The Holston Annual Conference is an amazing place. We are more together than we are separate.
In a recent interview with our Conference Communications staff, I was asked what a united Holston looks like. This is a great question that I continue to consider.
A united Holston looks like a Conference that continues to move into the future together.
It consists of clergy and churches who are engaged in each other’s lives and the life of their community. It is a Conference worshiping God in a wide array of styles. It is a place where there are traditionalists, centrists and progressives working together to reach people for Christ and make the world a better place. It builds on its past even as it moves forward into the future.
A united Holston is a Conference that includes persons of all age levels and ethnicities. The people and churches are growing and moving together. In a united Holston, traditionalists make progressives sharper and progressives enhance traditionalists. Together we are a witness to the world as people who have different theological perspectives and yet have so much in common in our love for God, others and the church.
Though we desire for all of our churches to continue on the journey together as a united Holston Conference, some of our congregations and clergy are considering withdrawing from The United Methodist Church to become a part of another expression of Methodism such as the Global Methodist Church. It will sadden us if these churches and clergy discern to withdraw. However, we will send them forth with our blessing to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Below are responses to frequently asked questions about continued affiliation with and disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church.
Thank you for your ministry and service. As always, it is a joy to serve as your bishop.
Holston and North Alabama Conferences
We hope this FAQ will help. If you have questions not addressed in this document, contact your District Superintendent who will be happy to assist you in finding the information you are seeking.
No. There is no provision in the Book of Discipline or citation from the Judicial Council for a United Methodist church to also be in another denomination.
A clergy cannot hold credentials in The United Methodist Church and another denomination. Judicial Council Decision 696 asserts: “There is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained United Methodist minister to hold membership simultaneously in another denomination. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated.”
Clergypersons whose conference relationship is terminated for any reason are no longer eligible to continue participating in the Conference's self-insured health care plan or other benefits where the Conference serves as the plan sponsor.
The United Methodist Church does not transfer United Methodist credentials to other denominations.
United Methodist clergy who choose to leave the denomination do so by notifying their District Superintendent and working with the Board of Ordained Ministry to follow the steps outlined in Book of Discipline ¶360.1 and ¶360.2.
Another denomination may recognize the ordination that occurred in The United Methodist Church and records of that action would be provided by the UMC if requested. The receiving denomination could have additional ordination or licensing requirements.
Yes, the Book of Discipline currently contains processes for reinstatement of orders or licenses for ministry. These processes are not quick nor automatic but they do exist and have been used previously.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline outlines the process congregations may use to leave The United Methodist Church through disaffiliation (¶2553).
Pastors and congregation leaders should start with a conversation with their District Superintendent who can help find the best option to accomplish the congregation’s goal.
Individuals, of course, may choose to leave the United Methodist Church whenever they discern that they are called to fulfill their Christian journey in another local church or denomination without necessarily having to follow a prescribed process in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
However, when an entire local church is considering disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church there are many more complicated issues that need to be addressed, and so a formal process of disaffiliation has been designed to do that in a formal and appropriate manner.
¶2553 was created specifically to address the decision to disaffiliate because of the ongoing conflict on the issue of human sexuality that is driving some churches to reconsider their relationship with The United Methodist Church.
The Book of Discipline also provides different procedures for local churches to formally change their relationship with The United Methodist Church when, for example, the local church decides to merge with another local church in another denomination (BOD ¶2547), when it decides to join a pan-Methodist or other denomination, (BOD ¶2548) or when the local church closes, (BOD ¶2549).These other provisions were created at times throughout our history to address specific scenarios that might or might not be relevant today.
However, ¶2553 was created specifically to allow a local church to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, with property held in Trust by The United Methodist Church, in a thoughtful, grace-filled manner to ensure that the separation sets the foundation for continued, if separate, fruitful and productive mission and ministry for everyone involved. Therefore the process in ¶2553 is the most appropriate procedure designed for precisely this purpose at this moment. It will be the process utilized by Holston Conference to assist a local church to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church.
Others have asked about ¶2548.2. The Council of Bishops asked the Judicial Council for a ruling concerning ¶2548.2. The Judicial Council ruled this paragraph could not be used for the purpose of disaffiliation. See Judicial Council Decision 1449 for more information.
Yes. Any local church in Holston Conference that has determined that it should disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must complete this disaffiliation process prior to December 31, 2023.
Because ¶2553 has a validity expiration date, the disaffiliation process will automatically terminate if a local church is not able to complete the process prior to December 31, 2023. If a local church meets one of the other provisions of the Book of Discipline, those other options may be considered on a case-by-case basis after December 31, 2023. However, the Holston Invitation Team and the Conference Trustees are committed to offering a fair, non-punitive, gracious exit beyond the expiration of ¶2553 on December 31, 2023.
The disaffiliation process has several important timeframes to be considered. However, please keep in mind that a local church that has discerned that disaffiliation is the proper step must have its decision approved by Holston Annual Conference before any property can be transferred. Therefore, a disaffiliating church needs to be ready for a vote on its request by the Special Session of Annual Conference on April 22, 2023. Specific details about what needs to be accomplished before the Special Session can be found in materials that can be obtained by your District Superintendent.
¶2553 is the only provision in the Book of Discipline that expressly provides a formal process for disaffiliation. Other provisions may or might not be applicable to a particular church’s unique circumstances, but the same terms and obligations, such as the requirement to pay unfunded pensions and to go through a spiritual discernment process would apply regardless of which provision might be invoked. ¶2553 also expressly provides a legal right and process for a local church to acquire the property that it presently only holds in Trust for The United Methodist Church. But since none of the other provisions in the Book of Discipline expressly provides a disaffiliation process, ¶2553 is the appropriate process to use if a local church decides that it wants to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church.
One of the reasons the Bishop and Cabinet have consented only to using ¶2553 through December 31, 2023 is that it covers all of the various scenarios under which a church might disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. For example, a church that discerns a need to become independent would not be able to use ¶2548.2. By allowing all churches the same opportunity under the same set of terms and procedures will expedite the process in a fair, consistent and efficient manner throughout Holston Conference.
We are all united by Christ to serve through worship, mission and ministry. If a local church discerns that it can better fulfill its mission by separating from The United Methodist Church, Holston Conference will help guide the church through the disaffiliation process in a timely manner because we ultimately all share the same goal of making disciples of Christ in the most effective way possible, even if separated.
The Spiritual Discernment process is a critical step in the process because it will ensure that the local church, through all of its members, makes a fully informed and spiritually guided decision of great significance. Working closely with your District Superintendent to plan ahead and complete the steps in the process will help make certain the process is a smooth and efficient one. This will also help make sure that if the path of disaffiliation is chosen, the local church will be able to have its request voted on by the Annual Conference before the end of 2023.
Yes. Contact your District Superintendent for more information.
Pastors should consult with their District Superintendent who will then work with the pastor and congregation to assess and discern the best route to achieve the congregation’s goal.
Withdrawal from The United Methodist Church requires an assessment/discernment process guided by the District Superintendent. In addition, a church conference, negotiation of the withdrawal agreement and vote at the Annual Conference session are necessary steps. From start to finish this typically takes a minimum of six months.
The Holston Conference appointive cabinet does not intend to appoint a pastor planning to continue in The United Methodist Church to a congregation in the process of exiting unless it is agreeable to both parties.
Yes, there are existing processes in the Book of Discipline that can be used to allow a congregation to re-affiliate with The United Methodist Church.
Membership in another denomination immediately terminates membership (and credentials for clergy) in The United Methodist Church. See Judicial Council Decision 696. “There is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained United Methodist minister to hold membership simultaneously in another denomination. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated.”
Pensions liabilities occur because of promises made to pay pension benefits in the future. These benefits are known as “defined benefits” because the amount to be paid is largely defined by service years, elections made by a retiree and a past service rate.
While the Holston Conference pension plan liabilities are currently fully funded on a minimum contribution basis, the Conference’s pension plan liabilities are not fully funded on a market basis. Pension plan liabilities valued on a funding basis are based on a discount rate that reflects the long-term, average expected earnings of the plan assets, with no change anticipated in the party responsible for paying benefits. Pension plan liabilities valued on a market basis are based on a discount rate that reflects the value of plan liabilities priced on the open market with the possibility an outside party will assume responsibility for the payment of benefits.
Local churches terminating their relationship with The United Methodist Church are required to pay a pro-rata share of their annual conference’s market-based unfunded pension liability in accordance with ¶1504.23 in the Addendum to the 2016 Book of Discipline.
The Holston Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits (the Board) determines the amount a local church owes for its share of the Conference’s market-based unfunded liability. In accordance with ¶ 1504.23 in the Book of Discipline, the Board adopted a formula for calculating each local church’s share of the Holston Conference's market-based unfunded pension liability based on the average market-based liability for the most recent four quarters as calculated by Wespath.
Based on year-end statistical reports, each church will be assigned a decimal, or percentage, which will consider total operating income in relation to the aggregate operating income of all churches in the Holston Conference. The decimal/percentage will be applied to the total market-based unfunded liability to determine the total owed by the individual church. Additionally, any arrearages in direct billing will be added to this figure.
Wespath continues to respond to questions and dialogue related to potential disaffiliations from The United Methodist Church by providing unbiased information for churches, clergy and others discerning their paths forward.
We’ve recently updated three FAQs documents:
You can find these and other useful resources at https://www.wespath.org/about-wespath/wayforwardwespathfaq.
A motion was adopted by the Holston Annual Conference at its 2022 meeting to make the unfunded pension liability amount of each church available on the Holston Conference website by July 8, 2022. You may access this data by reviewing and agreeing to the terms under which this information is being provided by clicking here. (UPDATED DATA SHEET - January 2023). Data sheets will be updated on a quarterly basis. Churches may reach out to their District Superintendents, at any time, for the most up to date figure.
In accordance with the action approved by the Holston Annual Conference in June 2022, a spreadsheet showing the portion of the Conference’s unfunded pension liability allocated to each local church as of July 8, 2022 was published on the Conference website.
As noted in the July 8, 2022 publication, the numbers published in July were valid only until the end of July and would be recalculated by WesPath on August 1, 2022.
When WesPath recalculated Holston Conference’s share of the unfunded pension obligations on August 1, 2022, it was significantly lower than the amount published in July. Accordingly, each local church’s pro rata share of the Conference unfunded pension obligation was also significantly decreased.
To ensure that each local church has the most up-to-date information regarding its unfunded pension obligations, Holston Conference has now published these new updated unfunded pension obligation numbers allocated to each local church.
Attached is an estimate of your conference’s allocated underfunding, as of 10/1/2022.
In general, the allocated underfunding amounts have been decreasing since mid-2020, as well as consistently during 2022 as shown in the third chart below. This is due to significant increases in the market discount rate used to value the liability, which decreases the liability when taken alone. Plan asset returns were also generally positive through 2021; and although during 2022 asset returns have been unfavorable, they have not been poor enough to offset the lower liabilities caused by higher discount rates. In addition, changing the liability premium to 5% reduced the allocated underfunding amount as of 7/1/2022.
Below we show three charts that illustrate these changes since September 1, 2021:
These charts should give you a good idea of what has been driving the ultimate allocated underfunding amounts at any points during the period depicted in the charts.
In addition to the emailed explanation, Wespath Actuarial Services sent the following letter for further explanation.
To put it very simply, WesPath is required by ¶1504.23 of The Book of Discipline to use "market factors similar to a commercial annuity provider" to anticipate how much is required to cover all future pension benefit payments based upon market interest rates and other actuarial assumptions. WesPath had previously determined that those market factors would require a ‘liability premium’ of 10%. However, based upon a recent review of current market trends and the guidance of an independent third-party consultant, WesPath has now determined that this ‘liability premium’ should be reduced to only 5%.
The combination of the reduction of the ‘liability premium’, along with the recalculation of various market factors, payments and actuarial assumptions as of August 1, has resulted in a considerable reduction in the total amount of unfunded pension liability assigned to Holston Conference. Consequently, the numbers reflected in the updated data sheet show each church’s new pro-rata share of this Conference liability*.
*As a reminder, Holston Conference does not determine the amount of the unfunded pension obligation for which it is responsible. WesPath makes that determination. Holston Conference simply allocates that amount to all of the local churches of the Conference on a pro-rata basis.
In a new video, Wespath's Martin Bauer and Dale Jones offer easy-to-understand answers to the complex, multi-layered questions related to pension plan funding and the withdrawal liability payment. Understanding the nuances of long-term pension funding is critical as some local churches and UMC clergy consider disaffiliation.
We encourage you to watch this video and share it with others in your conference. This 18-minute video addresses these and other questions:
The video is here and posted to Wespath's disaffiliations webpage. A podcast version is also available. Please feel free to share theses links via social media and post to your conference webpage.
The most significant proposal submitted by Wespath to the 2020 General Conference, now scheduled for 2024, is to add a new Book of Discipline ¶2555: Pension Matters for Disaffiliating Church Units.
Unless and until the Book of Discipline is further amended, ¶1504.23, which requires the local church withdrawal liability payment, still applies. The withdrawal payment for pension liabilities as described in ¶1504.23 is practical if small numbers of U.S. local churches exit the UMC. However, if large segments exit the UMC—such as described in several of the proposals submitted to General Conference 2020 (rescheduled to 2024)—a different approach may be more practical.
Wespath submitted legislation for the 2020 General Conference to address the pension and benefits impact of a potential large-scale restructure of the denomination, including pension funding and liabilities for U.S. clergy. If approved by the General Conference, the legislation would create a new Book of Discipline ¶2555 (“Pension Matters for Disaffiliating Church Units”) to enable continuity of benefits and funding in much the same manner as exists today—in the event of large-scale movement of clergy, local churches or annual conferences into “New Methodist Expressions.”
Assuming a New Methodist Expression (i.e., denomination) is viable and agrees to sponsor and fund pension benefits, the key provisions of the new ¶2555 would be as follows:
Wespath’s proposal for a new ¶2555 is in alignment with various restructuring proposals submitted to the 2020 General Conference. However, Wespath’s petition must be voted on by the General Conference before it can take effect.
For clergy who move to a New Methodist Expression, the New Methodist Expression (if “viable”) would retain financial/legal responsibility for pensions of clergy that transfer from The United Methodist Church to the new denomination. The New Methodist Expression would assume future benefit responsibility for its clergy.
If clergy do not move to a New Methodist Expression, but instead simply leave The United Methodist Church by surrendering their credentials under ¶360 of the Book of Discipline, then the vested accrued pension benefits of such clergy will be converted to an account balance and deposited into their UMPIP account.
There are many considerations related to being “viable” as a plan sponsor for clergy benefits. Viability considers factors like scale, membership, financial stability and governance structure. In many cases, the New Methodist Expressions described in many of the 2020 General Conference proposals would be viable as a plan sponsor. However, a handful of local churches that leave the UMC might not be viable from a plan sponsorship perspective. Wespath will consider viability on a case-by-case basis.
With the postponement of GC 2020 until 2024, it doesn’t appear the new ¶2555 can be applied early for groups of local churches that want to move to a New Methodist Expression. Changes to the Book of Discipline — including adding a new paragraph — require approval by the General Conference before they can take effect. Unless and until such paragraph is approved, any disaffiliations of local churches or clergy, whether individually or in large numbers, will be subject to the pension provisions approved by the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference.
For additional information on Wespath's role in the disaffiliation process, please click here to visit the Wespath FAQ page.
Yes. If a retiree who is currently enrolled in the Holston Conference Medicare Supplement Group Plan voluntarily surrenders their credentials, the retiree may continue to participate in the plan after surrendering credentials. Additionally, if the retiree’s spouse is enrolled in the plan when the retiree surrenders credentials, the spouse may also remain in the plan.
There are several reasons a local church could benefit financially by waiting until 2024 to move forward with plans to withdraw from The United Methodist Church, including the following:
As is the case with all legislation presented at General Conference, the Wespath and Protocol proposals could be amended during General Conference.
For additional information on Wespath's role in the disaffiliation process, please click here to visit the Wespath FAQ page.
No. Churches that do wish to engage in the disaffiliation process will remain United Methodist and do not need to vote. Only churches wishing to disaffiliate will need to vote on leaving once they have finished the discernment process. Any congregation or clergy who chooses to remain members of The United Methodist Church will continue their disciple-making ministry as normal. As always, Holston Conference leaders will communicate important information and happenings related to The United Methodist Church.
On December 12, 2022, under Decision Number 1451, the Judicial Council ruled to designate the event scheduled for 2024 as postponed 2020 General Conference. This decision means the delegates elected in 2019 will be eligible to attend the General Conference being held in 2024.
This depends on whether the Judicial Council rules that the 2020 General Conference was postponed or canceled.
If the 2020 General Conference is ruled canceled, the Book of Discipline ¶ 502.3 states, "Delegates to the General Conference shall be elected at the session of the annual conference held not more than two annual conference sessions before the calendar year preceding the session of the General Conference. At least thirty days prior to the beginning of that calendar year, the secretary of the General Conference shall notify the bishop and the secretary of each annual conference of the number of delegates to be elected by that annual conference." So, if the Judicial Council rules the General Conference canceled, a new slate of delegates will need to be elected during the 2023 Holston Annual Conference.
If the Judicial Council rules the General Conference postponed, the delegates elected in 2019 will be eligible to attend the 2024 General Conference. Any delegates who have withdrawn from The United Methodist Church to join another denomination will be replaced by the elected alternates.
Not all congregations and clergy who may be considering leaving The United Methodist Church have discerned whether they will remain connected or withdraw from the denomination. So there is no way to accurately predict how the size of the Holston Annual Conference may change.
No. During a special meeting on March 4, 2022, the Council of Bishops approved a list of six questions to be addressed by the Judicial Council including the legality of an entire annual conference voting to leave the denomination. On May 10, 2022 the Judicial Council released their ruling to all six questions:
“There is no basis in Church law for any annual conference to adopt stopgap policies, pass resolutions, take a vote, or act unilaterally for the purpose of removing itself from The United Methodist Church,” the Judicial Council ruled in Decision 1444. Click here to read the full ruling.
Any specific questions about joining any other denomination should be directed to leaders of that denomination. Information is available on the Global Methodist Church website at https://globalmethodist.org/.
Alignment with another denomination terminates membership and clergy credentials in The United Methodist Church. Judicial Council Decision 696 asserts: “There is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained United Methodist minister to hold membership simultaneously in another denomination. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated.”
In times of high anxiety and uncertainty, rumors, unverified information, speculation and opinions can often flood our inboxes, social media feeds and conversations. A best practice to help individuals discover accurate information is to get information about a specific organization from that organization’s official publications, statements and leaders. Another step is to carefully verify information using original sources when possible.
Holston Conference leadership will continue to update this FAQ as new information (such as Judicial Council rulings and General Conference actions) is available.