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How to evaluate the proposed separation plan of the United Methodist Church as applied to your local church.

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on January 4, 2020 Category: Church Property Disputes/Denominational Splits

On Friday January 3, 2020, the leaders of separate movements within the United Methodist Church published an agreement which provided the broad concepts of what a proposed separation of the Methodist denomination will look like if a proposed plan of separation is approved at the May 2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  While the details will later be flushed out, the general concepts of the plan provide guidance to local churches who are wondering what happens to the local Church.  The future looks like the following for the local church.

  1. Progressive Churches.
    1. If you are a progressive or affirming church in a progressive conference and wish to remain progressive or affirming, congratulations! You do not need to do anything as you are now the United Methodist Church.
    2. If you are a progressive or affirming local church in a traditional conference and wish to remain progressive or affirming, you will need to affiliate with a progressive conference to remain within the United Methodist Church. The Western Jurisdiction, the New York Conference and the Northern Illinois Conference are jurisdictions that you may wish to look at joining. Keep in mind that you will need to consult with professionals with respect to your insurances and will need to work with legal counsel to update your governing documents and title work.
    3. If you are a progressive or affirming local church in a progressive or traditional conference and wish to remain progressive or affirming, and wish to be independent of a denomination, you will need to seek legal counsel to help guide you through the departure process. The proposed plan of separation references the Taylor disaffiliation plan as a mechanism to leave the denomination, but in practice, very few conferences and Bishops follow the plan.
  2. Traditional Churches.
    1. If you are a traditional local church in a traditional conference and wish to remain traditional, you can join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). However, you will need legal counsel to update your governing documents and change your title work so that you retain your property.
    2. If you are a traditional church in a progressive conference and wish to remain traditional, you also can join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). Again, in order to make sure that title remains in the name of the local church, you will need legal counsel to exit your conference and set up your new structure as well as securing title.
    3. If you are a traditional church in either a traditional or progressive conference and wish to remain traditional, and do not wish to affiliate with any denomination, you will need to seek legal counsel to help guide you through the departure process. The proposed plan of separation references the Taylor disaffiliation plan as a mechanism to leave the denomination, but in practice, very few conferences and Bishops follow the plan.

If your local congregation is split between progressive and traditional members, you need to examine your articles, bylaws and the Non-Profit Corporation Act of the State in which you live so that when the time to vote to stay in the denomination or leave, you have a clear understanding of who a member is and what quorum is required to vote on whether the local church stays or leaves the denomination.

One final thought.  As an attorney representing hundreds of local churches in property disputes within the Methodist, the Episcopal and the Presbyterian USA denominations, I can attest that the local church who does not have the conversation and does not have a clear understanding of where you wish to end up with  – prior to actual separation – will likely flounder and lose their members and property.  Take the time and the steps now to prepare to stay or leave, consult with professionals familiar with this issue – who do not have a personal or emotional stake in your local church – to find out what you should do next in the life of your Church.

The professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC stand ready to assist any local church who has questions about this issue. We work with local churches throughout the United States on a daily basis and help guide you through this process and download one of our whitepapers to help you through your deliberations.  We are ready to serve as your guide through this journey.

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