Regarding Separation

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey
March 17, 2022

Dear Friends,

I greet you in the midst of this Lenten season, praying you are making space for prayer and reflection during this important journey. You've read the news that General Conference has been postponed yet again. 

In response to that announcement, you have also probably heard lots of speculation, some of it true and some of it false. In order for us to dispel rumors and to correct misinformation, your superintendents and I are preparing resources that will provide clarity for the process moving forward should your congregation be discerning separation or disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church.  While separation is disheartening and regrettable, I recognize that, in some cases, it is inevitable.

In all matters related to separation or disaffiliation, the first step is to contact your District Superintendent.

We will be using paragraph 2553 from the Book of Discipline as our guide. This paragraph was added at the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference. It is not in your hard-bound copy, but it is in the electronic version found here. (Click here to read the full addendum)

There are other paragraphs in the Book of Discipline that reference departure, namely 2548.2 and 2549, but they will only be used in extraordinary circumstances, and the values and principles of 2553 will be applied in all cases.

We will also hold to the values that the Council of Bishops outlined following their March 15 meeting:

Mutual Recognition

  • Declare mutual recognition of Christ in the other as individuals as well as constituted churches and look for the fruit of God's Spirit in the ministry and mission.
  • Agree not to actively disparage one another with our words and actions that seek to undermine the ministry of the other.
  • Will faithfully and carefully exercise the disciplinary requirements of the sacraments, ministry, and mission.

Caring for Pension Liability

  • Even if the GMC assumes pension liability for active pastors moving forward, the unfunded pension liability for past service remains within The United Methodist Church.
  • Caring for Pension Liability is essential to protect the health and well-being of the denomination moving forward and to further ensure the protection of the clergy who remain as well as retirees who may depart. 

Voting Threshold

  • Paragraph 2553 established the following voting threshold:  The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference. 

    ​This threshold was affirmed by the Judicial Council in Decision 1379: "Any legislation of the General Conference permitting the "gracious exit" of a local church must require at a minimum that (1) the disaffiliation resolution be approved by a two-thirds majority of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference, . . ."

Ability to Add Additional Standards 

  • Paragraph 2553 established standard terms for any church disaffiliating, including such things as apportionment payments, property, pension liabilities, and other liabilities.
  • In addition, Paragraph 2553 states, "Annual conferences may develop additional standard terms that are not inconsistent with the standard form of this paragraph."
I ask for your patience at this time as we refine our communication. We want to be certain it provides clarity as to process.

The process requires careful discernment and time.  You should not expect the process to be quick, and nothing can be finalized or transacted until the Annual Conference votes to approve.  The earliest possible date to complete the process and present it to the Annual Conference for vote will most likely be Annual Conference 2023.

In the meantime, please read this helpful FAQ document from Wespath.

I know many of us have various social media outlets, but I ask that if you have a question, please get in touch with your District Superintendent first.  

Over the past ten years, I have discovered the beauty and unique setting the Louisiana Conference provides.  It has always been a Conference that holds together in covenant relationship and is committed to doing no harm. I trust that in this season, we will experience the same love, respect, and honor for one another regardless of our perspective, interpretation of scripture, and theological stance.

My prayer for you remains the same – I pray that God will continue to pour out God's richest blessings upon you and your life and the life of the congregations in the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Grace and Peace,
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey
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