Park Church has recently embarked on a discernment process regarding its future affiliation with the United Methodist Church (UMC). Our Ad Council has authorized an Alignment Committee (AC) whose purpose is to present to the congregation a fair and comprehensive review of the issues and reliable resources. The AC is not an advocacy group, instead its role is to facilitate a process that enables the congregation to make a reflective, informed decision about disaffiliation.
    The first step the AC has taken is to compile a list of various resources available for each Park member to review as he or she desires. It is titled and designed to be a Resource Guide to help us understand where we are and what needs to be decided.  It is not an advocacy piece and every effort has been made to assure its neutrality. As it should be, it is up to you to give this information whatever credibility and weight you deem appropriate.
    The next step the AC plans are several public forums at our church to learn about both sides of the decision. It is very likely these presentations will include some of the resources cited hereafter. To be balanced, each of these presentations will include discussions of the reasons in favor of or against disaffiliation at this time. There will be multiple presentations to accommodate members’ schedules. The schedule of these presentations will be publicly disseminated in the near future.
    It is the AC’s intent to facilitate civil, patient and thoughtful discussions wherein all viewpoints are presented and considered in a respectful manner. We are discerning God’s Will and owe it to God to be on our best behavior.
   
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
    This Resource Guide begins with the basic documents to help you through the process.
    The most important document for Methodists is the Book of Discipline. It is our policy book which contains the doctrinal body governing all UMC churches. It is extensive but important in our discussions. It can be assessed for free online at the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions Free Versions/UMC Books/Cokesbury. A hard copy of the Book of Discipline is also available in our church library.
    The UMC frames the disaffiliation decision as a dispute over human sexuality. The official position of the UMC on human sexuality is set forth in, “Current Doctrinal Stance (The Book of Discipline of the UMC, 2016) Sections 161G, 304.3, 341.6, 913.19. The salient parts provide that self-avowed, practicing homosexuals shall not be ordained as a Methodist pastor or bishop; also, a Methodist pastor cannot preside over a same-sex marriage.
    In 2019, the UMC enacted Section 2553 of The Book of Discipline titled “Disaffiliation over Human Sexuality”. The requirements of Section 2553 as summarized on the UMC website are:
     1)  a decision to disaffiliate must be made by at least a 2/3rds vote of the professing members present at a church conference;
     2)   the payment in full of two years of that congregation’s apportionment commitment as set by the Annual Conference;
     3)  the payment in full of the congregation’s pro-rata share of the Conference’s pension liability based on a formula approved by the Annual Conference.
    In addition, because we hold the church real estate in trust for the UMC, it is possible our church will have to pay a percentage of the value of the church real estate or a percentage of our combined assets in order to disaffiliate.
    Section 2553 is a sunset provision which expires on December 31, 2023. This means that December 31, 2023 is the deadline for all disaffiliating churches to complete the disaffiliation process. Helpful resources to review are a video by Eastern PA Bishop John Schol found at Disaffiliation Webinar - August 1, 2022 on Youtube or these articles What should United Methodist congregations know about disaffiliation? (umc.org) or Church Court clarifies disaffiliation rules, umnews.org.
     For Park Church, it means we would need to have a church conference vote by mid-May, 2023, in time for the June, 2023 Western PA Annual Conference (WPAC). In the event our church vote is in favor of disaffiliation, at the June, 2023 WPAC, the terms and conditions of our disaffiliation would be established by the WPAC board of trustees.  A Disaffiliation Agreement is then entered into between the WPAC trustees and Park Church trustees. The financial terms must be paid in full prior to the effective date of our departure.
    Because of the 2023 deadline, Section 2553 has to be the focus of our current discussions. However, a church can disaffiliate at any time from the UMC after 2023. The unknown is what will be the costs and terms of a post-2023 disaffiliation.
    In June, 2022, in an effort to accommodate the differing interests of Western PA churches, WPAC passed legislation creating “three households”, namely the Centrist, Traditionalist and Progressive households.  It would be up to each church to decide to which household it aligns. This alignment plan has not yet been implemented but a task force will be recommending an implementation plan at the June 2023 Western PA Annual Conference. See rs+701+legislation final.pdf (wpaumc.org). See also, IMAP Task Force Website, https:/www.wpaumc.org/imap-task-force.
    The next General Conference of all worldwide Methodist churches is scheduled for 2024. At that Conference, it is expected that legislation will be introduced and possibly voted on regarding a change to the doctrinal stance on human sexuality. It is uncertain if any such legislation, if introduced, would be passed into law at this General Conference.
    If our church votes on whether to disaffiliate, the vote is limited to that lone issue. It is not a vote on where we go next. In the event our church disaffiliates from the UMC by December 31, 2023, then it becomes an unaffiliated, independent church. There are several directions our church could take, including remaining an independent church. Or we could affiliate with another denomination. Here is a collection of essays on this subject: “Where Do We Go From Here? Honest Responses From Twenty-Four United Methodist Leaders”
https://www.amazon.com/Where-Here-Responses-Twenty-Four-Methodist/dp/1732309299
    One recent option within the Methodist realm is The Global Methodist Church (GMC), formed in the spring of 2022 by Methodist churches that disaffiliated from UMC. Here are resources to learn about the GMC:
a)  Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline of the Global Methodist Church, https://globalmethodist.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Transitional-Discipline.2022041257.pdf
b)  UMC-GMC Comparison Chart (txcumc.org)
c)  Global Methodist Church/Join Us/ Make Disciples
d)  UMC vs. GMC: Which one costs more? – JCT Accounting Co.
 
PROS AND CONS
    What is discussed hereafter are the resources divided into those in favor of disaffiliation and those opposed to disaffiliation. Please note that one side may have more resources listed than the other, but this process is not a race determined by sheer volume as a single resource may be more helpful than multiple opposing ones. Inherently, there needs to be some discussion of the context of the resources, but please do not construe it as any attempt to sway your opinion to one side or the other.
 
PROPONENTS OF DISAFFILIATION
     Generally, the proponents of disaffiliation contend the present schism within the UMC is over a century in the making and has evolved into irreconcilable scriptural differences, with the issue of human sexuality being the final tipping point. These differences mirror the causes of splits that have already occurred within the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches.
 
VIDEOS:
Sermon Series: “A Different Gospel” by Rev. Michael Hudson (with Discussion Questions)
Sermon 1:  The Character of God
Sermon 2:  The Nature of Man
Sermon 3:  The Uniqueness of Jesus
Sermon 4:  The Bible
Sermon 5:  The Mission of the Church
https://www.christvenice.com/differentgospel/  
https://www.christvenice.com/mt-content/uploads/2022/02/a-different-gospel-discussion-questions.pdf
 
Rev. Robert Renfroe:  Methodism’s Division Six-Part Video Series-Good News Magazine
Part 1:  The UMC is Divided and Dividing
Part 2:  Our Differences Regarding the Bible
Part 3:  Our Differences Regarding Jesus
Part 4:  Our Differences Regarding Sexuality
Part 5:  Why It’s Time for Traditionalists to Leave the UMC
Part 6:  Where Should We Go?
 
BOOKS:
Multiplying Methodism by Rev. Jeff and Greenway and former Bishop Mike Lowry.
The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Fall of American Methodism, by Rev. James V. Heidinger II, ISBN-13: 978-1628244021
 
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES:
UMC break has been years in the making/News, Sports, Jobs – Times Observer
Bishop meets with church as part of disaffiliation process/News, Sports, Job – Times Observer
 
 
OPPONENTS OF DISAFFILIATION
    Generally, the opponents of disaffiliation contend we can find workable solutions to the differences within Methodism by using the Book of Discipline, such that all interests can thrive under the big tent of Methodism. This result can possibly occur if the three-household approach is implemented within the Western PA Conference.
 
VIDEOS:
a)   Adam Hamilton, Six Part Series found in the following six links:
Part 1.   “Why UMC?
Part 2.   “Love of Scripture”
Part 3.   “Committed to Christ”
Part 4.   “Human Sexuality”
Part 5.   “A Future With Hope”
Part 6.   “A Future With Hope” (Leadership Institute Presentation)
 
b)  WPAUMC Bishop Moore-Koikoi Video to Clergy    A Message from Bishop Moore-Koikoi (vimeo.com)
c)  Bishop Moore-Koikoi Video to Laity.    Addressing Disinformation | Western PA Conference of The UMC (wpaumc.org)
   
READING:
a)  Weekly series, titled, Ask the UMC, responding to questions about disaffiliation. It is found on the UMC website under:  “Is the United Methodist Church really…?”(umc.org)
 
b)  Eric Park – “Home is Where the Strangely Warmed Heart is: Why I Will Continue To Be Part of the United Methodist Church”.   https://pewboy.net/
 
REMAINING THOUGHTS
    You are encouraged to review as many resources as you can on both sides of this debate. These resources have been vetted for disinformation, although the AC cannot, by its mission, vouch for the validity of any facts or arguments presented. Again, the credibility and weight of the information is for you to decide.
    Your research is not limited to what the AC suggests, but please be wary of the reliability of information on the Internet and elsewhere. If you have a resource you think is helpful, please submit it to the AC and it can possibly be added to the Resource Guide.
     Please try to attend any of the public meetings on this matter or otherwise be a part of the constructive conversations our church needs.
    May God’s peace be with each of us as we go through this discernment process.
 
Respectfully,
The Alignment Committee (in alphabetical order):  Kevin Cooney, Rusty Cunningham, Alivia Haibach, Ruth King, Bart Neckers, John Pero and Sandie Van Volkenburg.

Alignment Committee of Park UMC Resource Guide on Disaffiliation Debate