Special Message from Bishop Burgos – Disaffiliations
February 17, 2023 / By Bishop Héctor A. Burgos Núñez The United Methodist Church Serving the Upper New York Area
Editor's Note: The following letter was emailed to clergy and laity in the Upper New York Conference on Feb. 17, 2023 on behalf of Bishop Héctor A. Burgos Núñez.
“…the wisdom that comes from heaven is, first of all, pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17
Dear United Methodists in Upper New York,
Since The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) inception in 1968, United Methodists have not been of one mind regarding ministry with and by LGBTQIA+ persons. A key characteristic of our denomination is our shared commitment to be united in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. United Methodists worldwide, including in Upper New York (UNY), remain committed to the mission, our confessions and articles of faith, our polity, and the Wesleyan Way.
Also crucial to our United Methodist identity as a global movement is our willingness to humbly hold in a healthy tension our rich theological diversity, which includes conservative, moderate, and progressive beliefs in various subjects, so that we can witness our unbreakable unity with and in Christ to reach as many people as possible with the good news of the gospel.
You can learn more about the beliefs of the United Methodist Church by visiting the links below.
In 2019, after an extended season of disagreements and divisions regarding ministry with and by LGBTQIA+ persons, a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the top decision-making body in our denomination, added language to our Book of Discipline (BOD) that allows United Methodist churches to disaffiliate from our denomination because of reasons of conscience regarding provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals or the actions or inactions of its Annual Conference related to these matters.
Paragraph 2553 of the BOD places the authority and responsibility of the disaffiliation process on three different bodies within the Annual Conference:
- The Cabinet is responsible for designing the discernment process to be used by congregations exploring disaffiliation and ensuring that it is carried out fairly.
- The Conference Board of Trustees is responsible for setting the terms of disaffiliation and facilitating the administrative and legal matters related to disaffiliation.
- The Annual Conference session is responsible for the final approval of requests from churches that desire to disaffiliate under the provisions of paragraph 2553.
So far, eight UNY churches have disaffiliated from the UNY Conference and The United Methodist Church. An additional 18 disaffiliation requests are expected to come for consideration at the Special Session of the UNY Annual Conference, scheduled online for March 25, 2023. In addition, 22 churches are working with the UNY Board of Trustees through the due diligence process after voting for disaffiliation. Please join me in praying for these churches as they discern and take the next steps in their communal journey as disciples of Christ.
As some of our churches continue navigating through this season of discernment about disaffiliation, I want to clarify several points about the discernment process permitted by our Book of Discipline in paragraph 2553.
- Scope – As it is clearly outlined in paragraph 2553 of our BOD, this provision is only applicable to churches that wish to explore disaffiliation because of issues of conscience around the current language in the amended 2016 Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality or the action or inactions of the UNY Conference related to it (not concerns about hypothetical future changes). UNY churches are not mandated to enter the discernment process, as some groups communicate irresponsibly. As noted above, only a small fraction of the 825+ UNY churches have engaged in the process. Congregational leaders should only request to enter the discernment process after consulting with the church's active membership. Churches discerning disaffiliation must follow the process outlined by their District Superintendent. Any church in UNY looking to pursue disaffiliation must submit their application no later than July 1, 2023 and their church conference must be completed no later than Aug.1, 2023.
- Holy Conferencing – The disaffiliation discernment process is meant to be a time of Holy Conferencing where all active members of the discerning congregations are to be valued, their voices heard, and dissenting opinions are acknowledged in Christian love. Holy Conferencing is not about debating an issue but listening with a genuine desire to learn and understand one another’s beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. A healthy discernment process gives voice to the congregation’s hopes, not just the personal opinions and desires of a few individuals. Churches that go through the process and decide not to move forward with disaffiliation are strongly encouraged to be in conversation with their District Superintendent to ensure the congregation articulates a covenant of how they will gracefully live and do ministry together in the UMC amid their differences on this specific matter and work towards healing.
- Role of Clergy – Clergy persons appointed to local churches are called to be pastoral to all congregation members, especially in times of disagreement. Conversations about disaffiliation should not be initiated or led by the appointed pastor(s) based on their personal beliefs and attitudes toward LGBTQIA+ persons. The role of the pastor is not to advocate for any given position but lead all the people under their care with a shepherd’s heart. Pastors of discerning churches should focus on inviting the congregation to display Christian hospitality, providing pastoral care to the congregation during the time of discernment, and ensuring a fair process that includes access to balanced information, does no harm, and is conducive to healing and reconciliation.
You can read more about the UNY disaffiliation discernment process here.
Clergy Discernment about Disaffiliating
- A clergyperson’s discernment regarding their future relationship with the United Methodist Church related to their personal beliefs and attitudes about ministry with and by LGTBQIA+ persons is separate from the discernment process established for congregations in paragraph 2553 of the BOD. It is inappropriate for a clergyperson to state to their congregation that “they can only leave if the congregation they are currently appointed to leaves with them.”
- Clergy in UNY who wish to withdraw from The United Methodist Church either to unite with another denomination recognized by the General Conference of the UMC, terminate their membership in the UMC, or withdraw from the ministerial office entirely, must communicate their intent to their District Superintendent and me before they share their decision with their congregation in accordance with paragraph 360.1 and 360.2 in our Book of Discipline. At that time, guidance will be provided regarding the steps to follow to live into their discernment and timelines.
Siblings in Christ, I envision the Upper New York Conference as a spirit-filled network of disciples and congregations that honor and celebrate our diversity, in all its facets, as a gift from God - united in our shared mission of transforming the world as we nurture disciples of Jesus Christ that share faith, love, mercy, and justice in their communities and the world.
Also, I want to reemphasize that whether you identify as a conservative, centrist, or progressive disciple of Jesus Christ, you can be assured that you are seen and valued by me as your bishop and that there will always be a place for you in The United Methodist Church and the Upper New York Conference – because we and the mission are better and stronger together.
During these challenging times, let’s continue living the gospel and being God’s love to all people, starting amongst ourselves, avoiding doing harm, doing good by serving our neighbors, encouraging one another to thrive in life and ministry, and growing in our love for God through Jesus Christ.
Together in mission,
Bishop Héctor A. Burgos Núñez
The United Methodist Church
Serving the Upper New York Area