Why Your Church should NOT commit to EPA’s Disaffiliation Process
There are OTHER Paths to leave the UMC
(Released by the EPA WCA)
- EPA’s disaffiliation process does not let churches know what they must pay before voting to disaffiliate.
- A mid-sized EPA church could well be required pay $1.5-2 million, and not know that until after they vote.
- The process is a sham, designed to prevent disaffiliation, not allow it graciously for reasons of conscience.
- EPA churches should NOT register with EPA’s phony “process.”
Many EPA churches are fretting about whether to register for the EPA conference’s “discernment process” on disaffiliation under Disciplinary paragraph 2553, as the September 1 deadline looms.
Here is a short answer: Don’t do it.
As currently outlined, the process is prohibitively expensive for most churches even to consider, and vague as to actual costs.
Let’s consider a hypothetical church attempting to use EPA’s process, we’ll call “Anytown UMC.” Anytown UMC has about 140 worshippers on Sunday, a budget of $400,000 per year, with church and parsonage valued at $2 million. They have savings in the bank, an endowment and other non-real estate assets which total $750,000. There is one ordained pastor, whose compensation package (including salary, housing, health insurance, pension contributions, and other allowances) amounts to about $85,000, and their annual apportionment totals $38,000. They have no debt, and are billed each year about $8,000 for their unfunded pension liability share.
Here is what that church can expect from EPA’s “discernment process” – as indicated by their published “Preliminary Summary of Disaffiliation Terms and Conditions,” which you can find at https://www.epaumc.org/wp-content/uploads/Summary-of-Disaffiliation-Terms.pdf.
Costs Required by 2553. Paragraph 2553 only requires a few mandated costs, though it does gives discretion to annual conferences to add other items as necessary. Some conferences have kept to minimum requirements.
- 12 months of additional apportionment payments (Items 1 & 2). Assuming Anytown UMC is up to date on its apportionment payments, the additional year would cost $38,000.
- Unfunded Pension Liability Obligation (item 3). This is undefined by EPA’s process, though there is no reason that should be. Wespath (the pension board) knows the amount of each annual conference’s total liability, and a local conference can simply attribute a pro-rated portion to each congregation. That has been done elsewhere: the North Georgia Conference website says that it has calculated the exact amount for each church, which can be accessed at any time by congregational leaders. Will Anytown UMC pay $100,000? $200,000? They don’t and WON’T know for certain until after they vote to disaffiliate!
- Other Costs (item 8). Anytown UMC has no outstanding debts to the conference.
Defined Costs Imposed by EPA and Not Required by 2553. The “summary” document lists several costs which 2553 does not require.
- Entry and administrative Costs (item 12). Each church will have to deliver a check for $3,500 just to enter the discernment process. In addition, another $6,500 is charged for unlisted “administrative costs. That’s $10,000 right off the bat, just to be in this process!
- Ministry Transition Payment (item 5). This would add $85,000 to Anytown UMC’s bill (12 months employment cost for clergy), PLUS some undefined amount to cover two pastoral moves, which will certainly add thousands more.
- “Missional Transition Support Payment” (item 6). What this is all about isn’t exactly clear, but the amount “will not exceed 33% of the three-year average of non-real estate assets of the local church.” For Anytime UMC, that means up to an additional $250,000!
- Fee to St. George’s. Item 10 lists a $5,000 “Fee to Historic St. George’s” for the privilege of parking your membership records there. Never mind that this policy was adopted several years ago to apply to closed churches whose property the conference sells, NOT churches that disaffiliate or transfer, but there it is.
Undefined Costs Imposed by EPA and Not Required by 2553.
- Share of the AC BSA Settlement (item 11). The United Methodist Church committed to pay $30 million in the settlement of the Boy Scout abuse case. This amount, presumably a pro-rated share of EPA conference’s portion, is entirely undefined. Will Anytown UMC pay $5,000? $25,000? They don’t and WON’T know for certain until after they vote to disaffiliate!
- Mysterious “Additional Payments” (item 14). Apparently, conference trustees have authority to unilaterally impose any additional payments they consider “fitting unique circumstances” of any local church. What might this refer to? We don’t know. However, Schol and Morley have NEVER ruled out requiring payment of a percentage of the market value of the church’s property, and said on August 1 that this is up the conference trustees. In other conferences in our jurisdiction, disaffiliating churches must pay 50% of the market value of all its property – in addition to all the other costs! The same could well be added to EPA churches under this provision. How much will Anytown UMC have to pay? They don’t and WON’T know until after they vote to disaffiliate. But it could amount to another $1 million or more!
A Phony Baloney Plan. So, from numbers above that are defined, AnyTown UMC will pay up to (wait for it) $388,000 – and that is BEFORE the unfunded liability payment, the BSA share, and the mysterious “additional payments” provision, which could easily soar past an additional $1 million! And remember what Schol and Morley said during their August 1 webinar: there is NO negotiation on any of this. A quote: “The term sheet is the term sheet.”
Clearly EPA’s phony plan is designed to prevent disaffiliation, not facilitate it in a way that graciously blesses churches which can no longer remain United Methodist in good conscience (which was the original intent and spirit of 2553). Getting a two-thirds vote from sensible lay members, even if they are in favor of disaffiliation, is unlikely if they don’t know the price tag – like signing on to buy a house without knowing the price until after settlement. And if such a vote fails, conference leaders will declare that the church has decided to stay UMC. Despite all their happy talk about respecting local churches’ beliefs, and wanting them to land where they should, the EPA conference leadership seems increasingly to embody the words of Psalm 55:20-21:
20 My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.
Next week, in Part 2: Other Paths to Leave the UMC