By Chuck Griffin, Holston WCA President
If you’re a traditional Holston-area Methodist who has kept up with news of the United Methodist Church the last few weeks, you may have a sense that time is running short for churches to depart the UMC for holier pastures.
You would be right.
In our own Holston Conference, the message from our bishop and cabinet members has been pretty straightforward. I would summarize it as, “Don’t worry, we will take care of you. Just wait until 2024 and everything will be okay.” Supposedly, they even will create a way out for churches after the only current exit path (other than litigation) has expired at the end of 2023.
For the sake of traditional churches that fail to enter the disaffiliation process, I hope they are right, and yet I simultaneously cannot see how they could be right. In light of recent developments, the message smells like a trap, a short-term enticement that can only lead to long-term pain.
Such assurances rest on a major premise. The people in charge of the Holston Conference would have to hold some long-term control over where the larger UM Church is headed, and then be willing to use it to maintain the big theological tent the UM church supposedly has been.
The recent election of bishops at jurisdictional conferences proves this highly unlikely. As WCA Global President Jay Therrell recently wrote, “The United Methodist Church now has the most liberal Council of Bishops in its history. Not one single traditionalist bishop was elected. Not one. Forget about these elections telegraphing the future of The United Methodist Church. They declare the denomination’s present state.”
(For the full article, see “The Big Tent Has Collapsed.” I really don’t feel like rehashing the horrible theology and practices of some of these people elected, but Jay provides a thorough roundup.)
Before the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, the old public relations guy in me theorized that the centrists and liberal delegates might work together there to elect at least one conservative bishop, an outcome that was possible on the first ballot, with a little planning. Such a move would have dramatically bolstered their “everything will be okay in 2024” message.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. At least we know what they really think.
Hear this, too: Bishop Tom Bickerton, the current president of the Council of Bishops, has made it clear to the WCA that once the disaffiliation path expires at the end of 2023, a new one will not be created. Our conference leaders may promise a way out beyond 2023, but they do not have the power to keep those promises without the cooperation of the larger, increasingly liberal UM church.
Any semblance of theological conservatism in the Holston Conference is likely short-term, too. Even if we can classify Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett as a conservative, she is the last such bishop the Holston Conference of the UMC will have. The pool of replacements will be consistently liberal, even in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
Our bishop and others have talked about “making room” for theological conservatives, but we need to understand that at best, that room will be a cot in the basement, next to the water heater. Consider going to the Global Methodist Church, where you’ll have the run of the house, and the rent will be a whole lot less, too.
If you stay, you will be loved in the United Methodist Church only for the value of your building and the ground upon which it stands. That’s the kind of value that can be sold, the proceeds absorbed into the operating budget of a liberal UMC. Your traditionalist beliefs will have no value at all.
If your church has yet to begin the disaffiliation process, you need to do so, quickly. At this point, if you do it today, it may be difficult for you to complete it in time for your church’s departure to be ratified at the called annual conference in April. The bishop has spoken of a possible called annual conference in the fall or winter; pray she follows through.
Contact your district superintendent and ask for the disaffiliation packet. In it, you will find the page your administrative board chair can send back to start the process. And yes, laity, you can send for the packet even if your pastor isn’t cooperating. You don’t need his or her permission.
Get out while you can!
An informational meeting specifically about the new Global Methodist Church denomination will be held 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, in the sanctuary at Alcoa First UMC. The folks at Alcoa say anyone interested in hearing more about the GMC is welcome.
Alcoa First is located at 617 Gilbert St., Alcoa, Tenn.
Note: A couple of items below involve churches’ access to significant amounts of money!
Upcoming WCA informational events:
Tri-Cities-Area Informational Meeting: 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va. The address is 174 Church Street.
Knoxville-Area Informational Meeting: 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at St. Mark’s UMC in Louisville, Tenn. The address is 3359 Louisville Road.
Chattanooga-Area Informational Meeting: 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at Collegedale Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Ooltewah, Tenn. The address is 4829 College Drive E.
Because of the large number of speaker requests we are receiving at the Holston WCA, we are strongly encouraging interested churches to attend one of these group events. We are in the process of planning informational meetings in other parts of the Holston Conference, and if needed, follow-up meetings throughout the conference.
The WCA and The Provisum Group invite you to join us for a special webinar to help local churches understand Employee Retention Credits and how to claim them. This live webinar will be held Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. Churches are eligible to receive grants (not loans) of $26,000 per full time equivalent of W-2 employees. This event is particularly helpful to local church pastors, finance committees, and leadership teams.
Access Code: 238-947-989
Please note that this is a GoToMeeting event, not Zoom.
The WCA and the Wesleyan Investment Foundation (www.wifonline.com) invite you to a special webinar to learn about low interest loans available to local churches. This webinar will be Monday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 878 2965 8621
Want to know more about the Global Methodist Church? Keith Boyette, the chief executive officer and administrative officer of the GMC, spoke to Trinity UMC in Jacksonville, N.C., on July 31.
This is the first of a series of videos from the Rev. Rob Renfroe on why it’s time for traditional Methodists to leave the UMC.
And finally, here’s a useful article answering a couple of questions we receive on a regular basis:
Advance Approval of Local Church and Clergy Membership in the Global Methodist Church
Please be in prayer for Holston WCA leaders as we assist churches with their various questions, and as we try to better understand the constantly changing environment in which we find ourselves.
The Holston Chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association recommends that traditional Methodist churches wanting to leave the United Methodist Church seek legal assistance as they proceed with their efforts to depart.
Churches within the Holston Conference have formed a coalition to explore what legal options might be available, seeking advice from the National Council on Life and Liberty, a nonprofit legal ministry established “to protect and defend the Bible-based values upon which our nation was founded: church liberties, parental liberties, individual liberties, and issues of life.” More information about the NCLL can be found at ncll.org.
“In addition to being unfair, the disaffiliation terms being presented by our bishop and conference officials create what is certainly a legal, contractual process, and it makes no sense for churches to enter such a process without legal representation,” said the Rev. Chuck Griffin, president of the Holston WCA. “The NCLL provides specific expertise in this area, in a way that is affordable even for small churches.”
The NCLL will help churches seek exit options not currently promoted by the Holston Conference. NCLL lawyers also are willing to represent churches choosing to go through the conference-defined disaffiliation process.
Wednesday, NCLL attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of 105 Florida UMC churches, suing the UMC’s Florida Annual Conference for relief from onerous disaffiliation terms.
Churches concerned about protecting their legal rights as they depart the UMC can contact the Holston WCA at email@example.com, or by calling the NCLL directly at (888) 233-6255.
Link to Complaint Filed in Florida
Article: Pension Liability Data Online
Pension liability data for all United Methodist churches in the Holston Conference are now online. The information is not easy to find, but we will try to help. Before you begin, you will want to know your church’s GCFA Church Number, as the data table is organized by that number rather than by church name. That church number is at the top of your annual report to the conference.
You also probably should read all the way to the bottom of this article before you begin clicking links.
Step 1: Go to the Conference Disaffiliation FAQ page, found at https://www.holston.org/disaffiliationFAQ.
Step 2: Scroll down until you reach the question, “How was the pension liability formula developed?” Click on the highlighted last sentence in that four-paragraph answer.
Step 3: You now will have before you a legal document that has to be filled out and signed before you can receive the actual data. We could have made going to that page Step 1, but we suspect that link might change over time as data are updated. As of today, the link is:
Once you submit that form, you then will receive a link to the data in an email.
We at the Holston WCA are disappointed the process is so complicated, and perhaps even … what’s the word … intimidating? Please remember, conference officials defined the process, not us.
Also, please remember that the dollar amount you see is not your total cost to disaffiliate. You will need to add in additional tithes beyond your time as a UM church, as well as other exit fees that will be demanded of you.