Deadline to disaffiliate: Staff members assist churches at crunch time

Deadline to disaffiliate: Staff members assist churches at crunch time

Lori Sluder checks and organizes disaffiliation paperwork submitted by local churches on March 6. Sluder is assistant to Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett in the Alcoa Conference Center.

ALCOA, Tenn. -- The March 6 deadline for local churches to submit their disaffiliation paperwork and payments came and went in a subdued way, compared to the intensity of the previous few weeks.

That’s what some conference and district staff said about the March 6 cut-off date that churches had to beat to be eligible for the Annual Conference’s approval vote at a special session on April 22.

Although a few disaffiliating congregations dropped off their paperwork at the district office or conference office on the final day, the biggest crunch occurred about a week before the March 6 deadline, said Rick Cherry, Holston treasurer.

“People realized they had six business days to get their money together, so there was a real push,” he said. 
Rick Cherry, treasurer, answers questions
by email in his Alcoa office on March 6. 

Cherry spent hours on the telephone and on email last week answering questions and providing final figures for required disaffiliation compensation, including the unfunded pension liability for clergy and 24 months of tithes. The required tithe amount per church was based on 2019 year-end reports and included the past year and upcoming year, Cherry said.

About 230 churches of Holston’s 842 total current congregations are expected to be submitted for the Annual Conference’s April 22 vote allowing them to disconnect from the The United Methodist Church. The special session will be held at Central United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Voting members of the called special session will be the same persons who were voting members of the last Annual Conference in June 2022.

Sixty-two churches delivered or mailed their disaffiliation papers to Cherry's office in the Alcoa Conference Center. The others were delivered or mailed to Holston's nine district offices.

District staff said that at times, their offices were bustling with people waiting to turn in their paperwork and payments during the week before March 6.

“When it was really busy, we had as many as eight or nine people in the office,” said the Rev. Jane Taylor, Clinch Mountain District superintendent, based in Bristol, Virginia. “For some churches, more than one person came, maybe so they could support each other.”

In the Mountain View District office in Morristown, Tennessee, staff went through the list of necessary forms and checks with the persons representing their disaffiliating churches. “A lot of them were completely dependent on us to help them get it ready,” said Natashia Goins, administrative assistant. “I kind of enjoyed getting to know them through the process.”
(Left to right) Linda Schumann,
Angela Hardy Cross, Natashia
Goins work in the Mountain View
District office

For local churches with members or clergy interested in leaving the denomination, a 90-day discernment period followed by a congregational vote was required in Holston Conference. Scheduling the meetings and votes for those churches as the March 6 deadline approached was more challenging than accepting the paperwork, Goins said. On some Saturdays in January and February, she and the Rev. Angela Hardy Cross attended four meetings in a day.

“She handled it all with grace,” Goins said, referring to Hardy Cross, Mountain View District superintendent.

Staff members commented on the emotions of disaffiliating members as they turned in their paperwork over the last weeks, which they said ranged from tearful to happy.

“Most of them seemed at peace with the decision and felt everything was going to be OK for them,” said Theressa Taylor, Clinch Mountain District administrative assistant.

“There was some happy and some very upset, because the church is part of their history and family,” said Goins in the Mountain View District office. “There were also some who seemed very conflicted, very unsure of what to do next.”
Several conference leaders expressed how sad they felt over the last few days.
Linda Schumann, Mountain View District
lay leader, looks at paperwork delivered by 
Earnie Jarnigan of Shady Grove UMC.

“It’s real now,” said the Rev. Tim Jones, Holston director of communications. “For so long people have been caught up in the disagreement, and now it’s really happening.”

Cherry said he was concerned about the connection and benefits that congregations will lose after leaving, but he wishes them the best.

“I hate it had to happen because they’re all good people,” he said. “I hope they go on and do great things, but I don’t think they’ve thought about all they’re not going to have.”

The Rev. Jane Taylor said the last week has been the culmination of a series of hard weeks but the clouds may be parting.

“It’s tough, just tough. It’s like a divorce. This is the final submission of legal paperwork that makes the divorce final,” she said. “It’s been building up to this point. Now hopefully spring is on the way and we can look forward to the future with hope -- and go back to our mission of being disciples.”

Sign up for a free weekly email subscription to The CallHolston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. Holston Conference's main offices are located in Alcoa, Tennessee.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.