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Waiting on the August 2021 UMC General Conference – are you wondering what the annual conferences are doing during this time?

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on August 9, 2020 Category: Church Property Disputes/Denominational Splits, Firm News, First Amendment, Religious Institutions

The Annual Conferences are now in the process of trying to figure out which local Churches are likely to stay, which ones wish to leave and which ones they can close and take their assets to build up their financials. The donations to the denomination have dramatically fallen and with the advent of many local Churches leaving, the Annual Conferences are looking for ways to fill the financial gaps.

At this moment in time, the Annual Conferences are looking at all assets to determine if they can produce revenue in the future, and selling those that cannot. The first set of assets to be evaluated are their own office buildings, vacant land, closed churches, church camps, retirement centers, cemeteries and retreat centers. If the assets are not revenue generators, or are on valuable land that can be converted into cash, they will be sold.

Once the non-revenue generating assets are sold, Annual Conferences turn their focus to the local church.

When the local church has told the conference that they wish to leave, or the local church has

(1) valuable land,

(2) with financial assets being held for future use,

(3) no debt,

(4) a small and older congregation, and a

(5) pastor ready to retire:

the Annual Conference is looking at the local church to close and liquidate assets.  This is why local churches need to be discrete and NOT tell the Annual Conference that it is thinking about leaving. At the same time, the local church needs to take immediate action to protect their property and preserve ministry.

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Taking immediate action means having a leadership team meeting to find out where the Church is at with the denomination and where it plans to be two years from now. The leaders should then meet with clergy to find out if they are on the same page with the pastoral leadership. Thereafter, discussion should be had with the congregation and specialized legal counsel should then be retained by the Church to help guide them through the next steps. The goal is to prepare a clear path forward and a plan of action that will allow the local Church to retain its property and prepare for ministry in the future to meet the needs of the community.

Under no circumstances should the local Church wait for General Conference to act. The local Church needs to do the ground work and prepare for where it wants to be in the future. As noted about, history is our guide.  The PCUSA gave local churches eight years to figure out where it wanted to go once a separation plan was adopted. After the time period concluded, the PCUSA reneged on local Churches, changed its theology and the local Churches that sought to leave were caught in expensive and unpredictable litigation.  The proposed Separation Protocol gives local Churches three (3) years to make a decision as to whether it will leave or not. The Post UMC theology has already been forecasted.  The same is true with finances.

The local Church must take the time now, prior to General Conference, to figure out where it wants to be upon the conclusion of the separation

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