WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bishops of The United Methodist Church in their March 15 called meeting discerned pathways for churches choosing disaffiliation and separation. The bishops have met two consecutive weeks to discern pathways forward in these changing times.
The bishops affirmed by an overwhelming majority that paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline would be the primary paragraph used for disaffiliation and separation. It is understood that different contexts may require utilization of additional paragraphs in the current Book of Discipline, namely paragraphs 2548.2 and 2549, and that they would employ the values and principles as outlined in paragraph 2553.
It is also understood that paragraph 2553 is not operative in the Central Conferences, but in matters related to disaffiliation and separation, the values and principles of 2553 would be used. Paragraph 2553 was added to the Book of Discipline at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
In addition, the Council of Bishops affirmed by a strong majority that they would hold to a set of values and principles in all matters of disaffiliation and separation:
The Council of Bishops has also asked the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding Jurisdictional Conferences to be held to elect and assign bishops. They have tentatively set Nov. 2-5, 2022, for Jurisdictional Conferences should the Judicial Council rule in favor of holding the regional meeting. This date was previously scheduled for Jurisdictional Conferences following the General Conference.
In the questions to the Judicial Council, the bishops want to know if they have constitutional authority to set regular sessions of the Jurisdictional Conference to elect and assign bishops without the General Conference occurring first. The bishops are also asking the denomination’s top court to decide when the assignment of newly elected bishops would occur if such elections occurred after Sept. 1. Here are the bishops’ questions:
The request for the ruling came after the second postponement of the General Conference from 2022 to 2024, heightening the burden of bishops attempting to provide effective episcopal oversight and leadership. Due to vacancies created by retirements after the postponement of General Conference in 2020, special assignments to cover vacant episcopal areas in the United States have been faithfully served by bishops who continue to serve their residential areas.
“The threat to the continuance of the episcopacy and the sustainability of effective episcopal leadership will increase as more retirements are expected, whether due to mandatory retirement, vocational retirement, or voluntary retirement. Therefore, the rationale for this request for declaratory decision is readily apparent, and the need for an expedited decision on the request is compelled given the current and expanding burden,” the bishops said in the filing to the court.
The Council of Bishops is asking for an expedited decision.
Council of Bishops President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey affirmed the work of the bishops and their willingness to care for the mission and witness of the UMC.
“The work of a bishop has grown more complex and yet the bishops continue to grapple with difficult decisions in a world of competing values. They do so with grace and unafraid; knowing that God is with us,” said Bishop Harvey.
Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga is director of communications for the Council of Bishops.