Frequently Asked Questions about Discernment and Disaffiliation For St. Francisville United Methodist Church
What is “discernment”? Spiritual discernment is setting oneself or the community apart for a time of deep listening for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, insight and calling. It is not judging others (Matthew 7:1-2), but encountering God’s wisdom and understanding in others, the community of faith and us for discerning God’s calling for the congregation and each of us individually. Discernment is the ability to perceive the right paths in which God’s spirit is directing us.
What is “disaffiliation”? Disaffiliation is the process by which a local church separates from the United Methodist denomination under the provisions of the Book of Discipline in Paragraph 2553, which outlines the reasons a church can disaffiliate, and the process and terms for disaffiliation. The delegates of the Louisiana Annual Conference, at the recommendation of the Conference Board of Trustees, set the process and terms for us here in Louisiana. Paragraph 2553 expires December 2023. A vote for disaffiliation means a decision to leave the United Methodist denomination. A vote against disaffiliation means a decision to stay in the United Methodist denomination.
What is the “Trust Clause”? The United Methodist trust clause is a statement included in legal documents (deeds) declaring that the property and assets of a local church or United Methodist body are held “in trust” for the benefit of the entire UMC denomination. The trust clause ensures that United Methodist property will continue to be used for the purposes of The United Methodist Church. To learn more about the trust clause, go to https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-what-is-the-united-methodist-trust-clause. Under the provisions of Paragraph 2553, a church choosing to disaffiliate for reasons of conscience regarding human sexuality may be released from the restrictions of the trust clause and leave the UMC with all of their property and assets if all requirements for disaffiliating are met. A desire to have property released from the Trust Clause is not, in and of itself, a viable reason for disaffiliation under Paragraph 2553. The provision in Paragraph 2553 is set to expire December 31, 2023.
What is the current UMC stance on homosexuality? The United Methodist Church affirms that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons” and that “all people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God.” In 1972, the UMC has also said, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The UMC has also maintained long-standing restrictions regarding homosexual clergy and weddings. Pastors may not be “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” and may not conduct ceremonies that celebrate same-sex weddings or unions. Such ceremonies also may not be held on church property. For more information, see What is the Church's position on homosexuality? (www.umc.org/)
What are the proposed changes to the UMC stance on homosexuality? Many proposals have been considered that involve removing the “incompatible” statement referenced above. These proposals have been presented at every General Conference since 1972 and have not passed.
If the rules have not changed yet and Louisiana is currently enforcing the rules we have, why consider Disaffiliation at this time? The next General Conference of the UMC (a worldwide gathering of UMC delegates) will be held in 2024, and changes may occur at this time. As the number of churches leaving increases, the balance of power between traditional and progressive theology at the Conference, Jurisdiction and General Conference levels may be impacted.
The current method for disaffiliation, passed by the 2019 General Conference, can be found in Paragraph 2553 in the UMC Book of Discipline. In 2021, the Louisiana Annual Conference added the following requirements for Louisiana churches voting to disaffiliate: one additional year of apportionments; all membership records, baptismal records, marriage records, minutes of church committees and boards, financial records and UM hymnals must be turned over to Conference; and the United Methodist name and the cross and flame branding must be removed from all signs, buildings, websites, social media platforms, etc. The current method for disaffiliation expires on December 31, 2023.
What are the Financial Costs of Disaffiliation? If St. Francisville UMC votes to disaffiliate prior to the 2023 Louisiana Annual Conference, we will be required to pay the Louisiana Conference approximately $130,000 to leave the denomination with our properties. The exact amount will not be known until the time of the Church Conference vote. This number was determined by using the process outlined by paragraph 2553, with additions from the Conference Board of Trustees. Additionally, if membership declines, it could result in a reduction of financial, service and ministry support.
What are apportionments? Apportionments are a cost paid from our tithes and offerings to support connectional Conference and UMC missions, ministries, seminaries and overhead. The percentage of tithes we pay is established annually by the Louisiana Conference and is currently based on a formula adopted by the Louisiana Annual Conference delegates, which considers mainly our expenses less our mission expenditures and capital expenditures. In 2022, SFUMC’s apportionment was approximately $26,000 for the year. If you want to know more about apportionments, go to https://www.la-umc.org/apportionments.
How will we pay for the cost of Disaffiliation? St. Francisville UMC currently has funds in unrestricted reserves to pay the disaffiliation costs under the current provision of Paragraph 2553.
If we hold a Church Conference, who can vote? Any professing/full member of the church who attends the Church Conference in person is eligible to vote. A Professing/full member is one who has been baptized, made a profession of personal faith in Jesus Christ, and joined St. Francisville United Methodist Church with membership vows. This includes those confirmed at SFUMC, those who have joined SFUMC by profession of faith or professing members of other churches who have transferred their membership. If you are not sure if you are a professing/full member, check with the church office. Those who are unable to be present at the vote cannot submit a proxy vote, nor can anyone vote electronically.
What is the voting threshold to disaffiliate? Two-thirds of the professing members who attend the Church Conference must vote to disaffiliate for the measure to pass. While we want as many members as possible to come and vote, there is no minimum number required to reach a quorum. Whoever is present at the meeting constitutes a quorum.
What will happen if we vote to disaffiliate? If the vote for disaffiliation passes, our Trustees and Church Council will begin the legal process of transferring all assets into the name of the new church entity we will create. We will also begin exploring our next steps as a church, including whether we affiliate with another Methodist denomination or become independent. This will be the next phase of our discernment process. If we disaffiliate, our church will continue to serve people in the St. Francisville area, just as we have always done. We will continue to worship in our sanctuary and your membership will transfer to the new church entity effective June 30, 2023, unless your membership is moved elsewhere prior to that date.
What will happen if we vote to stay in the UMC? If we remain in the UMC, we will retain our current assets in trust to the UMC and will continue to serve people in the St. Francisville area, just as we have always done. We will continue to worship in our sanctuary and your membership will remain as it is.
What will happen to our current members who disagree with the results of the vote? Our hope is that everyone will continue to be a member of our church, regardless of the results of the vote. We understand, however, that some people will choose to join another church that more closely aligns with their beliefs.
What will happen to our current pastor after the vote? Reverend Daniel is in his own personal period of discernment to determine what he will do. His membership is with the Louisiana Conference, not with our church. Rev. Daniel’s decision is not part of the church’s disaffiliation decision.
If we elect to disaffiliate, our Disaffiliation Options Task Force will build and share an information packet on the denomination options or independent option with members. As a membership, we will discern the option that best fits our church using a process similar to the one we used to decide on disaffiliation. Our hope would be that we could make this decision before June 30, 2023.
Will we have to change our name if we disaffiliate? Yes. We will no longer be “United” Methodist and must remove all references to the UMC and branding images, from our signage, church buildings, etc. However, we can retain “St. Francisville” and “Methodist” in our church name. While the final name has not been determined, one suggestion is “St. Francisville Methodist Church”.
Where can I learn more information? There are numerous sources of information about the current situation in the United Methodist Church. Please note that not everything you can read on the internet is helpful or even truthful. The decision on how you vote is a very personal decision. It is important that you not rely on hearsay. Draw your own conclusions by doing your own research and listening for guidance from the Holy Spirit. While we are working hard to provide information on both sides of this complicated issue, the decision, which is ultimately yours, requires intense prayerful discernment. Some viewpoints on remaining in the UMC:
What are the Discernment Teams and their responsibilities?
Discernment Leadership Team-This team provides oversight to the Task Forces and is made up of the Church Council Chair, the Lay Leader, the chairs of each Task Force and members at large. The team’s key purpose is to seek resolution on key issues to bring forward to Church Council for approval. Members: Jerry Beauchamp, Stacey King, Virginia Crawford, Debra Davis, Abby Cochran, Tudy McCann, Bill Davis, Kati Williamson, Stacey Sullivan
Other Resources-Mike Gammill, Consultant; Rev. Daniel Hixon, Pastor Liaison
Worship & Prayer Task Force-Plan the 40-day prayer process and other spiritual practices that will undergird the discernment. Members: Virginia Crawford, chair; Joe Kelley, Jean Fox, Kathi Bates, Ada Lord, Karen Berman, Stacey King
Congregational Connection Task Force-Prepare information packet for congregation and work with consultant to develop opportunities and identify additional educational resources for congregation members to learn about and discuss the issues surrounding the future affiliation of SFUMC. Members: Debra Davis, chair; Abby Cochran, Amanda McKinney, Steve, McKinney, Ann Andries, Amy Louviere, Jerry Beauchamp, Stacey King, Nancy Bailey, Cathy Howard, Virginia Crawford
Business & Legal Task Force-Address matters surrounding financial and legal implications regarding both remaining UMC and disaffiliating from UMC. Members: Stacey King, chair; Sam Rosso, assistant chair; Theresa Stevens, Neal King, Jerry Beauchamp, Haley Green
Administrative Task Force-Update contact information for members and provide support to other Task Force teams. Members: Tudy McCann, Brenda Ard, Claire Mott
Affiliation Options Task Force-Explore options and implications for affiliation with other Methodist-related denominations and remaining independent, if the church votes to disaffiliate. This team will engage later in the discernment process, if there is a need. Members: Bill Davis, Martha Robertson, John Ritchie