FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 20, 2022
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
It has come to my attention that there is much concern around churches feeling rushed to pursue the exploration process to disaffiliate due to next year’s deadline to do so by December 31, 2023 as stated in the sunset clause of paragraph 2553 (disaffiliation of a local church over issue related to human sexuality) in The Book of Discipline. First, let me provide context for this date as it was set at the 2019 Called Session of General Conference in the spirit of giving congregations ample time to both a) consider any additional information that would have come from the 2020 General Conference, and b) prayerfully discern next best steps for your congregations. Unfortunately, like everyone and everything else, COVID disrupted our churches—including the ways in which we collectively decide and carry out the administration of the church, and the many other ways we worship and move mission forward as the body of Christ during General Conference.
Know that your Mississippi Conference Board of Trustees desires to live into that same spirit of giving churches space and time to discern where God is leading them as it pertains to disaffiliation. In an effort to pursue that goal, the trustees completed work on a plan for the post-sunset clause of Paragraph 2553 in the errata of the 2016 Book of Discipline at their October 20 meeting. Currently, any church voting to disaffiliate must do so under the guidance of paragraph 2553, which sunsets on December 31, 2023. This new plan outlines a fair and equitable way for Mississippi churches to depart after the December 31, 2023 cut-off date, beginning January 1, 2024 and continuing to the last day of the 2025 Session of the Mississippi Annual Conference.
The intent of this plan is to allow churches time to learn the outcome from legislation adopted at the 2024 General Conference so that you have all the facts and substantial time to process and make a well-informed decision. The trustees voted unanimously to continue their practice of allowing churches to keep their property by fulfilling covenant agreements for pension, mission shares and all other financial obligations of the departing church.
This new plan by the trustees to continue the provisions set forth in paragraph 2553 after the December 31, 2023 sunset date, will be shared within the official trustees’ report in the 2023 Mississippi Annual Conference Pre-conference Journal. The pre-conference journal will be released in the spring of 2023, prior to the regularly-scheduled 2023 Session of the Mississippi Annual Conference that will be held in Tupelo.
Here is the process that the Mississippi Conference Board of Trustees adopted to extend the financial provisions and the procedural requirements to paragraph 213 and 2549 after the expiration of paragraph 2553. Additionally, here is the Mississippi Conference Board of Trustees’ announcement of the work they completed on the post 2553 sunset clause and church property. Both documents are also attached to this email in PDF versions.
Bishop Swanson expresses his support of the trustees’ efforts:
“This is the prayerful, thoughtful and considerate work of your board of trustees as they have listened to your cabinet and the laity and clergy of the Mississippi Annual Conference. It is important to remember that the people entrusted with this work are not strangers to you but are members of your congregations and ministers of the gospel in your local churches and beyond.
It has been my hope and prayer through all our disagreement that the Mississippi Annual Conference could and would remain in mutual ministry together and it's to that end I've have worked as hard as I could. It is still my prayer that even as some may choose to depart, we can do so without being mean-spirited toward each other, but to find ways to respect each other and to please the Lord in our actions and interactions.”
While accountable to the annual conference, the Mississippi Conference Board of Trustees receives, collects and holds in trust all real and personal property of the annual conference. Paragraphs 2512.4 and 2553.4 express the intent of General Conference to delegate to the conference board of trustees the exclusive authority in establishing the terms and conditions of a local church’s departure from The United Methodist Church. In Judicial Council rulings 1420 and 1421, the council ruled it is the exclusive right of the conference board of trustees, with the advice of the cabinet, the treasurer, the benefits officer, the director of connectional ministries and the chancellor to negotiate terms and conditions for departing churches.
I’m praying for you and with you as you prayerfully discern the call of God on your various ministries.
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