You don’t have to make a final decision to stay within or leave United Methodism at the moment. But you do need to begin making the decision along with the sisters and brothers of your local church now. The options for departure, should you decide to become part of a different network or denomination, are rapidly closing. The time for “wait and see” is over.
If a congregational discernment and decision-making process would help your congregation get beyond the ambivalence of our current denominational confusion, now is the time get started. Delaying will likely make you miss the deadline.
We’ve become used to waiting for the General Conference to decide, the Judicial Council to rule, or the bishops to act before we start to think through whether our local church has a better future with the UMC, the GMC, or some other denominational family.
Well, the bishops are acting…and the exit options are closing quickly.
Basically, we’re down to one option. The clock runs out on December 31, 2023
After that, there is no assurance that there will be any option for congregations to disaffiliate. Whatever further option might be approved at a General Conference in 2024 may well be even more onerous than the one currently available.
So far our Northern Illinois Conference leaders, though assuring us that there is actually an approved disaffiliation process for the NIC, have not provided me with a copy of the process after three requests over a period of a month. As the saying goes: “A slow go is the route to a slow no.“
Disaffiliation as described in the Book of Discipline (par 2553) requires a “discernment process“. Some annual conferences require a months-long discernment process. Disaffiliation also requires a vote of the annual conference. Some annual conferences are holding several special sessions over the next 18 months for the specific purpose of voting to approve the disaffiliation of congregations that are separating from the UMC. At this point our annual conference will vote on churches eligible for disaffiliation at our regular session next June (2023). After that the clock will run out.
All of this means you and your congregation have less than a year to complete the process before the door will be closed. Period.
We are not, however, out of options.
So, here’s an invitation:
- You may be content to wait it out and see how things develop after the promised 2024 General Conference. If that is the case for you, just delete this information as an unnecessary distraction.
- You may have decided already that you have no interest in disaffiliation or departure from the UMC. If that is the case for you, see # 1: delete this information and move on.
- If you want more information on the current situation that may suggest the need to begin a process of discernment in your local church, then you might be interested in one of the two information Zoom meetings I’ll host before the end of July to discuss the present landscape, current options, and the general process for congregational disaffiliation. If you are interested in attending one of these one hour Zoom presentations, please reply to this email to let me know. I will send you an email with the two Zoom presentation options and a link for each one of them. Send your email to my personal address at email@example.com.
- If you would like a personal and confidential conversation about this, please reply to me with your best contact info and we will schedule a personal Zoom appointment or phone call. Send your reply to my personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you would like me to schedule a presentation for your congregational leadership core and influential decision makers, either in person or by Zoom, please let me know. Any in-person meeting should be held at a neutral location (like a library, someone’s home, community building). I will describe options, including legal options, that might be helpful to your people as the congregation prayerfully discerns the best future for the local church. Send your request to my personal email at email@example.com.
If you think you might have a more vital and healthy ministry future in a different denominational home, then we are available to network, advise, and assist because, well, time is of the essence.
If any of these options for further information and consultation would be helpful, let me know and I will plan to respond accordingly. Our email through the Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association website can be a little clunky, so use my personal account at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is not the time for anxiety, but it is the time for prayerful and careful discernment. The exits are closing.
With great confidence in our Matchless Redeemer, Jesus Christ,