The Jurisdictional Re-Draw Strategy

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This is NOT a “plan.” 

I am not casting a vision or a destination, or presuming an outcome. This document is a strategy, the means and not the end, a road map of one potential way we could get to an outcome that might be like what one of the many “plans” envision. As such, the Re-Draw strategy could be employed to help re-create the One Church Plan (if you’re into that– I’m not), or to dissolve the denomination (if we must), and lots of options in between. This strategy limits dependence on General Conference to pass specific legislation. Instead, it relies on the powers of the Jurisdictional Conference, presuming that GC cannot disassemble itself, but Jurisdictions and Central Conferences can re-form more locally.

Developed by Sean Delmore and Becca Girrell,
the Jurisdictional Redraw Strategy: Using Jurisdictions to Redraw Annual Conferences

Summary: Jurisdictions redraw the boundaries of the annual conferences within them, such that 1. there shall be at least one annual conference that follows the Traditional Plan (TP) and at least one that does not (NO TP) in every jurisdiction in the United States, and 2. There shall be two (geographically overlapping) annual conferences (one TP and one NO TP) in every geographic area of the jurisdiction. Every local congregation/charge will have the opportunity to decide whether it will be part of a TP or NO TP Annual Conference; every clergy person will have the same. Further action by jurisdictions can de-couple conferences that can no longer live together in difference.

Purpose: This will allow United Methodists within the United States a way to live with grace before any future steps, if needed, are taken. United Methodists outside the United States rely on the rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled as Central Conferences to live in this in-between time.

Changes to the Book of Discipline or Constitution: none.

We hope Judicial Council rules (in October) that an Annual Conference can withdraw with its property / assets. This would be in accordance with the precedent set in the 1840s with the departure of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. If that is not their ruling, a clarification to the trust clause will help shore this up so we don’t need to argue in court, but I do not believe this strategy requires such a clarification.

Essential provisions of the current Discipline:

  1. In the US, each jurisdiction determines the number, names, and boundaries of both the annual conferences and episcopal areas contained therein (¶ 40, Article IV).
  2. The annual conference is the basic body of The UMC (¶ 33, Article II), and “titles are not held by The United Methodist Church (see ¶ 807.1) or by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, but instead by the incorporated conferences, agencies, or organizations of the denomination…” (¶2501.1).
  3. Annual Conferences may overlap geographically, and local churches can move from one annual conference to another in which they are geographically located, through a process set forth in the Constitution (¶41, Article V).

Process:

  • Jurisdictional Conferences (JCs) in 2020 organize together to redraw the boundaries of the annual conferences (ACs) within them. For one year, the churches vote and clergy request affiliation with one of the two ACs in which they are located (TP or NO TP).
  • Special called sessions of the JCs meet in 2021 if needed to solidify the conference boundaries and/or redefine the number of annual conferences.
  • Any ACs no longer part of the Jurisdiction (whether because the AC disaffiliated or the JC “drew” them out) would have the option to call themselves together and form a new body/denomination.

Benefits:

  1. This plan does not require action from the General Conference; we already have the disciplinary rules to permit this. A clarification from Judicial Council or via an addition to the trust clause would be helpful but not essential.
  2. This will permit us to move toward future steps (i.e. disaffiliation, schism, etc.),
  3. while limiting negative press, and
  4. while maintaining connectionalism, eliminating the need for individual churches to disaffiliate and incorporate.
  5. Progress toward a future with hope for all, without hasty ill-considered decisions, and without committing now to which form (TP or NO TP), if any might retain control of the current denomination.
  6. Shorter/2-3 year timeline for major steps, allowing continued focus on mission and ministry.

Timeline:

2019 Annual Conference Season

  • Conferences elect their delegations to GC/JC 2020, with attention to the whole delegation (JC delegates matter!).
  • Delegations and organizing teams begin to communicate and organize as jurisdictions.
  • Organizers from each AC share: 1. How the AC votes on any resolutions, petitions, and straw polls indicate where the AC stands on recognizing and living into a TP or NO TP identity, and 2. The ideological composition of their JC delegation.

Summer 2019 – May 2020

  • Organizing efforts begin using delegations and non-delegation organizers at the AC and Jurisdictional level.
  • Education on the local level about this process.
  • Jurisdictional organizing teams determine how many NO TP ACs should be formed in their Jurisdiction. Forming a new AC requires identifying a minimum of 50 clergy in full connection (active or retired), and an equal number of lay members elected by their local charge (see ¶ 27, Article V.4 and ¶ 32, Article I).
  • Traditional Plan goes into effect Jan 1, 2020
  • General Conference meets May 2020

2020 Annual Conference Season

  • Annual Conferences and Jurisdictional organizing teams assess the outcomes of GC 2020.
  • ACs and organizing teams identify the minimum of 50 clergy and 50 lay members (definitional requirement to form an AC per the Constitution) who would be the seed membership of a NO TP AC in their region.

July 2020 Jurisdictional Conferences meet

  • Jurisdictions redraw the boundaries of the ACs therein, keeping the prescribed number of episcopal areas in their jurisdiction; there shall be two annual conferences in every geographic area (one TP and one NO TP; see example figures).
  • Each College of Bishops works to help set the supervision so that clergy could easily transfer between annual conferences (either in the same episcopal area or another), and/or serve in cross-conference appointments.

July 2020 – AC season 2021

  • Local churches may vote (2/3 charge conference vote, per the Constitution) to join the NO TP annual conference in which they are geographically located. By default, all churches and clergy are considered in the TP AC (because that’s the current Discipline).
  • Clergy request and Bishops grant membership in one of the annual conferences (TP or NO TP) in which they are geographically located.
  • This year seems complex, but is no more complex than when ACs re-draw or merge because episcopal areas are reduced.

2021 Annual Conference Season

  • Both annual conferences in the geographic area approve the affiliations of the local churches based on their charge conference votes.

If United Methodists could live together in this tension, we might rest in this place (would work with the UMCNext vision, or the US Regional Conference). If not…

July 2021 or later: Special Called session of all jurisdictions (may not be necessary if ACs can simply disaffiliate with their assets).

  • Each jurisdiction sets the number of ACs therein to include ONLY the TP annual conferences (alternately, ONLY the NO TP annual conferences, or even zero ACs; either can happen, but must be the same in all jurisdictions- requires that TP and NO TP movements each decide as a whole for their respective movement).
  • Those ACs not included in the set number within their jurisdiction are now no longer United Methodist bodies. They are, however, incorporated entities that own property, hold pension liability and assets, etc.
  • Newly-released ACs call together one or more convening conferences of all interested ACs, and approve a Constitution and Book of Discipline or equivalent (this creates the new denominations, churches, or expressions envisioned by plans like Indianapolis and Bard Jones)

Challenges:

  1. This will require buy-in and negotiation at the annual and jurisdictional conference levels (which hopefully are marked by deeper relationships of trust and less intractability).
  2. This requires relinquishing control of God’s church to the local churches, annual conferences, and jurisdictions. It requires TP regions to free NO TP churches and clergy for ministry, and NO TP regions freeing TP churches and clergy for ministry.
  3. Some JCs will find it more challenging to agree upon the boundaries of the ACs; Council of Bishops may need to work with their colleagues in these more challenging JCs. Likewise, some ACs will not easily approve the conference membership choices of local churches, and will need encouragement from their Bishop and leadership.
  4. This does not address the issue of assets owned by general agencies. However, once large-scale bodies are set as TP or NO TP, then general agencies, universities, Central Conferences, etc. can affiliate with the body of their choice. Some of the plans currently circulating indicate a willingness to compromise on these assets and responsibilities.
  5. Some vulnerable people and congregations may be left in regions where they find themselves isolated; it may be necessary to assist clergy in transferring membership and/or churches in purchasing their property or acquiring new assets. Hopefully this need is limited.

Buy-in, Leverage points needed:

  • Council and Colleges of Bishops
  • AC leadership
  • JC organizing teams
  • Pressure from agencies, universities, etc.
  • Ethnic caucuses
  • Writers working on a new Constitution and Discipline if needed (and please, may these writers be a diverse body that can think outside the white, male, straight, colonialist, hierarchical frameworks of the 1800s)
  • Funds for assisting in transfers and property acquisition in challenging situations
  • Patience and willingness in the tension

Figures:

NEJ Maps

Figure 1. The Northeastern Jurisdiction has a fairly balanced mix of TP- and NO TP- leaning congregations and clergy. Here, we imagine re-drawing roughly equivalent conferences, five of each.

SEJ Maps

Figure 2. The Southeastern Jurisdiction leans more heavily TP overall. In this Jurisdiction, we imagine one NO TP annual conference (maybe two), merging one AC for the sake of example to keep the total number the same.

flowchart 2

Figure 3. Looking more closely at New England and Upper NY Annual Conferences, which each are a mix of TP and NO TP churches and clergy. Graphics by Jay Horton.

Comments? Have at it!

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6 Responses

  1. […] “The Jurisdictional Re-Draw Strategy” by Becca Girrell. Jurisdictions should redraw their annual conference maps into overlapping conservative and traditionalist bodies. (Added 8-28-2019) […]

    • One the routine concern of State Legislatures, jerrymandering seems to be becoming the fetish of those searching for a rational and reasonable alternative to just diving the UMC into separate organizations – Traditionalists and Non-traditionalists (centrists & LGBTYQAI+ aligned) – and being done with it.

  2. Pastor Becca, thank you for an “outside the box” concept. I appreciate your respect for all of God’s children in this debate. How I wish others could be so inclusive and graceful.

    As a layperson I got a bit lost in the weeds regarding jurisdictional conferences. Would both TP and non-TP conferences share bishops and jurisdictional properties, such as Lake Junaluska? Would we have one General Conference or two? What about the new proclamation from UM-Forward, rejecting UMNext?

    I encourage your to flesh this out, especially given the concerns of some that we need to establish distinct choices (TP and non-TP) before we ask annual conferences or congregations to choose.

    Grace and peace in Christ.

    • Thanks, William.

      Ultimately, I think the path we are on will lead to two or more global Methodist denominations out of what is currently The UMC. This would lead to two or more General Conference bodies (or similar- a new denomination might want a different kind of organizing body). During that transition, this strategy imagines each Jurisdiction keeping the same number of episcopal areas and therefore the same number of Bishops. Some of these Bishops might be serving traditionalist conferences and some progressive. I am essentially calling the Bishops to their insistence that they serve “the whole church,” and therefore, they will be able to preside as appropriate.

      As to the Our Movement Forward statement rejecting the UM Next proposal: I can’t speak specifically to that statement, not being an author of it. I have not signed the statement because, while I agree that complete liberation of all people is the only Biblical and Christian position, I want to bring as many people along on that journey as possible, and I don’t want to close any doors at this time. I think we will need each other, in the centrist to progressive movement, so that we have the critical mass to seek our collective liberation. And I actually believe in the persuasive power of the Spirit and of the vision of Our Movement Forward, to sway the centrists into a more liberationist perspective. Their hearts are open, and so this conversation and conversion is possible.

      Yes, this strategy does make the entire question boil down to: can we live within the Traditional Plan? That has been the catalyzing question for most United Methodists I have conversed with, since March 2019.

      Thanks for being in conversation!

  3. Being a bit picky: the West Virginia Conference graphic is not quite accurate: the three most eastern counties, the tip of the eastern panhandle, is currently part of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

    That nit aside, this is an interesting proposal, worthy of discussion.

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