by Chris Ritter
General Conference 2020 needs better options. The votes to uphold our current language on Christian marriage and sexuality are perhaps narrowly present, but the United Methodist Church has become ungovernable as currently constituted. All legislation allowing some of the church to leave are problematic in one way or another. We have no good plans, only various bad ones.
A few months ago a member of the Judicial Council called me to say the only solution for United Methodism is a new constitution. Would I be interested in writing one? At the time, I wasn’t. The Indy Team was assembled and my plate was full. When the Indy negotiations recently ended, I sat down and began typing. What follows is a new constitution that transforms the United Methodist Church into The United Methodist Communion of Churches. It includes detailed transitional provisions and is modeled somewhat on the Anglican Communion.
The risk of presenting such detailed work is that there are lots of opportunities to hate it. Individual provisions can be harpooned by anyone, and justifiably so. I am just one of twelve million United Methodists. But I have studied the issues and have listened to voices from across our global church. My hope is that the legislation can become a way to at least insert the concept of a UM communion of churches into the legislative pipeline. Many eyes and hands need to take it from here. I take no pride of ownership. The weaknesses are mine. Any strengths are for the good of all.
The criticism that is sure to come is that we don’t have time to ratify a new constitution and later go through the whole process of sorting. The house is on fire. People just want free. Some of my best friends share this view. The plan, however can be harmonized with other plans that allow for immediate exit (Traditional Plan, The Indy Plan, Bard-Jones, UMC-Next Plan, etc). Those exiting can become part of the Communion (or not) as they so choose. But this option provides a way to share all the resources of the UMC.
The days of building big centralized denominations is over. The $1.3 billion in assets we now have won’t be coming back. General Conference 2020 in Minneapolis could be something of a constitutional convention equipping the heirs of the United Methodist Church to live together as a commonwealth of autonomous churches and share the fruits of our forbears.
At least that is my hope.
This legislation reconstitutes the United Methodist Church as The United Methodist Communion of Churches. It replaces our current constitution and provides for an orderly sorting of annual conferences and congregations into new denominational bodies. It retains connectionalism, our agencies and vital mission support in the U.S. and Central Conferences.
The United Methodist Church becomes The United Methodist Communion of Churches by adopting a new constitution. A 60-100 member Governing Council replaces the UMC General Conference and the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA). Comprised of equal numbers of clergy and lay members, the Governing Council includes representation from the various autonomous member churches of the Communion and manages what are now the general agencies of the UMC. A high priority is given to missions and continuation of support to the developing world. A fellowship of bishops meets at least every four years as a forum for theology and best practices of ministry. Detailed sorting provisions are included that allow current congregations and annual conferences of the UMC to select and organize the member churches of the Communion. GCFA is empowered to amend the UMC Book of Discipline following the ratification of the new constitution until everyone finds a place in a member church and the Governing Council is formed.
The church is a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is the redeemed and redeeming fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the church seeks to provide for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.
The church also exists to multiply the transforming presence of Christ in all the world. As heirs to the United Methodist Church and its predecessors, our unity is found in our doctrinal standards, our emphasis on the manifold grace of God, and our shared history of mission. Our prayer and intentions are to foster renewed expressions of our corporate life that allow a fresh flowering of the Gospel amidst the brokenness of our church and world.
Therefore, The United Methodist Church adopts and amends the following Constitution to become The United Methodist Communion of Churches as herein described. This constitution replaces the constitution of The United Methodist Church upon its ratification.
DIVISION ONE – GENERAL
¶ 1. Article I. Name– The name shall be The United Methodist Communion of Churches. The name of the communion may be translated freely into languages other than English.
¶ 2. Article II.Description— The United Methodist Communion of Churches is a voluntary association of autonomous denominations in United Methodist and related traditions that seeks to advance our shared mission in the unity of the Spirit granted to the entire Church by the grace of Jesus Christ.
¶ 3. Article III. Doctrinal Standards– The United Methodist Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith shall be the doctrinal standards for The United Methodist Communion. Other standards include The General Rules of Our United Societies and the Standard Sermons of John Wesley.
DIVISION TWO – BASIC ORGANIZATION
¶ 4. Article I. – There shall be a United Methodist Governing Council for the entire Communion with such powers, duties, and privileges as are hereinafter set forth.
¶ 5. Article II. – There shall be agencies of The United Methodist Communion as hereinafter set forth.
¶ 6. Article III. – There shall be member churches of The United Methodist Communion initially composed of the annual conferences and congregations of The United Methodist Church.
¶ 7. Article IV. – There shall be a Fellowship of Bishops of The United Methodist Communion as herein described.
DIVISION THREE- THE GOVERNING COUNCIL
¶ 8. Article I. There shall be a United Methodist Governing Council to coordinate the work of The United Methodist Communion of Churches.
¶ 9. Article II. Composition– The Governing Council shall be composed of not less than 60 nor more than 100 members, selected from among the member churches in equal numbers of lay and clergy members. Bishops who are members of the Governing Council shall be considered clergy members of the council. The Governing Council shall become the successor organization to the General Conference and General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church.
2. Members of the Governing Council shall be selected in a fair and open process by the member churches, who may elect lay and clergy reserves as deemed appropriate.
4. Members of the Governing Council shall serve a four-year term and may serve a maximum of eight years.
5. The Governing Council shall meet annually at such time and place determined by its duly authorized committees. Special sessions may be called at the discretion of its officers.
6. If not otherwise elected, the chairpersons and general secretaries of the general agencies shall attend meetings of the Governing Council with voice and without vote. These members shall not contribute to the 100-member maximum for the council. In no case shall persons drawing a salary from an agency of the United Methodist Communion exercise voting privileges on the council.
¶ 10. Article III. Representation. The Governing Council shall fix the representation allocated to each member church based on the percentage of total professing membership the church represents within the communion, provided that each member body with at least 250,000 professing members shall be entitled to one lay and one clergy seat. Member churches of less than 250,000 may be granted a single representative and/or representation on a rotating basis as determined by the council. Ten additional members may be elected by the Governing Council to provide needed skills, continuity and expertise. In all cases equal numbers of clergy and laity shall be retained. No member shall be seated without a 2/3 consent of the Council.
¶ 11. Article IV. The Governing Council shall exercise the following powers and responsibilities:
1. To facilitate the cooperative work of the member churches of the United Methodist Communion.
2. To secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions of The United Methodist Communion regardless of race, gender, or nationality.
3. To provide oversight to the agencies of the Communion.
4. To develop and approve a general budget for the Communion.
5. To assess member churches a minimum share of the financial support necessary for the work of the Governing Council, pension support for retired bishops of The United Methodist Church, Archives & History, and United Methodist Communications.This assessment may be based partially or entirely upon measures of financial capacity.
6. To ensure that the proceeds from the Publishing House be used in support of pensions of clergy of the former The United Methodist Church who serve in conferences in the developing world.
7. To develop as far as possible agreed upon United Methodist policies in the world mission of the Church and to encourage member churches to engage together in developing and implementing such policies by sharing their resources to the best advantage of all.
8. To provide for the support of the retired bishops of The United Methodist Church as needed to maintain pension promises made to them.
9. To establish, authorize, sponsor, or otherwise endorse such commissions, networks or similar bodies as shall advance the council’s mission.
10. To share information throughout the Communion and serve as an instrument of common action.
11. To administer the name and trademarks of The United Methodist Communion of Churches and The United Methodist Church.
12. To establish such policies and procedures for the general agencies and other subsidiary bodies as may be helpful to accomplish its mission and to provide for good governance.
13. To foster healthy relationships between the member churches and, through the work of its committees, mediate disputes among the member churches.
14. To recognize, receive, suspend or expel member churches of the United Methodist Communion by two-thirds vote. No member church shall be suspended or expelled without a period of not less than one year being granted in which the member church may make response to the Governing Council before a final decision is made.
15. To establish, name, organize, govern, merge and/or dissolve the general agencies of The United Methodist Communion as needed to best serve the interests of the Communion, provided that there shall be a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries or its equivalent. Assets from dissolved general agencies shall be redirected to other agencies or returned to the member churches in an amount proportional to that given over the previous ten years.
16. To establish and maintain standards and methods for statistical reporting among the member churches.
17. To provide for effective continuation of The Black College Fund, The Central Conference Theological Education Fund, and the Africa University Fund of The United Methodist Church.
18. While ecumenical relationships shall be determined by the member churches, the Governing Council shall work to foster Christian unity and shall work closely with The World Methodist Council for greater alignment among Methodists in mission, witness and evangelism.
¶ 12. Article V. Restrictions. The Governing Council may not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or Confession of Faith. It may not establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our established doctrinal standards. It may not infringe upon the autonomy of the member churches. The Governing Council may not speak for the member churches except by agreement.
¶ 13. Article VI. Organization. The President of the Council shall be elected from among its membership by two-third vote and shall be an ex offio member of all its committees. The Presidential term shall be four years with a maximum of two terms. The council shall also elect a secretary, treasurer, vice-president, and other officers prescribed by its own governing documents. The council shall organize such committees as necessary to accomplish its work. The election of membership to committees, task forces, working groups, and commissions shall be administered in keeping with the policies and procedures of the governing council.
DIVISION FOUR – THE AGENCIES
¶14. Article I. General. There shall be agencies of The United Methodist Communion of Churches initially comprised of the general agencies of The United Methodist Church. These agencies shall be governed by policies and procedures set forth by the Governing Council of The United Methodist Communion of Churches.
¶15. Article II. Structure. There shall be a board chairperson elected by the board and confirmed by the Governing Council. There shall be a General Secretary as the chief staff officer of the agency who shall serve as chief administrative officer. The selection of the General Secretary shall be made by the agency board and confirmed by the Governing Council. Each agency may provide for officers, committees, and other structures in keeping with the policies established by their boards. All policies and structures of the board must comply with the policies and procedures established by the United Methodist Governing Council.
¶16. Article III. Board of Global Ministries. There shall be United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, or its equivalent, that shall be legal successor to the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
1. The board members shall be elected by the Governing Council as nominated by the member churches. The election of board members shall be proportional to the professing membership of the member churches as outlined in the policies and procedures established by the Governing Council. The board may also select other members for the purpose of expertise, provided that these board members represent no more than ten percent of the total board membership.
2. The board shall seek covenant agreements with all member churches of the United Methodist Communion of Churches for support and partnership in shared mission. A base level of financial support may be negotiated in addition to a set of elective projects in which individual member churches agree to participate. The board may also approve covenants to administer mission programs initiated by the member church.
3. The board shall assist with episcopal salaries, benefits, and pensions from former United Methodist Central Conferences adversely affected by the discontinuation of the Episcopal Fund, as coordinated with the Governing Council. This support shall be in the form of grants and not a direct salary.
4. United Methodist missionaries aligning with one of the member churches of The United Methodist Communion may seek cooperative relationships beyond that member body.
5. The United Methodist Committee on Relief shall coordinate the relief efforts of The United Methodist Communion.
¶17. Article IV. Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. There shall be United Methodist Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (Wespath), that is successor to the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church. The board members shall be elected in accordance with its own policies from among the member churches of The United Methodist Communion of Churches. The Board of Pensions and Health Benefits shall manage pension obligations pursuant to policies and procedures set forth by the Governing Council pertaining to pension matters. The Board of Pensions and Health Benefits shall negotiate with annual conferences to sponsor retirement and other plans offered by the Board of Pension and Health Benefits designed to fit their polity and capacity.
¶18. Article V. United Methodist Communications. United Methodist Communications shall continue as successor to United Methodist Communications of The United Methodist Church. Base funding for this agency shall be provided by the United Methodist Governing Council and additional revenue may come through contractual arrangements with member churches.
¶19. Article VI. The Institute on United Methodist Archives and History. There shall be The Institute on United Methodist Archives and History that is successor to The General Commission on Archives and History. The Governing Council shall elect the board for the institute and provide financial support for its basic operations.
¶20. Article VII. United Methodist Publishing House. There shall be a United Methodist Publishing House that is successor to the publishing house of The United Methodist Church. The adjusted net income of The United Methodist Publishing House shall be appropriated by the board and distributed annually on the basis of a just plan provided by the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for the benefit of clergy serving member churches in developing nations.
¶21. Article VIII. Additional agencies. The Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The Board of Discipleship, The Board of Church and Society, The Commission on Religion and Race, The Commission in the Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Women, and United Methodist Men may continue to provide services to the entire communion similar to those they provided to The United Methodist Church. These agencies shall develop covenant agreements with the member churches of the communion for financial support and services. To be considered an agency of The United Methodist Communion these agencies must secure covenant agreements with member churches representing at least 75% of the total membership of the communion. Those failing to achieve this goal in the timeframe allowed by the Governing Council shall negotiate with the Governing Council for independent status or dissolution. In these cases a fair reallocation of agency assets shall be approved by the Governing Council.
DIVISION FIVE – THE FELLOWSHIP OF BISHOPS
¶22. Article I. There shall be a Fellowship of Bishops of The United Methodist Communion of Churches tasked with fostering best practices among the member churches in the areas of theology, leadership, evangelism, and the practice of Christian ministry.
¶23. Article II. Composition– The fellowship shall be comprised of all active bishops serving in a member churches of The United Methodist Communion of Churches. Those member churches with non-episcopal forms of government may select supervising clergy to represent them in the fellowship. The expense for participation in the fellowship shall be borne by the member churches.
¶24. Article III. Organization— The fellowship may elect its own conveners who shall have authority to develop the agenda for the meetings. The conveners shall maintain a roster of all members of the fellowship and encourage participation.
¶25. Article IV. Meetings– The fellowship shall meet once every four years and as called into special session by the conveners.
DIVISION SIX – AMENDMENTS
¶ 26. Article I. – Amendments to the Constitution shall be made upon a two-thirds majority of the Governing Council present and voting and two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members of the several member churches. The vote, after being completed, shall be canvassed by the Governing Council, and the amendment voted upon shall become effective upon their announcement of its having received the required majority.
¶ 27. Article II. – Amendments to the Constitution may originate in either the Governing Council or the General Conferences (or equivalent) of the member churches.
DIVISION SEVEN – TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS
¶ 28. Article I. The following transitional provisions shall be in effect upon ratification of this constitution and shall govern the processes associated with The United Methodist Church becoming The United Methodist Communion of Churches. This Constitutional Division Seven shall expire on December 31, 2028 and shall be omitted from the constitution after that date. The provisions of this section shall be deemed generally compatible with any plan or plans of denominational separation approved at General Conference 2020. When there is conflict between provisions passed at 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church the provisions herein stated shall prevail.
¶ 29. Article II. Organization of denominational bodies –Convening conferences for new denominational bodies may be assembled based on the organizational work of drafting teams. Each drafting team shall develop 1000-word vision statements signed by their members. These statements shall be shared through United Methodist Communications with the opportunity for public endorsement. Each drafting team shall also develop a date, location, and basis for representation for a convening conference for the new denomination. Annual conferences, bishops, clergy and congregations may send representatives to a convening conferences based on the parameters for representation developed by the drafting team. The denomination shall begin on the date established by the convening conference.
¶ 30. Article III. Annual Conferences– Annual conferences may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to form or align with a denomination formed under these transitional provisions. The basis for this decision shall be the vision statements provided by the various drafting teams. The annual conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The annual conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When an annual conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the annual conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority. If the annual conference does not align with a denomination by a deadline established by the General Council on Finance and Administration, it shall be considered an autonomous denominational body by The United Methodist Communion of Churches, unless the conference is part of a central conference who selected or formed a denomination under the provisions of ¶31.
¶ 31. Article IV. Central Conferences– Central conferences may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to align with any denomination formed under these transitional provisions. The central conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The central conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When a central conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the central conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority. If the central conference does not vote on alignment by the date established by the General Council on Finance and Administration, it shall be considered an autonomous church body by The United Methodist Communion of Churches. Central conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under these transitional provisions. The annual conferences of a central conference shall align by default with the denomination body chosen by their central conference. The annual conference shall, however, have right to vote by simple majority to align with a different denominational body or to become a denominational body. Local churches of the central conferences shall have the right to align with a separate denominational body than their annual conference under these transitional provisions.
¶ 32. Article V. Local Churches — Local churches in the U.S. that disagree with their annual conference’s alignment may by simple majority vote of those professing members present and voting at a regular or called charge or church conference choose to align with a denomination not selected by their annual conference or join with 50 or more other local churches in forming another denomination. Churches not taking a vote shall by default remain in their annual conference under whatever alignment the conference has chosen. Local congregations may reaffiliate with another denominational body formed under these transitional provisions at least through December 31, 2028. This vote shall be by simple majority vote of a charge or church conference, or its practical equivalent. Notice shall be provided to the General Council on Finance and Administration or the Governing Council by the receiving denominational body. When a local church considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the church shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority. Local churches withdrawing to become independent shall at minimum provide prepayment of its share of unfunded pension liabilities calculated by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits.
¶ 33. Article VI. Interim Governance– Any annual conference or local church taking a vote on alignment shall specify as part of that action the date on which it will become effective. These dates shall be shared with the supervisory structures of The United Methodist Church. Any denomination forming under these transitional provisions may freely edit The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Churchas a basis for its own polity. The convening groups shall have authority to approve interim policies and procedures until their own governing body shall convene.
¶ 34. Article VII. Name and Insignia– Each new denomination forming under these transitional provisions shall be permitted, but not be required, to continue to use the name “United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier to distinguish itself from other denominations formed hereunder, and to protect the intellectual property of The United Methodist Church and its successors. Each denomination forming under these transitional provisions shall be permitted, but not be required, to use the cross and flame insignia with modifications to distinguish itself from other denominations formed hereunder and from the United Methodist Communion at large. To effectuate this intent, prevent confusion and protect the intellectual property, the General Council on Finance and Administration shall work to ensure that the names chosen by the new denominations do not conflict with another denomination’s name, and that insignia modifications are sufficient to distinguish each insignia from another. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall have the continued responsibility to administer the name “The United Methodist Church” and the trademarks of The United Methodist Church until the Governing Council of The United Methodist Communion of Churches forms and assumes this responsibility.
¶ 35. Article VIII. The United Methodist Trust Clause– All denominational bodies formed under these transitional provisions shall be deemed legal successors of The United Methodist Church. The restrictions of the trust clause (¶ 2501 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church) shall carry forth to each new denominational body which may alter or amend it as deemed consistent with their polity. The local church shall retain all its property, assets, and liabilities (other than pension liability) in the polity parameters of the denomination with which it aligns, whether by choice or default.
¶ 36. Article IX. Clergy Alignment – Clergy shall by default align with the denomination chosen by their annual conference. Clergy who wish to align with a denomination other than that chosen by their annual conference shall notify their bishop and the leadership of the denomination with which they desire to align. If the clergy person’s current local church appointment aligns with the same denomination as the clergy person, it is recommended that stability of that appointment be maintained where possible. If the clergy person’s current local church appointment does not align with the same denomination as the clergy person, the clergy person’s current bishop and the designated leadership of the denominations involved shall consult regarding the status of that appointment. It is recommended that all denominational bodies formed under these transitional provisions maintain generous policies allowing for cross-denominational appointments among churches of The United Methodist Communion. When a clergy person serves an appointment outside his or her chosen denomination, the clergy person shall be required to abide by and satisfy the standards and requirements of the denomination in which he or she is appointed to serve.
¶ 37. Article X. Bishops — Bishops of The United Methodist Church shall select a denominational body with which to join by the date and manner established by The General Council on Finance and Administration. Service as active bishops in each of the new denominations shall depend upon the provisions adopted by that denomination. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall provide for continuation of episcopal salaries and support to those member churches in developing nations dependent upon the Episcopal Fund of The United Methodist Church. This support shall be continued at comparable 2020 levels through at least 2028 as provided by the Governing Council of The United Methodist Communion of Churches.
¶ 38. Article XI. The General Council on Finance and Administration, Special Authorities — Upon certification of the ratification of this constitution, The General Council on Finance and Administration, as constituted by the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, shall have the following authorities and responsibilities:
1. To amend The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (2020), making such changes as necessary to complete the orderly sorting of the congregations, clergy, bishops, and conferences of The United Methodist Church into autonomous denominational bodies, and to provide interim governance to the general agencies of the United Methodist Church. The amended Book of Disciplineshall be published electronically and shall be in force for all those congregations and annual conferences not yet aligned with a new denominational body.
2. To access and transfer assets and/or financial reserves held by the general agencies in keeping with all pertinent legal restrictions.
3. To amend the budget of The United Methodist Church. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall ensure that the global ministries of the United Methodist Church receive comparable levels of financial support during the transitional period.
4. To establish a recommended timeline for the formation of new denominational bodies and the selection of representatives to the Governing Council of The United Methodist Communion. This date is not to exceed December 31, 2024.
¶ 39. Article XII. Formation of the Governing Council.The Governing Council of The United Methodist Communion may convene when member churches representing three-fourths of the 2020 membership of The United Methodist Church shall have elected their representatives to the Governing Council. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall certify these elections and set a date for the first session of the Governing Council. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall draft a set of recommended policies and procedures to aid to work Governing Council in its formation, including a program for staggering the terms of the council members to provide a gradual rotation of membership. The work of the General Council on Finance and Administration shall be fully subsumed into the Governing Council at a date determined by the Governing Council in its policies and procedures.
¶ 40. Article XIII. Central Conference Funding– The General Council on Finance and Administration shall maintain the goal of funding central conference operations and ministry through the 2021-24 quadrennium, funded by all denominations forming under these transitional provisions. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall compile a list of apportionment funding for central conference operations and ministry under the 2017-20 budget and shall apportion that amount to the various denominations annually throughout the quadrennium, adjusting for fluctuations in membership as the alignment process continues. These central conference apportionments shall be listed separately, so that each local church may determine how much of its apportionment is going to this central conference apportionment. Apportionment support for central conference bishops shall also be listed separately, even if this funding passes through the Episcopal Fund. General Council on Finance and Administration shall administer the funds received and distribute them pro-rata or in such other manner as has been the historical pattern. In addition, all denominations are encouraged to continue supporting Advance Specials and other mission projects in the central conferences.
¶ 41. Article XIV. Pension Matters– The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits will reassign pension liabilities related to realigning local churches, and clergy who have served in them, pursuant administrative processes by which the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is able to reassign liabilities and assets based on local church and clergy transfers among continuing plan sponsors. Annual conferences shall continue to be responsible for pension liabilities under the Clergy Retirement Security Program, which is reflected in ¶ 1504.1 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, as plan sponsors. If the annual conference agrees to continue to be legally responsible for such obligations, it shall not be required to make any payment of unfunded liabilities prior to alignment with a new denominational body. The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits shall calculate and manage these pension obligations. For future clergy benefits, annual conferences (or their equivalent) of new denominational bodies may sponsor retirement plans offered by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits designed to fit their polity and capacity.
¶ 42. Article XV. Communion Membership— All denominational bodies comprised by the congregations and annual conferences of The United Methodist Church at the time of the 2020 General Conference shall be entitled to initial membership in The United Methodist Communion and may do so by default as the governing documents of that church allow.
¶ 43. Article XVI. Institutional Affiliation– Institutions or property owned by, controlled by, associated with, or affiliated with an annual conference shall continue to be so owned, controlled by, or associated or affiliated with that annual conference in the denomination chosen by it, unless the institution is authorized to and changes its affiliation or acts to become independent according to its own bylaws. Institutions of The United Methodist Church may seek relationship with one of more of the member churches of The United Methodist Communion of Churches, and with the Communion generally.
¶ 44. Article XVII. Candidates for Ministry– It is recommended that candidates who are in process toward licensing, commissioning, or ordination be grandfathered into that point in the process in whichever denomination they want to align with, so that they would not have to repeat requirements for licensing or ordination. Boards of ordained ministry shall promptly forward the paperwork and files of candidates to the proper body in the new denomination when requested in writing by the candidate.
¶ 45. Article XVIII. Jurisdictional and Central Conference Properties— Institutions or property owned or controlled by or associated or affiliated with a jurisdiction or central conference shall belong to the denomination chosen by a majority of the membership of the annual conferences in that jurisdiction or central conference, unless the institution is authorized to and changes its affiliation or acts to become independent according to its own bylaws.
Thank you for the effort and reflective vision of holding together what is shareable and good. There is room for expanding and focusing s every good Methodist effort should provide.
It may not be perfect but it’s pretty darn good. I prefer the Indy plan as it is quicker and easier to implement but I don’t think it will pass approval of the Africans. Perhaps this will address their concerns. I do not believe the umc can stand another winner take all gc like we had this year. Many of the laity are ready to bolt. My leaders were so disgusted by progressive tactics and behavior at the last gc that they are clear that if it happens against next year they are clear that they are out. As one said the denomination males me feel dirty. This is in a very traditional congregation with a very traditional minister in a very traditional town. No controversy locally but it is still heavy on their minds even though I am trying to focus the church on mission not controversy. They but a very progressive pastor in a rural conservative church in my district. Literally a 50% decline in attendance in a year and now a total revolt. This has to be solved next year and space created between the two sides. We may have the votes to hold the line but I am sure the feelings on the progressive side are not that different and they will explode if we don’t come to a solution. What will be the umc response when multiple annual conferences declare independence. Would we let them go or waste millions of Jesus’s money on lawsuits. Please everyone give up the us or them attitude and look for the “third” way. The 20% of the laity that really care about this are the same 20% that are the doers in the church. Thanks Chris for your hard work on the Indy plan and on this. Blessed are the Peacemakers!
Very thoughtful and articulated very well. However…you knew there would be a however from somewhere, so it might as well be me…I wonder, is this solution too late? I hope I’m wrong, but I see great resistance from the minority progressives to this idea. Nonetheless, thank you for your time and energy in this process.
A minor point. The map is inaccurate the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe includes France, Belgium and Tunisia. The Swedish UMC united with other churches is no longer part of the UMC.
Great effort to rally against a wild melee at GC2020. I wonder if the belligerents who have outed themselves (by their antics at GC2019 and subsequent plotting) will accept such an irenic solution?
Chris, thank you for your good work on this, and your thoughtful articles and blogs over the past few years as we’ve struggled as a church.
My concern is that (as you yourself said) the day of large institutions is past – and this looks like trying to hang on to a large, unwieldy (and power seeking, I’m afraid) institutional layer over the future denominations that may come out of GC2020. It looks a bit like the European Union to me, and that governing body continues to come under great criticism (much of it justified) for wielding so much power over its member nations.
While we may want to retain some ties as churches who share a common heritage in the United Methodist Church, I’m not sure I want to be part of another large, bloated, bureaucratic organization. Leaner, focused, and simpler is better for our future (I think).
Thanks for the comment. It would be easy for any group that wanted to get out.
One of the concerns I would have about this is that things that previously were simply in the Book of Discipline would not be constitutional – ie: the Trust Clause, the organization of certain Boards and Agencies, and even the entire process of organization. (although I do recognize that all of Division 7 becomes obsolete in 2028)
In Iowa in the last couple of years we have worked really hard to remove items from our Rules of Order that are properly structure and “plan of organization”. When something has to be approved by a 2/3 majority, it makes it incredibly harder to change. My concern with this proposal is that it puts structure and process into the constitution. Changing those items becomes far more difficult.
Is the reason you include these here that in essence there would be no other “Book of Discipline” for the UMCC?
Yes. This is to provide a skeleton because GCFA would be empowered to freely amend the BOD upon ratification to provide for an orderly sorting into member churches, and to guide the agencies until the Governing Council becomes operational. After that the policies of the Governing Council would govern the communion within the framework of the constitution. Thanks for the comment and for reading.
Thank you for this huge and undeniably difficult task. It won’t/can’t be easy.
¶ 33. Article VI. Interim Governance– …. Any denomination forming under these transitional provisions may freely edit The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church as a basis for its own polity. The convening groups shall have authority to approve interim policies and procedures until their own governing body shall convene.
The way I read this is, “Whatever you want to do is fine, we just need to get along. If someone else sees it as a sin, that is their problem, but no one will be allowed to frown on anything and really, there are no rules.” Those tablets we’ve read about, well it was a great story for people “back then.”
We are already there, sadly. Practicing widely divergent visions of faith within the same institution is causing conflict that is killing us. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Rev. Ritter, your effort to design a new structure for the UMC is thorough and impressive. You display a deep love and respect for the UMC, and your thoughts are worthy of wide consideration.
With respect, I think what you purpose is fundamentally unworkable for these reasons:
1. From a relatively simple, existing UMC international organization, you propose a transition to a more multifarious, hydra-headed structure that will befuddle the laity, and many clergy. It would appeal most to the methods and procedures of clerical aficionados and semi-professional laypersons who are, IMHO, inclined to think that the cutting edge of evangelistic church-growth occurs around conference tables where committees convene. By the time it is staffed, a significant portion of the laity (in the U.S.) will have gone to worship elsewhere. (Their options, with the rapid expansion in the U.S. of independent, non-denominational congregations, are growing.)
2. Assembling the UM Communions of Churches would be an arduous process requiring a hierarchical superstructure equivalent in difficulty beyond that of transforming the League of Nations into the United Nations.
3. The notion that a “voluntary association” of what are “autonomous denominations” that unite as an NGO-like international structure made up of diverse ecclesiastical organizations would not obviate contextual differentiation (geo-cultural relativism) in “doctrinal standards.” Hence, the current basis of today’s UMC “human-sexuality” debate – would likely continue to exist, and new conflicts emerge over time.
4. In short, it’s new wine into old wineskins. Or, more bluntly, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The time for the structure you’ve described may come after the pending deformation of the existing UMC when several subsequent autonomous “Methodist” organizations have surfaced in the wake of GC2020.
Rev. Dr. Lee D. Cary (ret. UM clergy)
I appreciate your kind words! And I respectfully disagree with you. (1) The individual churches of The Communion will handle the ministry plans and structures for their denomination, hopefully focusing on the local church. If the Communion does not work for a denomination, there is nothing to hold them in it. (2) No more arduous than meetings of the World Methodist Council. If there is one thing we know, it is how to hold meetings. If you want to see arduous, just attend General Conference. (3) We have relativism within the same denomination now and that is not working well for us. (4) I would argue this is pouring the old wine into a bottle we all can drink from as we plant our own vineyards. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, and for your service to the church.
Chris, you are at the front line of this debate and in our debt, so to speak, for transforming the argument over fundamentals into discussion of processes, patterns, and organization. Your comment that “If there is one thing we know, it is how to hold meetings” is both historical observation and commentary on our distracted driving as an organization. Once we were noted for courageous witness and vital piety, now for holdings meetings in endless succession. After GC2019 who wants to continue meeting? Timothy Tennent is right when he says we have not had the necessary theological debate for dealing with the ruptures that now confound the church.
Interesting, detailed post, Chris. OK to republish on United Methodist Insight?
Certainly. Thanks, Cynthia!
My pleasure, Chris. Your posts are always well thought out.
I think for the most part your draft constitution is a fair representation of where Methodist need to go. That said, I see no need for the denomination to be so structured that it maintains anywhere near the current number of Bishops. I can see appointment a Bishop to oversee the myriad business arms of the church such as WesPath, Publishing etc. And possibly jurisdictional Bishops to preside of roughly 10 states. Currently the UMC has far too many Bishops with too little to do. District Superintendents serve even less function in the UMC. I have not spoken to a local church (and I have spoken with dozens) that didn’t think their DS caused more harm than good. A council of Elders meeting once a month could more than accomplish the duties of a DS. The reality is that if you dissect the current structure of the UMC, the various leadership rolls above the local charge are not much more than a ponzi scheme. Each taking a cut of the local charge’s apportionments.
Local churches would be far better off if they didn’t pay apportionments, but rather concentrated on reaching out to their communities.