Rulings of Law
At the North Georgia Annual Conference on June 3-5, the conference’s board of trustees presented a path for churches to disaffiliate under the provisions established by the 2019 General Conference.
The presentation prompted two questions of law. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson issued two rulings of law on July 8 in response.
The Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, must review all bishops’ rulings of law. The Judicial Council has not yet released its coming docket.
Haupert-Johnson told UM News that Mt. Bethel’s acting leaders have made a number of financial and personnel decisions that are clearly in violation of the Book of Discipline. “This includes imposing limits on the role and compensation of the appointed pastor-in-charge,” she said.
Among the exigent circumstances for the church’s transfer of assets, the conference lists changing its governance structure to a seven-person executive committee with full authority and no time limit on terms. Such a committee does not exist in the Discipline’s church governance structure. The conference said Mt. Bethel also has made plans to use credit lines, transfer interests in assets and sell property without approvals of a church administrative council or charge conference.
Leaders at Mt. Bethel did not immediately respond to UM News’ request for comment beyond their statement.
“I know Mt. Bethel to be a great church,” Usry said. “I am working tirelessly for the church and am absolutely FOR Mt. Bethel. I will continue to seek solutions to this present crisis and will not be deterred. I routinely ask people to pray for God’s protection and provision over the Bride of Christ at Mt. Bethel.”
The strife at Mt. Bethel comes at a time of strain within The United Methodist Church.
The coming General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative assembly, faces multiple proposals to divide the denomination after decades of debate over the status of LGBTQ people. The global COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back General Conference to Aug. 29-Sept. 6, 2022, putting those proposals on hold.
Mt. Bethel has not been a bystander in the debate. The church is part of the traditionalist advocacy group the Wesleyan Covenant Association and hosted its global gathering in 2018. The Wesleyan Covenant Association is overseeing the formation of the Global Methodist Church, a new traditionalist denomination that plans to break away from The United Methodist Church.
In the meantime, the Discipline has a provision for churches to disaffiliate, providing they meet certain requirements, including paying two years’ of apportionments — or shares of church giving — as well as its pension liabilities, determined by the conference.
In their statement, Mt. Bethel leaders said by taking legal action, the conference is seizing “assets which will become property of Mt. Bethel once it completes a process for disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church, initiated in April 2021.”
One of the requirements is that the congregation approves disaffiliation by at least a two-thirds majority of a church’s professing members present at the vote. Such a vote will likely not occur until at least next spring, a church spokesperson told the Marietta Daily Journal.
For now, both Usry and Haupert-Johnson ask for prayer.
“I am thankful for the people of the North Georgia Conference, in all their varied contexts, and covet your prayers for them,” Haupert-Johnson told UM News. “I especially ask for prayers for Mt. Bethel UMC and its community.”
This article originally appeared here.