By Chuck Griffin
Yesterday, I explored the idea of comity and how it could be the basis of an annual conference session where liberals and conservatives part cleanly and amicably.
Of course, for the many churches who want to move to the Global Methodist Church, there may be other options to consider, particularly if such an annual conference never happens, or if the vote were to keep the Holston Conference in the United Methodist Church.
Today we’re going to see how the word “comity” can be tied to the word “agreement,” moving us into the world of legal documents, the kind used to protect all parties involved in such denominational transfers.
Short of an annual conference vote, Paragraph 2548.2 of the UMC Book of Discipline provides the best path for churches to move. I am assuming in this scenario that liberals and conservatives are still diligently caring for each other even as we disagree and move to separate.
Under this paragraph, a local church can deed its property to another evangelical denomination. In any UM conference where sanity prevails, the Global Methodist Church should be defined as just such a denomination after its official start May 1. This transfer process should eliminate trust clause problems, where a local church could be forced to pay for its property before leaving.
With property issues out of the way, mostly what remains is an understanding regarding how a church’s unfunded pension liabilities will be handled. A comity agreement involving the UMC, GMC and the local church would formalize that understanding, establishing a procedure where churches would continue to overcome these deficits slowly, rather than all at once.
I have no doubt that all departing churches will want to be sure they take care of such liabilities. The Holston WCA right now is exploring how each church can get a precise pension liability estimate. It also is very encouraging that Wespath Benefits and Investments is expected to handle pension matters for both denominations, streamlining the liability transfer process.
Departures under Paragraph 2548.2 likely have to be approved at an annual conference, but it’s not hard to see how multiple churches could be approved in bulk, perhaps at a called session to expedite these departures.
If a Paragraph 2548.2 departure becomes impossible for some reason, there are other ways for churches to depart. Those are more complicated, however, and also likely to be more ugly.
Pray for an annual conference vote; pray for peaceful transitions.
As soon as we can locate one that seems to fit our circumstances, your Holston WCA leaders will post a sample comity agreement, along with other documents that might be needed to transfer a church.
Here’s the full text of Paragraph 2548.2:
“With the consent of the presiding bishop and of a majority of the district superintendents and of the district board of church location and building and at the request of the charge conference or a meeting of the membership of the local church, where required by local law, and in accordance with said law, the annual conference may instruct and direct the board of trustees of a local church to deed the church property to one of the other denominations represented in the Pan-Methodist Commission, or to another evangelical denomination under an allocation, exchange of property, or comity agreement, provided that such agreement shall have been committed in writing and signed and approved by the duly qualified and authorized representatives of both parties concerned.”