During the 2022 TWK Annual Conference in June, voting members will be asked to approve the requests from 57 churches to disaffiliate from the UMC. There currently are 921 churches in the TWK Conference.
These churches have followed the procedures outlined in paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline and met the conference-imposed timelines to be included for consideration at the 2022 Annual Conference.
Paragraph 2553 (¶ 2553) was added at the special session of the United Methodist General Conference in 2019 to grant a gracious exit to churches seeking to leave the denomination with church property and other assets.
The TWK Conference continues to prioritize transparency and grace throughout the disaffiliation process. While some annual conferences have chosen to add requirements, the TWK Conference trustees, cabinet, and Bishop McAlilly have been proactive in ensuring that those wishing to disaffiliate can do so without additional conditions beyond those specifically outlined in ¶ 2553.
A list of the churches that have fulfilled the requirements to disaffiliate will be included on the Consent Agenda where grouped items can be approved in one action, rather than through the filing of multiple motions for approval (as per the TWK Standing Rules 2.11). The 2022 Consent Agenda will be available for review at least 72 hours before the opening date of the annual conference in June.
While separation is difficult for everyone involved, the majority of churches seeking a gracious exit have worked faithfully and cooperatively with Conference staff to comply with the requirements of ¶ 2553.
One local church, however, refused to fulfill the requirements stipulated in this paragraph of the Book of Discipline. These steps include payment of two years of apportionment payments to the conference as well as a payment to lessen the impact of future unfunded pension liabilities that would result from the local church’s withdrawal.
Instead, that local church filed a civil suit against the Memphis Annual Conference in October 2021, claiming they should get the benefit of ¶ 2553 of the Book of Discipline without having to meet the requirements stipulated therein.
In the legal suit, the local church asked the state Court to rule that they could not be required to pay any financial contribution.
In response, legal counsel representing the conference moved to dismiss the lawsuit on Constitutional grounds relating to the separation of Church and State.
The court dismissed the case on April 20, 2022. Judge Don Ash wrote: “The Court finds that it cannot decide [the local church’s claims] by only applying neutral principles of law, as the Book of Discipline contains the basis for disaffiliation within the denomination, in addition to apportionment payments, the retirement clergy, and the Trust Clause.”
The local church filed an appeal on May 2, 2022.
“We encourage collaboration and cooperation with those who wish to discern disaffiliation,” said Bishop McAlilly. ”This does not need to be a process of animosity. Rather it can and should reflect our values of grace and reconciliation as Christians.”
If you have any questions regarding disaffiliation, please contact your district superintendent. Although it is too late to complete the process this conference year, a church can begin the process for next year. The gracious exit offered by ¶ 2553 expires on December 31, 2023, prior to the next scheduled General Conference in 2024.