Following the traditionalists' leadership withdrawal from the Protocol last May, it became clear that many churches would begin to disaffiliate from the UMC. I even encouraged it with language like, "those who need to leave, please do." I stand by that statement. If you absolutely know that you need to leave the UMC, then now is a good time to do that. But what if you aren't certain? What if there is, say, a 10% chance that your church could stay in the denomination? Traditionalist leadership is saying with one voice that if you are ever going to leave, it must be now because the provision allowing a church to leave that was approved in 2019 will sunset at the end of 2023. It is true that the provision (paragraph 2553) will sunset. That does not mean that you are trapped. Here's why:
1. As I've previously shared, the denomination moving in a more "progressive" direction does not necessarily mean what you have been told it means.
2. While paragraph 2553 does sunset and there will be at least four months when it will not be possible to leave under its provisions, it is possible that the General Conference meeting April 23-May 3, 2024 will approve a similar avenue.
3. There will be other avenues for disaffiliation. For those wanting to leave the UMC, the most important aspect of paragraph 2553 is that it allows you to take your property and assets with you (i.e., the trust clause is suspended). When the paragraph sunsets, that guarantee is gone. However, in many cases your conference will be happy to work with you. The majority of churches disaffiliating right now are smaller, often more rural churches. In most cases, while your state and county will assign a value to your property, it effectively has little if any real value. The key question is, if you chose to close your doors and your conference sold the property, what kind of offer would be received? If you are in a rural setting, there' a reasonable chance the building would sit empty for years and be a liability to the conference. If you are in an area where the property is more valuable, you could still be waiting years for another church to buy it - and if there is not a church interested in your building there is a good chance it will need to be torn down for a new structure to be built. Our buildings are worth for more to us than they are on the open market, and your conference may not want an "asset" that could prove to be a "liability." In a situation like this, it would be in everyone's best interests to allow a church to leave with their property at minimal cost. Please note this is a very general statement and there are undoubtedly many exceptions.
4. The large majority of our conferences are truly working with those seeking to disaffiliate in good faith. There are exceptions, which is very unfortunate. There is a clause in 2553 that allows conferences to add on lots of costs. While I don't think it's in keeping with the spirit of General Conference, that clause makes it possible for a conference to make disaffiliation as expensive as they want it to be. This means that while there is no guarantee disaffiliation would be less expensive after GC2024, if you are in an uncooperative conference, it is equally unlikely that disaffiliation will become more expensive. Similarly, if you are in a cooperative conference, there is no reason to think that cooperation will stop January 1, 2024.
The sorting that we are doing right now will not end on January 1st, or at the end of the 2024 General Conference. If you are certain of the action you need to take, then act. There is truly no reason not to. But don't allow yourself to be pushed into a step that may not be right for you out of fear that you will be trapped.