Judicial Council notes, resolutions already have been filed in at least two U.S. annual conferences — Northwest Texas and South Georgia — seeking their disaffiliation. The Northwest Texas Annual Conference, which encompasses the Texas Panhandle, held a nonbinding vote last year signaling its aspirations to leave The United Methodist Church and join the Global Methodist Church.
The Judicial Council rejected arguments made in some briefs that an annual conference should be able to set its own rules for departure. Without enabling legislation passed by General Conference, the church court said, an annual conference disaffiliation “is contrary to Church law.”
Annual conferences elect General Conference delegates, deal with matters related to clergy ordination, manage church discipline and, in the U.S., serve as pension plan sponsors for their clergy members. Annual conferences also are responsible for handling the disaffiliations of individual United Methodist congregations.
They are part of The United Methodist Church’s connectional form of church governance and any separation has “serious ramifications” for both the departing annual conference and beyond its boundaries, the Judicial Council said.
“The question of annual conference withdrawal from The United Methodist Church is a connectional matter and requires a churchwide legislative solution primarily because General Conference has ‘full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional,’” the church court said, quoting the United Methodist constitution.
Church law already spells out how an annual conference “outside the United States” can become “an autonomous Methodist, affiliated autonomous Methodist or affiliated united church.”
The bishops asked if this process, in the Book of Discipline’s Paragraph 572, can be viewed “as minimum standards” for any annual conference disaffiliation. The Judicial Council said “no” since the paragraph only applies to conferences outside the United States. “There is no parallel provision or process for U.S. annual conferences,” the church court said.
In Decision 1444, the Judicial Council also expanded on part of one of the court’s earlier rulings. Decision 1366, from 2018, repeatedly came up in briefs arguing that conferences should be able to set their own rules for exits.
The Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference also referenced Decision 1366 in a resolution to leave The United Methodist Church for the Global Methodist Church — a move that now has led to another item on the Judicial Council docket.
In that earlier ruling, the church court was reviewing the constitutionality of proposed legislation going to the special 2019 General Conference. The decision said a proposal that set up a procedure for annual conferences to become self-governing was in line with the denomination’s constitution.
“An annual conference has the right to vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church,” Decision 1366 said. “This reserved right, however, is not absolute but must be counterbalanced by the General Conference’s power to ‘define and fix the powers and duties of annual conferences.’”
However, the particular proposal under review in Decision 1366 never became church law. It was part of a longer petition that died in committee at the 2019 General Conference.
In short, General Conference has not approved any legislation that provides a process for U.S. annual conferences to exit The United Methodist Church.
“While an annual conference has the reserved right to vote on disaffiliation, the General Conference must first enact enabling legislation to establish the right to withdraw but has not done so for U.S. conferences,” the Judicial Council said in Decision 1444.
“Decision 1366 cannot be construed as creating a self-executing right for an annual conference to separate because the Judicial Council has no legislative authority.”
Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
United Methodist camps and retreat centers across the country continually strive to provide intentional, sacred spaces where the faithful can find rest and rejuvenation. The leaders of these ministries see the heavyweight that our local church leaders have been carrying, especially over these past two years. In response, they have come together to create a resource for you to share with the clergy in your Annual Conference. The Clergy Retreat Directory is a list of UM sites across the connection that offer free or reduced-cost retreat space for United Methodist clergy.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a new metric called “COVID-19 Community Levels,” which is designed to “help communities decide what prevention steps to take based on the latest data.” These levels are a three-tier system (either low, medium, or high) that are selected based on criteria including hospital bed usage and new COVID-19 case rates.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arkansas Conference has provided guidelines based on similar metrics. However, with the development of these new CDC guidelines, the Conference will now be recommending the usage of the “COVID-19 County Check” tool provided by the CDC that allows a person to quickly find their county’s “COVID-19 Community Level” and relevant guidelines from the CDC based on that level.
This tool has been embedded on the Conference’s COVID-19 Response page at arumc.org/covid19 and takes the place of the Conference’s COVID-19 Dashboard.
The Conference continues to recommend following all CDC guidelines as applicable to your church’s situation. If you have any questions, please contact Amy Ezell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nashville, TN – April 4th, 2022 – The General Commission on United Methodist Men (GCUMM) is introducing a “modern way” of doing men’s ministry. Greg Arnold, General Secretary & CEO, said we are approaching men’s and scouting ministry with a much larger and more modern vision. The Commission has re-imaged how men’s and scouting ministry can be effectively offered, packaged, and distributed to the church and world around us.
Launching a new program and brand, “United Men’s Ministry”, along with several innovative products is quite an ambitious undertaking during a time of uncertainty within the UMC. “Our vision is to offer a credible resource which meets men and youth where they are. Discipleship has been the focus of the church for 2000 years and cannot take a back seat to the current administrative discussions of the church.”
Arnold says, “The older chartering model has been showing a steady decline over the past several years and placing its effectiveness in question. We’ll continue to offer the chartering model of service according to our book of discipline mandate, however, we’re adding these new and exciting ways to serve the men, youth, and families of the church.”
UNITED Men’s Ministry is an innovative online resource providing an easy-to-follow package of resources including leader coaching, online learning, support, topical studies, connection, and more. Each subscribed church will receive a “kick off kit” packed with items when signing up for UNITED Men’s Ministry. The goal is to help churches launch, grow, and sustain effective men’s ministry.”
The UNITED Men’s Ministry product is designed to help any local church easily provide a consistent men’s ministry. The model is wrapped around a process rather than dependent upon a program. UNITED is layered with the framework of a well developed discipleship pathway, small group support resources, and leader’s materials. All of which are deeply rooted in the Wesleyan tradition and presented in a fresh approach.
Every church leader who feels their men’s ministry effort could use a restart, and upgrade, or a boost is encouraged to visit: UnitedMensMinistry.com to get in on the launch, happening May 1st, 2022. Simply register on the website for the launch event and join the movement.
1000 17th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212
Ph: (615) 620-7266
Mary Lewis Dassinger, Project Coordinator for 200,000 More Reasons, recently announced its local church grant recipients for the spring and summer grant cycle.
“One of the best parts of my job is to join with our grant review committee to make grant awards to local church feeding and literacy ministries,” said Dassinger. “Thanks to the generosity of the Methodist Foundation of Arkansas and those who give during Annual Conference, we were able to present an award to every church that applied, and totaled $25,500,” she added.
“I am grateful for the generous support given by the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas as well as the Annual Conference offering that allows these grants to be offered,” said Jim Polk, ARUMC Director of Connectional Ministries and Assistant to the Bishop. “Even more, I am thankful for the efforts of these and so many other congregations in the Arkansas Conference who are actually doing the work of 200,000 More Reasons. Together, Arkansas United Methodists are making a difference as we strive to eliminate childhood hunger and increase the literacy rate in our state.”
Dassinger added that they had six grantees that had never asked for a grant before and seven who were creating new ministries. “Our feeding and literacy ministries are alive and well!”
Churches that received grants may be found here:
|Concord United Methodist Church, Drasco
||Summer Backpack Program with Literacy Component
|Cushman United Methodist Church
||Helping Hands Food Pantry: Food Bags For Children
|First United Methodist Church, North Little Rock
||Backpack Feeding & Literacy Ministry
|First United Methodist Church, Conway
||Summer Feeding Ministry
|Green Forest United Methodist Church
||Food Pantry Ministry
|Hazel Edwards Memorial United Methodist Church, Newark
||Garden for Youth
|Henderson United Methodist Church, Little Rock
|Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
|Lakeside United Methodist Pine Bluff
||RELATE (Read, Educate, Learn, Aspire, Tutor, Edify)
|Lonoke First United Methodist Church
||Lonoke FUMC Community Garden 2022
|Mena First United Methodist Church
|Mount Eagle Retreat Center
|Mt. Olive United Methodist Church, Fordyce
|St. James United Methodist Church, Pine Bluff
||Project Transformation Snacks and Supplies
|Swifton/Tuckerman United Methodist Churches
||North Jackson County UMC Children’s Ministry
|Vilonia United Methodist Church
||Summer Feeding Ministry and Reading Program