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The 10 things to know about the Separation Protocol of the United Methodist Church

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on March 1, 2020 Category: Church Property Disputes/Denominational Splits

On February 27, 2020, the UMC African Initiative issued a press release indicating that the clergy and lay leadership of the three Central Conferences of the United Methodist Church met in South Africa and voted to support the Separation Protocol legislation with three relatively minor changes to the proposed legislation. With this announcement, and the announcement of many other affinity groups throughout the United Methodist Church, it now appears that there are enough votes to approve the Separation Protocol at the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis. 

We are now ten (10) weeks away from the General Conference of the United Methodist denomination. Every Methodist church in the U.S. needs to view this announcement as an immediate call to action. Any local church that does not have a conversation with its leadership and congregation now about where it wants to be in the long-run, will likely flounder and lose its members and property. Whether they are inclined to leave or stay, churches need to begin a thorough, evaluative process that helps guide their ultimate decision.

Once approved, the ten things to know about the United Methodist Church will be as follows:

  • There will likely be three of more denominations to be formed: a progressive denomination, a conservative denomination and the existing denomination will remain.
  • With respect to the leaving the United Methodist Denomination, regional Annual Conferences may vote by a 57% margin to join a new denomination.  Central Conferences, as currently proposed, require a 2/3 vote to join a denomination – the African Initiative has changed this to 57%.  Local churches may vote by simple majority, or 2/3 majority to leave the annual conference denomination. If the local church does nothing, they will remain in the United Methodist denomination. If a local church leaves to a new denomination, it may keep its property.
  • If the local Church leaves to become independent and wishes to keep its property, they are required to pay additional fees and cost as determined by the annual conference.
  • All assets of the denomination stay with the current United Methodist Church, with the exception of a few payouts to the new denominations and Central Conferences.
  • The Pension plans remain viable through Wespath and is available to all local Methodist churches who leave the denomination.
  • After the General Conference, the remaining UMC will have another special conference to create regional conferences and too substantially revise the Book of Discipline and Social Principals.
  •  Affinity groups have until May 15, 2021 to register to form a new denomination.
  • Annual conferences must vote to affiliate with a new denomination by July 1, 2021 or they remain in the United Methodist Church
  • Central Conferences have until December 31, 2021 to vote to leave the denomination or  they will stay within the United Methodist Church.
  • Local Churches have until December 31, 2024 to vote to affiliate with a new denomination other than their annual conferences

Decisions about what pastors and congregants want to do to save the life of their church have both emotional and legal ramifications. That is why churches often turn to professionals familiar with the issues of denominational separations who know the intricacies of religious law but do not have a personal stake in the local church.

The journey toward a denominational separation can take months to years depending on the annual conference, and it’s an eye opener for many churches from a business perspective. Some have discovered they were never incorporated, while others learn about how their church bank accounts are handled, or who has title to church property.

The surprises along the way often lead to important discussions and decisions that are actually separate from the faith mission of the church. For example, a local church who desires to be independent may wish to leave outside of the Separation Protocol as the cost established by the annual conference may be to onerous and it would be cheaper to litigate property claims or simply start fresh with a new parcel of land in a new Church.

Now is the time for the local church to review what it owns, how it is titled, and to have the conversation as to what it intends to be after May 15, 2020.  As the Separation Protocol is likely to pass, the local church can now start dreaming and planning for a viable ministry to grow within its community.  Contact Daniel Dalton at Dalton & Tomich PLC to help guide you through this process.

About Dalton + Tomich PLC.  

Detroit-based Dalton + Tomich PLC is comprised of land use, denominational trust law, and business law attorneys. Serving as a partner to religious organizations, Dalton + Tomich is a national leader in religious property law land use, notably with cases related to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and denominational splits. Learn more about our services for businesses and religious organizations on our website.

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