Conference passes pension, amended disaffiliation policies
Two policies that focus on churches that want to disaffiliate, or leave The South Georgia Conference and The United Methodist Church, were presented and passed during the 2019 South Georgia Annual Conference session.
A Disaffiliation Policy, created and presented by The Foundations For The Future Task Force and reviewed and approved by Leadership Forum, was passed with two amendments. The policy sets out a framework to be followed when at least two-thirds of a congregation vote to leave the South Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, pursuant to the provisions of paragraph 2553 of “The Book of Discipline.”
The first amendment to the policy, submitted by Rev. Jim Morrow, pastor of Glennville United Methodist Church, pertains to a disaffiliated church and clarifies the use of the word “Methodist” and the Cross and Flame. The use of the word “Methodist” is not allowed for a church that disaffiliates unless it affiliates with another denomination, association, or connection that includes the term “Methodist” in its name.
Amendment two, presented by Mike Coors, a lay delegate from Lakeside United Methodist Church in Brunswick and amended by Dr. Wright Culpepper, senior pastor of Brunswick First United Methodist Church, states that “In the event of disaffiliation, those wishing to remain as a part of The UMC will be given that opportunity according to current standards offered by the Discipline.”
“I’m grateful to have been a part of the faithful work of the task force which was to provide clarity for South Georgia. And I’m grateful for the Conference offering wisdom in perfecting this policy,” said Rev. Ben Gosden, senior pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah and a member of the Foundations For The Future Task Force. “Our hope is that such clarity can help calm potential fears and put local congregations in a better place to make decisions about the future. Even as we discuss matters of separation, it’s good to know we’re doing it together.”
The Pension Liability Proposal, which was prepared and presented by the Conference Board of Pensions, outlines a church’s liabilities if they decide to disaffiliate from the South Georgia Annual Conference.
The 2019 General Conference passed provisions stating that an annual conference must charge a departing local church a portion of the annual conferences’ overall pension liability. The General Conference left it up to annual conferences to determine how to divide the overall liability into local church shares.
Only churches that choose to disaffiliate under the provisions passed by the General Conference and the South Georgia Conference would be subject to the pension payment provisions outlined in the policy.
The Pension Liability Proposal states that any church that votes to disaffiliate must pay its portion of future pension liabilities plus any pension arrearages the church has incurred.
“Each question and amendment adds clarity for the entire body, those present, and those who will use the policy in response to God in their unique decision making process,” said Marc Reid, Chair of the Conference Board of Pensions.
Paragraph 2553 of “The Book of Discipline,” which allows a “gracious exit” for churches to leave the denomination for reasons related to church law on homosexuality, goes into effect immediately in the United States and on Jan. 1, 2021, outside the U.S.
According to paragraph 2553, requirements for exiting churches include payment of apportionments, fair share of pension liabilities, and other obligations. It also requires that the church notify its District Superintendent and call a church conference where a two-thirds majority vote is required to disaffiliate. The legislation also requires the process for exiting the denomination to be completed by the end of 2023, at which time the provisions of the new paragraph expire.
South Georgia’s disaffiliation policy sets an April 1 deadline in the year in which the local church intends to disaffiliate for church conferences to vote and file their paperwork.
Churches would also be required to pay all unpaid apportionments from the previous 12 months plus an additional 12 months of apportionments.
In addition to the “gracious exit plan,” South Georgia’s disaffiliation policy also includes a path for returning if a local church that has disaffiliated decides that it wishes to re-enter the Annual Conference.
“I appreciate the work of the task force and of the Conference. The fact is, these are very difficult matters, not just because they are complicated, but because they could involve separation,” said Dr. Derek McAleer, South Georgia’s Director of Administrative Services. “Local churches at least will know what the process is, and some of the costs, as they try to hear what God is calling them to do.”