Board of Trustees Reports to Annual Conference
June 12, 2023 / By Tara Barnes, Director of Denominational Relations, United Women in Faith
The Upper New York Conference Board of Trustees presented its 2023 report to the Annual Conference on Thursday June 1. The Rev. Pamela Klotzbach, president of the board, presented an overview of the board’s work, which includes the purchase, sale, and maintenance of Conference-owned properties, conference legal matters, the disaffiliation process, and managing and selling church buildings that have closed. The Trustees also manage the Conference’s master insurance program.
The board also brought resolutions for church closures and disaffiliations and an update on the lawsuits brought against the Conference under the Child Victims Act. You can read the full report on pages 69-70 of the 2023 Pre-Conference Handbook.
Treasurer Kathy King-Griswold offered the board’s unaudited 2022 financials, sharing the Conference’s assets, revenue, and expenses for that period. She shared that more than $740,000 from the sale of church properties has been transferred to the conference’s New Beginnings Fund, and income from disaffiliations was more than $159,000.
Kathy spoke about the market’s effect on investments and reported the continued abeyance of the Conference trustees guaranteed loan program until current balances are paid. Wespath is Upper New York’s investment manager.
“Throughout 2022, the trustees maintained oversight at any one time of nearly 74 properties within the Upper New York geographic area,” Kathy said. “While several properties were sold, many were held for sale, and others are held as long-term assets. The properties include churches, vacant lots, cemeteries, and parsonages.”
In 2022, 16 churches were sold for proceeds of $851,144. The board currently oversees 36 closed churches, including five with parsonages and seven legacy locations and is also tasked with the maintenance of five Camp & Retreat Centers,10 District parsonages, the episcopal residence, and the Conference Center.
The full report can be found in the 2023 Pre-Conference Workbook.
Pastor Jack Keating shared details about the board’s work with property and insurance.
“Your Annual Conference Board of Trustees maintains an insurance subcommittee whose task it is to oversee conference-wide insurance program underwritten by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company,” he explained, noting that the local representatives are the American Church Group of New York, a relationship that began in January 2020.
In 2022, with the help of American Church Group, all of the Conference’s local and conference properties became properly insured at the correct replacement costs. The conference was also able to reduce its property and casualty loan and workers compensations rates.
Churches can visit the Upper New York website for resources on insurance, background checks, boiler inspections, a free water sensor program and more.
Since the previous Annual Conference, 10 United Methodist congregations in Upper New York made the decision to close their church buildings. The Rev. Mike Weeden on behalf of the Cabinet brought the recommendations on closure of churches, reading the name of each church and inviting to stand anyone in attendance with a connection to the named congregations.
“We offer God thanksgiving for the witness of these congregations,” he said. “They represent more than just four walls and structure; they represent lives changed and transformed and touched by the gospel.”
Closed churches include Albany Emmaus, Bolton Landing, Endicott First, Franklin, Hale Eddy, Lounsberry, Short Tract, South Dayton, South Ripley, and Sullivanville.
Upper New York Resident Bishop Hector Burgos Nunez took a moment to acknowledge the churches that were closing.
“We thank these faith communities for their faithful witness in ministry throughout the years. As we come into this season let’s recommit ourselves as a connectional body to remain engaged in our communities, remain engaged to loving and serving our neighbors, knowing that the Spirit of God is at work among us.”
The resolution to affirm the church closures was supported. These resolutions can be found on pages 26-30 in the 2023 Pre-Conference Workbook and in the updates to the workbook.
Disaffiliation is a process by which local congregations can leave The United Methodist Church to become independent entities or join a different denomination. The only means to disaffiliate is via ¶2553 in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
Of the almost 800 churches in the Upper New York Conference, eight disaffiliated in 2022 and 18 at a March 2023 special session. An additional 35 brought disaffiliation resolutions to the 2023 regular session. Approval by the Annual Conference is required for disaffiliation.
The Rev. Klotzbach explained the process for exiting churches, and after a prayer from the bishop read the names of the churches seeking approval for disaffiliation.
The 35 disaffiliating United Methodist churches are as follows.
Frewsburg Wheeler Hill
Jamestown Kidder Memorial
Finger Lakes District
Genesee Valley District
Mountain View District
Niagara Frontier District
Grand Island Trinity
Medina Abundant Harvest
Northern Flow District
Once the transfer of property is complete, the Rev. Klotzbach explained, members of disaffiliating congregations are no longer United Methodists, they cannot serve on United Methodist boards, teams, or agencies nor hold other leadership positions in The United Methodist Church.
The next and last opportunity to submit requests for disaffiliation is October 14, 2023.
Child Victims Act
The Trustees report also included an update on the lawsuits brought against the conference under the Child Victims Act.
The New York State Child Victims Act was signed into law in August 2019 and opened a window for retroactive filing of civil cases by victims of childhood sexual abuse against entities and organizations like schools, churches, and annual conferences. The filing provisions expired in August 2021.
“The grand total of cases filed against the conference and its churches stands at 63 cases, 46 of which name the Conference and/or one of its churches as a defendant due to its association with a church-chartered Boy Scouts of America troops,” said Conference Chancellor Peter Abdella. “Since October, we have settled two more cases through careful and compassionate mediation and settlement conferences. This is good news. In total we have settled five of our Child Victim Act cases.
“Our legal approach whenever possible is to work toward a settlement with plaintiffs out of court rather than attempt to defend the conference before a judge and jury,” he continued. “Out of court settlements are typically more conciliatory, an approach we believe is more consistent with the mission of our conference.”
The 46 Boy Scout related cases fall under the jurisdiction of a federal bankruptcy court convened for the purpose of confirming the Boy Scout of America’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, including the resolution of all sexual abuse claims against the organization. In April 2023, the bankruptcy plan was approved by a U.S. District Court. As a part of the settlement each annual conference was asked to pay into a fund for survivors. Upper New York Conference’s share of the fund is $1.25 million, and the conference is expected to begin making payments at this time.
To date the conference has paid $2.6 million to Child Victim Act-related costs. This amount does not include the $1.25 million earmarked for the Boy Scout settlement, still to be paid.
“Our goal in every case will be to achieve a just resolution while remaining good stewards of all God has entrusted to us,” Peter said. “The only way we have been able to get through this is to lean on God and one another.”
The full Trustees report can be found on pages 69-70 of the 2023 Pre-Conference Handbook.