Disaffiliation in the UMC: an explanation for newbie Methodists
By Juliette Clark // June 13, 2023
I didn’t grow up Methodist. I bounced around many different denominations over the years. The first church I ever attended was with Bible Missionary grandmother, followed by my Episcopal elementary school, then attending various Catholic masses with friends in high school, then the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) in California where I began my progressive walk, followed by a brief but great love for the non-denominational worship experience, and finally landing as a member at Travis Park Church. Being here for the past few years has turned this reluctant UMC toe-dipper into a proud card-carrying Reconciling United Methodist. The more I learn about the history of these good people, the more I fall in love with them. From what I can see, the UMC was progressive well before it was cool.
A big part of my job as a Communications Director is to spend time on social media building and creating community with those we are in relationships with, and spreading the word about what we’re doing here in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Lately, I have encountered divisive comments on UMC pages that make my heart heavy and sad. And it makes me worry for the new United Methodists seeing these comments and running the other way.
At the core of this division is the recent stream of churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church. There are many layers and nuance, and there are plenty of other articles you can read that offer a scholarly high-level explanation. Instead, I want to offer a simple understanding of the basics to help other new United Methodists feel included and informed.
Why the split?
Nearly 4000 churches have disaffiliated from the UMC since 2019. 1930 of those happened in special sessions of this year alone, many of those being in Texas (source). At the 2023 Rio Texas Annual Conference held last week, an additional 35 denominations were given permission to leave the UMC.
After disaffiliation from the UMC, churches can choose to join other denominations or remain independent. Many have joined the Global Methodist Church (GMC), a theologically conservative denomination that split from the UMC in May 2022.
The heart of the issue is LGBTQ inclusion and ordination, although you can scour the GMC website and find nothing mentioned about that. As most of our wounded-by-church siblings can attest, most churches don’t really welcome all. The United Methodist Church has made it easy for churches wishing to disaffiliate to do so. It requires a 2/3 vote, 2 years of apportionments paid to the UMC, and payment in full of the congregation’s pro-rata share of the conference’s pension liability, based on a formula approved by the annual conference. That third item is the subject of current lawsuits. It boils down to taking care of the clergy who have faithfully served their conferences and it’s the right thing to do.
Will Travis Park Church disaffiliate?
The short answer is no. The Global Methodist Church is a conservative one and we are historically (and currently) a progressive church. Time and time again our church has stood in solidarity with our LGBTQ siblings, and this will not change. Travis Park Church is a diverse congregation, in many ways. You will find brand new churchgoers worshipping side by side with second and third generation United Methodists since birth. One of my favorite things about us is how many clergy end up finding a home here. We embrace our United Methodist identity and continue to shine a light on injustice and help lead the way towards full inclusion. Identity matters and we know who we are. We are progressive. We are inclusive. We are Reconciling. We are United Methodists.
How does this really affect us, then?
We are already seeing new visitors from congregations that have chosen to disaffiliate. These new visitors may be looking for a new church home. After all, it only requires two-thirds majority for a disaffiliation vote. Can you imagine how heartbreaking it must be for a church family you know and love to disaffiliate from a denomination you’ve grown up in? It’s important for us to make special space for those visitors whose home churches are in the discernment process or have already voted. They are tired. They are heartbroken. They need a place to rest and process. I hope those disenfranchised guests will find that safe and sacred space here with us.
There are a few things on the horizon. First, I’d invite you to pay attention to what comes out of Rio Texas Annual Conference in the next month. Many organizations are presenting resolutions strengthening the resolve to change the language in the Book of Discipline.
The next big thing is the 2024 United Methodist General Conference, which will be held April 23 – May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Typically, the United Methodist Church’s General Conference gathers every four years and hundreds of delegates from around the world gather to make policy decisions for the denomination.
The General Conference met last in 2019 for a special session with just under 900 voting delegates. The regularly scheduled 2020 conference has been postponed twice due to COVID-19. My hope and prayer is that we will officially become a denomination that fully supports, affirms, and ordains LGBTQ+ persons and we will no longer need a special “reconciling” designation.
If you are a United Methodist newbie and you have questions, please reach out to me via email. If I do not know the answer, I know enough active and retired clergy who LOVE these topics and are happy to share their knowledge with the next generation of United Methodists.