Dear Dyersburg FUMC,
I want to say again how much I appreciate your response to the Congregational Conversation held with Rev. Dr. Cynthia Davis and Rev. Dr. David Weatherly on May 22. Many of you submitted timely and thoughtful questions, and I hope that you were able to hear answers to those questions.
Prior to that meeting, I said that perhaps we would have a follow-up meeting at a later date. Rather than holding an additional congregational meeting, I have been attending Sunday School classes to answer follow-up questions and provide clarity around anything that might have come up on May 22. I have been grateful for these additional conversations. They have both challenged me and renewed my hope in God’s continued work through Dyersburg FUMC. I plan to attend two more Sunday School classes and then hold a final conversation for those who may not be in a Sunday School class or who may have missed my visit to their own Sunday School class.
Absent a full congregational meeting, I do want to make sure that our whole congregation has the same information. Realizing that the information I have given to Sunday School classes is often in response to questions that are raised, I want to make sure that everyone has the same basic facts to work from.
- The only changes to the United Methodist Book of Discipline as a result of the 2019 Special Called General Conference in St. Louis were changes that strengthened the language prohibiting LGBTQ weddings in our churches and by our ministers, and prohibiting the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. You can see these changes by searching online for “Book of Discipline Addendum and Errata 2019.”
- There is no requirement for United Methodist congregations to hold any sort of vote unless they are voting to disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church. If a congregation wishes to remain United Methodist, then no vote is necessary. Dyersburg First United Methodist Church has not voted on anything.
- One of the additions to the Book of Discipline as a result of the Special Called General Conference in 2019 is what is often called the “Gracious Exit Plan” or “Paragraph 2553.” This paragraph provides standard terms for churches to disaffiliate and gives the trustees of a particular annual conference the opportunity to alter those terms for their context. Those churches in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference who disaffiliated were required to pay two years’ worth of apportionments and their fair share of the conference’s unfunded pension liability. All of the disaffiliation agreements are available on the conference website at www.twkumc.org. The Book of Discipline provides for the “gracious exit” plan to expire on December 31, 2023, although it may be extended since the next meeting of General Conference will not be until 2024.
- The final step in disaffiliation is a vote by the Annual Conference. This year at the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference, the delegates voted to approve the disaffiliation of 60 local churches. The Mississippi River District, of which our congregation is part, had the most disaffiliations of any district in the conference with 16. While these 60 local churches account for roughly 6% of the churches in the conference, their aggregate effect on the conference budget is only about 3%. Roughly forty other local churches in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference have inquired about disaffiliation for 2023.
- The process for disaffiliation begins in the church council. If the church council chooses to hold a congregational vote, and the congregation votes by a 2/3 majority to leave the denomination then the congregation may disaffiliate under the terms noted in #3 above (two years’ worth of apportionments and the congregation’s fair share of unfunded pension liability). For reference, our apportionments for 2022 are $106,761, and the estimate of our congregation’s fair share of unfunded pension liability is roughly five times that amount. That would put the cost of disaffiliation at roughly $750,000.
- Most of the churches that have disaffiliated have been small membership churches.
- One concern that I have heard is that the bishop of the Mountain Sky Conference in the Western Jurisdiction is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. That is true. Bishop Karen Oliveto was elected and consecrated as bishop at the 2016 Jurisdictional Conference of the Western Jurisdiction. Immediately upon her consecration, the delegates from the South Central Jurisdiction requested a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council about Bishop Oliveto’s consecration. For more information, I refer you to this Q & A from the Mountain Sky Conference (https://bit.ly/3yGdpVE).
- I will speak for those of us who attended Annual Conference this year by sharing that it was one of the most Spirit-filled, Spirit-led annual conferences that I have ever attended. In fact, I was shocked by how moved I was personally. I encourage you to watch the videos that are available, particularly the conversation between Bishops McAlilly and Bickerton (the president of the Council of Bishops). You can find all of the videos on the www.twkumc.org website. It was a testament to the strength of our connection and convicted our hearts that God is still working mightily through the United Methodist Church.
- A small group of church leaders will be following up with Sunday School classes as I finish making my rounds to provide more information, and I will be reaching out to Sunday School classes as well to encourage them (you) to have more conversations about this among yourselves. We needn’t belabor it, but we do want to make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard and to share their thoughts and anxieties. Sometimes that is best done without an “outsider” present.
If you have any other basic informational questions that I can answer, please don’t hesitate to contact me or any other member of Church Council. My commitment to you is that we are going to make the main thing, the main thing. According to our congregational vision and mission, the main thing is “to know, love, share, and serve Christ” and “to love God above everything and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” That is my commitment and my joy, and I pray that it is yours as well.
As I go, please let me recommend a quick, easy, insightful book to you. It’s called Help! My Church is Leaving Me: Adapting to a Changing UMC (https://amzn.to/3Pn8UF5).
I am grateful for all of you, your love for God and neighbor, and your love for the church.