A Letter from District Superintendent John Fleming
14 months ago, our Administrative Board established a leadership team to explore our relationship with our denomination based on the negotiated settlement called the “Protocol of Separation”. The presenting issues for this settlement focus on human sexuality and gender. However, the “Protocol of Separation” also states, “The United Methodist Church and its members acknowledge fundamental differences regarding our understanding and interpretation of Scripture, our theology, and our practice.” For these 14 months we have hoped that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church would meet and pass the Protocol.
Unfortunately, at the first of March 2022 we learned that General Conference had again been delayed all the way to 2024. Soon after the announcement of this delay the Global Methodist Church, which was to be the home of traditional Methodists, declared its’ intentions to begin May 1.
In response to these events our bishop, Gary Mueller, announced his intentions to allow churches to disaffiliate based on 2021 Arkansas Annual Conference legislation.
On March 27 Our Leadership Team and Administrative Board met. Our Leadership Team voted 13 to 1 to begin the process of disaffiliation. Our Administrative Board met, and overwhelming voted to proceed with disaffiliation.
Our Bishop and conference have laid out a plan for us to follow. Once the Bishop acknowledges our request, we have a three-month discernment period. During this discernment period we will have 3 town hall meetings. The first meeting will be led by our own Bishop Gary Mueller. Hopefully, some time in July we will have called Church Conference to decide whether to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. The vote will have to be a 2/3 majority in favor of disaffiliation.
The two questions I am frequently asked are “How much will it cost to depart, and can we keep our property?”
The disaffiliation process outlined by our Annual Conference requires us to be current in our giving to the Conference. We always are. They also require us to give one year’s apportionment in advance. There is also an unfunded pension liability from the Conference we are responsible for in the unlikely event our pension fund collapses. Our Conference is working on a plan to indemnify that liability instead of having to pay for it now. If we do have to pay for the unfunded liability, the total cost will be around $750,000. That works out to about 3 years of apportionments to our denomination.
At the end of this process, we will be given title to our property, and we will own our assets free and clear. It is my hope that we will then join the Global Methodist Church. They have a similar Discipline and Doctrine to the UMC but they are committed to following it. They will not have a Trust Clause, so we will continue to own our property and assets. That decision along with the decision to disaffiliate belongs to this church. In other words, the future of this church is not in my hands, the Bishop’s hands, or the Annual Conference hands. The future of this church is in your hands. That makes me very happy!
Yours in Christ,
In December of 2019 a group of United Methodist leaders gathered under the direction of a trained mediator to attempt to find a solution to the impasse over human sexuality. The church had been struggling with this and other issues for 50 years. The special General Conference in 2019 revealed the deep and intractable divide the church faced.
At the 2019 General Conference, the Bishops proposed a solution to this impasse. The General Conference defeated the bishop’s proposal and instead passed what is called the Traditional Plan to continue to define marriage in terms of heterosexual monogamy and prohibit same-sex marriage and ordination.
2019 General Conference recap HERE
While this seemed to be a solution, many bishops and regions, especially in the US, promised to defy this denomination decision. Traditional leaders recognized that in most of the country the de facto reality was the traditional plan was unenforceable. Progressive leaders wanted to remove the prohibition of same-sex marriage and ordination. Traditionalist leaders wanted to be in a denomination that enforced what they said they believed. This led to the meeting in December of 2019 that reached a compromise called, “Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation”
Protocol of separation document HERE
In Summary, The Protocol of Separation would allow traditionalist and more progressive congregations and Annual Conferences to form new denominations. Churches could join the new denomination by a simple majority vote of members present at a called Church Conference. Annual Conferences would need a supermajority of 57% to depart and join the new denomination. It is assumed that once the traditional churches departed, the post-separation United Methodist church would remove all prohibitions against LBGTQIA ordination and marriage. It is expected that the Protocol of Separation will be approved at the General Conference (August 29-September 6, 2022).
First United Methodist Church Jonesboro has a decision to make some time in the next 18 months. We have three options.
- We can remain in the more progressive post separation United Methodist Church. Article for staying in the UMC HERE.
- We can join the new more traditional Global Methodist. Church that is presently being formed in preparation for General Conference 2022. Description of the Global Methodist Church HERE. Chart comparing the UMC to the GMC HERE.
- We can choose to disaffiliate and chart our own path and associations.
It might appear that our three choices are straightforward. Unfortunately, there is a good bit of uncertainty facing our church. Obviously, the delay of General Conference due to Covid-19 is the biggest factor in that uncertainty. No one is sure General Conference will be able to meet even in 2022. In the meantime, events are occurring around the country that are real causes for concern. One especially troubling development was a proposal by the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Annual Conference. The Trustees proposed that any local congregation that disaffiliates must pay a minimum of 10% (up to 100%) of its appraised value in property and assets to the Annual Conference before it departs. This is a significant addition to the already expensive payment for apportionments and pension. This proposal was narrowly defeated, but it could easily be reintroduced in the coming years. This penalty would have been very costly for a local church; especially one like ours, if we chose that option.
In January of 2021, the Administrative Board of FUMC Jonesboro authorized the Nominations Committee to select 15 church leaders who were charged with helping us choose a path between these three options. The leadership team is currently meeting. In the coming weeks, they will be interviewing various representatives of these three options as well as our District Superintendent. Our leadership team is made up of active members of our church representing the various ministries of our church.
Town Hall Meetings
Brother John's Three-Part Video Series
2021 Leadership Team Members
Mary Baker, Lynn Bruner, Marsha Carwell, John Cook, Marvin Day, Paula Fulkerson, Brian Graf, Chris James (Chair), Cory Meadors, Jake Morse, Ray Osment, Sharon Phillips, Rick Rorex, Megan Smith, and Janea Spades
Your leadership team is diligently working and praying to find the right solution for our church. We plan to have town hall meetings after we have done our own homework by studying our three options. We would also like to hear from you. What questions do you have for your leadership team? What are your observations about our process or our options? Your questions and observations will help us as we work for the right option to present to the church.