On the Postponement of General Conference

By Pastor Tom Anderson

The Commission on General Conference has canceled this year’s General Conference. The next General Conference won’t happen until 2024. The commission was deeply divided. They gave as the reasons the unavailability of vaccines and/or visas for overseas delegates. These excuses don’t stand up to careful scrutiny. It’s not unreasonable to believe this decision was motivated by political concerns within the church. Nevertheless, the decision has been made and we must all live with it.

What does this mean for the coming separation of the denomination? The “Protocol for Reconciliation by Grace through Separation” was carefully negotiated two years ago and received near unanimous support from all United Methodist leaders. It needed only the approval of the General Conference and now this won’t happen for another 2 years. By that time the Protocol will be 4 years old. Some of the original negotiators have died.. A lot of things can happen in another 2 years and so the hope for a resolution to denominational conflict through the Protocol is in steep decline. Patience in many parts of the denomination has run out.

In response the leaders of the Global Methodist Church have announced their intention to launch the new denomination on May 1 of this year. Churches, clergy and some whole Annual Conferences will be withdrawing from the United Methodist Church this year in order to unite with the Global Methodist Church. There are at least 4 legal pathways to accomplish this–all of which are complicated:

  • Paragraph 2553 Disaffiliation. This is the route for congregations who wish to become completely independent. At least 9 Michigan churches have already done this in the last two years. It’s expensive as it requires payment of the church’s share of the unfunded clergy pension liability. This pathway will sunset in 2023.

  • Paragraph 2548.2 Withdrawal to Unite with another Methodist denomination. This is an existing provision of the Book of Discipline allowing churches to leave the United Methodist Church for the express purpose of uniting with the Global Methodist Church (or other denomination). It’s language is ambiguous yet it seems the most likely path most departing churches would choose.

  • Close the church and then reopen as a new church within the Global Methodist Church. This requires a great deal of permission granting from various agencies within the annual conference which could be lengthy. It also assumes the Annual Conference will be willing to sell or give the building to the new congregation. There’s a lot to be uncertain about here.