After United Methodist Church leaders voted to uphold the church’s ban on same sex marriages and on LGBTQ individuals serving in the clergy, Asbury United Methodist Church is exploring the process of disaffiliating with the denomination.
Nothing official is decided, said Rev. Lee Johnson, associate pastor at the church in Prairie Village. At this point, the clergy at Asbury is gathering information to share with their congregation on what disaffiliation would look like, and what it would cost.
Asbury United Methodist on Sunday hosted an informational session, “A Way Forward: The Financial and Practical Implications of Disaffiliation from The UMC” led by Scott Brewer, treasurer of the Great Plains Annual Conference, a regional conference under the umbrella of the United Methodist Church that encompasses Kansas and Nebraska.
More than 100 members from Methodist churches across the Kansas City metro area attended the meeting to learn more about what disaffiliation would look like for their church.
“Let me just say, as a fellow United Methodist, I’m sorry that we need to have this conversation,” Brewer said. “But that’s kinda where we’re at.”
Coincidentally, the meeting took place almost two years to the date after Asbury United Methodist voted to become a Reconciling Congregation, which asserted the congregation’s commitment to accept and welcome all people, including members of the LGBTQ community, into the life and ministry at the church.
“I look in the face of my church members who are LGBTQ or who have LGBTQ children, and I want them to know that I’m hurting with them and that we’re walking with them during this time,” said Rev. Gayla Rapp, senior pastor at Asbury. “We are working for the church to change because we truly want our place to be a church where all are welcome.”
Before the global meeting of church leaders in February in St. Louis, there was no policy for disaffiliation with the church, Brewer said. Now, Methodist churches can disaffiliate “for reasons of conscience” — for those that morally disagree with the United Methodist Church’s position on same sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. A disaffiliated church also retains rights to all real and personal property.
A few requirements for a church to disaffiliate:
- Disaffiliation must be completed before the end of 2023.
- Disaffiliation requires a two-thirds majority of a church’s members voting at a church conference.
- Disaffiliation requires a simple majority of the members voting at an annual conference.
- A church must pay an exit price to disaffiliate. That number includes unfunded pension of clergy as well as mission shares, which cover administration expenses and ministry work throughout the United Methodist Church.
The exit price of a church going through disaffiliation varies based on the congregation size and other factors. For example, Asbury United Methodist has about 800 members, so Brewer estimates it would have to pay about seven years of mission shares, or roughly $630,000. If the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, the largest Methodist church in the country, disaffiliates, it may have to pay as much as $15 million to exit.
All of the figures are subject to change in the near future, Brewer said, adding that the Great Plains Annual Conference will determine more concrete exit prices in the coming months.
Finding ‘an amicable way’ to disaffiliate
Some members were concerned with the price to exit the United Methodist Church. One parishioner said it was “offensive,” especially for him as a lifelong Methodist.
“We can do this in such a way that we’re not punishing someone,” he said. “If we really need to separate, let’s find an amicable way. We need leadership that says let’s divide resources in a way that we can be faithful as a church in doing that.”
Members at Asbury United Methodist Church have the option to avoid disaffiliation and paying the associated exit price. However, they would have to abandon their church and allow the wider Methodist church take over ownership of the property. They could open their own church but would be starting over with nothing: No building and nothing inside of it.
“It’s not going to be easy to leave,” Brewer said. “Rather than destroy each other, rather than ruining our ministries, rather than ending up with a string of abandoned churches all across this country because we have beaten ourselves to death, let’s stop fighting and let’s figure out a way we can do that.”