Departure from The United Methodist Church
In 2019, the South Georgia Conference adopted a Disaffiliation Policy, which sets out a framework to be followed when a significant number of members of a congregation express a desire to leave the South Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, pursuant to the provisions of paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. This paragraph expires on December 31, 2023.
At the 2022 Annual Conference Session, members approved a report from the Conference Trustees in which a process was affirmed that extends the terms of South Georgia’s current disaffiliation policy through December 31, 2024. The wording is below.
The Trustees affirmed that, after the expiration of the provisions of ¶2553 and the Disaffiliation Policy, and in accordance with the provisions of ¶2549 which vest the Trustees with the power to dispose of property of a closed church at their sole discretion, the Trustees will continue to enter into agreements with local churches that desire to exit the Annual Conference on the same terms outlined in ¶2553 and the Disaffiliation Policy. A local church shall have a limited right to exit the denomination pursuant to this resolution which shall be available until the later of any new deadline set by General Conference for disaffiliation or December 31, 2024. Any Departure Agreement entered into pursuant to this resolution shall require approval by a majority vote of the Annual Conference in accordance with the Annual Conference’s existing Disaffiliation Policy.
Watch this video with Dr. Jimmy Asbell, senior pastor of Vineville UMC in Macon and chair of the Conference Trustees, and Mrs. Cater Thompson, Conference Chancellor, as they explain what happens when South Georgia's current disaffiliation expires on December 31, 2023.
It is the intent of this policy that when a congregation chooses to leave the Annual Conference, it be allowed to do so in as amicable a manner as possible. The Annual Conference also recognizes a responsibility to members of a local church who want to remain part of the Annual Conference, even if they are in the minority of their congregation. Under the provisions of this policy, a local church shall have a limited right to exit the denomination to be complete prior to December 31, 2024. [Read the policy that the trustees will honor]
Local Church: Steps to Departure
The process for depart is as follows:
If a church is considering whether or not departure is in its best interest, the pastor or church lay leaders should notify the District Superintendent. The Superintendent shall hold an informal meeting with church leaders hearing their concerns, sharing the steps of the policy, and providing for ongoing dialogue.
If after consideration of the matter the church council of a local church determines that the church wishes to consider departure, it shall notify its District Superintendent.
The District Superintendent shall call a church conference under ¶ 248 of the Book of Discipline for the sole purpose of deciding whether to depart. Such church conference shall be held within 120 days after the district superintendent calls for the church conference. The call and conduct of the church conference shall be governed by ¶¶ 246-247. In addition, special attention shall be made to give broad notice to the full, professing membership of the local church regarding the time and place of a church conference called for this purpose and to use all means necessary, including electronic communication where possible, to communicate.
The decision to depart must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
The request to depart must then be ratified by the members of the South Georgia Annual Conference. Ratification of such agreement shall require the approval by a simple majority of the members of the annual conference present and voting. No departure shall be effective until ratified by the Annual Conference. In addition, the Conference Board of Trustees must approve a local church’s departure.
Local Church: Cost to Depart
The local church must enter into a standard departure agreement with the annual conference, which includes at least the following:
Payment of any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to the effective date of departure PLUS an additional equal amount representing 12 months of future apportionments.
The local church shall pay its appointed clergy’s compensation and benefits through the date on which its departure is effective.
Payment of the local church's share of the total pension liability of the Annual Conference. The share is calculated using a formula approved by the annual conference, which is based on the salary the church paid its clergy.
Following the completion of the process and approval of the Annual Conference all real and personal, tangible and intangible property shall be returned to the local church. All transfers of property shall be made prior to departure. All costs for transfer of title or other legal work, including any costs or fees incurred by the Annual Conference in connection with the departure, shall be borne by the departing local church.
A departing local church shall satisfy all other debts, loans, and liabilities, or assign and transfer them to its new entity, prior to departing.
All payments hereunder shall be made prior to the effective date of departure.
If a church votes to depart, the payment obligation must be fulfilled by September 30, 2024. In addition, if a pastor of a departing church chooses to remain United Methodist and there is not an equivalent appointment available, the church shall pay its pastor's salary, housing, and benefits through June 30, 2025.
Local Church: Deadline to Depart
Under the provisions of the current policy, a local church shall have a limited right to exit the denomination to be complete prior to December 31, 2024. The right expires on December 31, 2024. Click here for the timeline for departing churches in 2024.
Clergy: Exiting with a Departing Church
What clergy need to be aware of if exiting with a departing church:
You cannot hold membership in two denominations. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated. (Judicial Council Decision 696)
If you are an elder, active or retired, and you choose to continue serving a departing church, then your action signifies your voluntary withdrawal from clergy membership in The United Methodist Church, and your ordination is no longer with The United Methodist Church. (¶360.1) It will be up to another church or denomination to recognize your orders through their own process.
If you are a provisional member and you choose to exit with a departing church, then your “action shall be considered a request for discontinuance of your relationship” and your “credentials shall be surrendered to a district superintendent." (¶327.6) What the process will be for ordination and membership in another denomination is beyond our purview. It is important for you to understand that once you are discontinued from provisional membership, you will be without a pastoral license that serves as your clergy credential.
If you are a local pastor and you choose to exit with a departing church, you are no longer licensed for pastoral ministry. According to ¶320, “Whenever any local pastor severs relationship with The United Methodist Church…license and credentials shall be surrendered to the district superintendent for deposit with the secretary of the conference.” The nature of a pastoral license is that it is only valid when the holder of the license is appointed by the bishop to a United Methodist church.
Departure Agreement Documents