Property, Pensions, Mission Shares and Clergy Benefits

We received over 30 questions pertaining to property, pensions, mission shares and clergy benefits that basically had the same four concerns expressed in the questions listed below:

1. What happens to church property if a church leaves the conference/The United Methodist Church?

Currently, Paragraph 2503 of The 2016 Book of Discipline explains that the real and personal property of a local United Methodist church is held in trust for United Methodism by the trust clause. The only exception is when property given to a congregation has a reverter clause, that allows the real property to revert to the original donor.

Under The 2016 Book of Discipline, only individual members may leave The United Methodist Church.  When a large number of members declare a desire to leave The United Methodist Church, the superintendent follows a review of the demographics of the area and the wishes of those wanting to remain United Methodist as explained in paragraph 213 of The 2016 Book of Discipline.  The buildings and locations committee make a determination of the best use or closure of the United Methodist church. Upon a recommendation of a superintendent to the cabinet, a decision is made based on the facts to either continue the church in its present location or close the United Methodist church. In the event closure occurs, the real and personal property becomes assets solely under the control of the conference trustees. The trustees review the value of the real and personal property, any endowments that have been given to the closed church and the related liabilities of the church.

Once the best disposition method of the assets is determined, the trustees move forward on the plan.  Every location and every set of assets and liabilities are different. The trustees are charged by The 2016 Book of Discipline to make a prudent decision over property for the benefit of the Mississippi Conference and United Methodism. 

2. What do the three plans recommended by the Commission on a Way Forward say about a “gracious exit?”

Only the traditional plan provides a method of gracious exit.  We have not seen any other legislation that provides this option. The 2019 Called Session of General Conference will decide what will be followed as to real and personal property.

3. How do each of the three plans affect clergy pension?

Clergy pension design is governed by the General Conference.  Wespath—formerly the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits—is charged by the General Conference to administer the plan. The local Conference Board of Pension has the responsibility of local administration of the plan which includes enrolling clergy, providing for the funding of the plan and following the rules as determined by a General Conference in regard to the United States pension plan. The best description of the plan and its affects can be found on Wespath’s website. The pension plan of lay employees is the responsibility of the local church and each plan can be different.  While most plans are through Wespath, there are some churches that provide plans through other avenues.

4. How has the denominational impasse on matters of human sexuality affected Mississippi Conference mission shares?

Mission shares are our way of sharing the cost of doing the ministry God has called us to do as a conference.  As of August 31, 2018, the collection rate is at 49.51 percent, compared to August 31, 2017 rate of 50.60 percent. When you look at an 18-year history, you will find that the 2018 collection rate is higher than every other year since 2007 which was in the middle of the Hurricane Katrina recovery and the beginning of a United States recession. This data does not reflect that churches are withholding funds. Churches are continuing to do the ministry God has called us to do connectionally as the Mississippi Conference. The Mississippi Conference Council on Finance and Administration is carefully monitoring the receipts and related spending to see that we remain true to our stewardship of God’s assets for ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

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