December 7, 2022

Greetings Everyone!

I wanted to drop by to give an update on General Conference 2024 and to answer a question we are hearing frequently.

First of all, on Sunday, December 4, 2022, the Kentucky Annual Conference (KAC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC) held a Special Annual Conference for the purpose of approving the disaffiliations of 57 additional churches in the KAC. Add those to the previous 22 disaffiliations and our number stands at 79 which is approximately 9% of the total Methodist churches in the KAC. I have attached the KAC-Trustees Report that shows the churches. Prayers were offered, grief acknowledged, and best wishes extended to all of the congregations who decided to depart and are now determining what their future looks like outside the United Methodist Church.

The Special Annual Conference marked the second wave of disaffiliations and I am expecting a third, and much larger, wave that will be finalized at the regularly scheduled Kentucky Annual Conference in June 2023. Churches have from now until early spring to complete the disaffiliation process outlined in Para. 2553 of our Book of Discipline and then be approved by action of the entire KAC in June.

As reported in our last General Conference update email, a church in Lexington will vote to leave the UMC on December 11, 2022. If two thirds of the membership present at their church vote say “yes” then they will be the first Methodist congregation in Lexington to be ready to leave after the Annual Conference in June. My guess is that this will make the local news and you will hear about it. And it is my guess this will be the first of several in Lexington who take this course of action.

This brings me to one of the questions we are hearing frequently.

Will the Annual Conference leadership take our buildings and bank accounts if we do not leave by December 31, 2023?

The short answer is NO.

The long answer ends in NO.

The longer answer is that the provision for disaffiliation given by Para. 2553 of the Book of Discipline outlines a process whereby a local congregation may remove itself from the United Methodist Church and retain title to all assets. However, Para. 2553 has a sunset provision which states that, after December 31, 2023, the current terms of disaffiliation may no longer be offered.

But what about the assets? The United Methodist Church employs a Trust Clause which makes claim to all local church assets being held for the ultimate benefit of the United Methodist Church. It is one means by which a local church is reminded that it is part of a larger body. The Trust Clause has existed since the UMC’s founding in 1968. The clause is not meant to be punitive but provide protection for congregations and the United Methodist Church as a whole from those who choose to not act in good faith within the Methodist connectional covenant.

There is fear among some that, after 12/31/23, an Annual Conference leadership could decide to refuse to release, or worse take-over, the assets of a congregation wishing to disaffiliate. For this reason, some are suggesting that leaving is the best, or only, way to assure assets are retained.

Does the letter of the law support this position? Yes. The court system would ultimately determine the answer however.

Does the spirit of the Trust Clause and its current use in the Kentucky Annual Conference support this position? No.

We at Lexington First UMC do not live in fear of our denomination or its leaders. There has not been one hint within Kentucky of punitive action against a church wishing to disaffiliate. It has been quite the opposite in fact. Bishop Fairley is on record as saying he wants to help every church to find its best place for ministry and has led the District Superintendents and Trustees of the Kentucky Annual Conference to do just that.

It is my (Todd) opinion that there are those in the congregations that are seeking disaffiliation who may be using fear to stir up the desire to vote and leave by saying, “They are going to take our buildings and bank accounts if we don’t leave by December 2023.”  This is simply not a truthful statement. In my opinion, a decision to vote to disaffiliate based on fear of the Trust Clause is premature at best and unnecessary at worst.

We refuse to make decisions prematurely or out of fear. Instead, we continue to trust the leading of the Spirit.

As with all of the update emails, let me remind you that I am happy to answer questions and have conversations. Please call, text, email, or stop by for a visit if you have questions.

All my best,