The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

As we reach the halfway point of 2023, the issue of disaffiliation remains unresolved for many churches throughout The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. In April of this year, the Bishop called a Special Session of the Annual Conference, where fifty-five churches were formally approved for conditional disaffiliation from The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church at that virtual special session. I was present, along with our Lay Delegate from 2022, Sandi Schmidt, and the SE District At Large Delegate, Nancy Reams.

These churches met the requirements in Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline regarding separation from the denomination over the issue of human sexuality. This included meetings with their district superintendent to understand the ramifications, prayerful consideration for discernment, and open meetings with professing members in their respective congregations.

Their departures became effective on June 1 if they fulfill all financial and other requirements. This includes producing a certificate of insurance to cover potential civil liabilities incurred before disaffiliation and the payment of all apportionments for 2023, plus an additional year. In return, they can keep their buildings and real estate, which would normally revert to the Conference.

As of December 31, 2022, there were 29,257 professing members in the 55 churches, representing 15% of the 191,902 total membership in the Florida Annual Conference. The Conference placed the value of the assets in the departing churches at $35.8 million, not including real estate. The real estate is valued at $306.4 million. Those churches also paid $13.6 million in apportionments over the last five years, representing 16% of the Conference apportionment receipts.

In June, Florida held its Annual Conference in Lakeland; however, in an attempt to promote unity and hope, there was no discussion or action on other churches that had filed for disaffiliation since the April meeting.

Pursuant to ¶603.5, Bishop Berlin has called another special virtual session of the annual conference for August 5, 2023, to deal with the matter of churches seeking to disaffiliate from The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. The lay members for the special session will be the same lay members or alternates for the regular 2023 Annual Conference session held in June. This includes district at-large lay members. I will be present again, along with our 2023 Lay Delegate Sam Owen and the 2023 SE District Delegate, Drew Foreman. While the number of churches asking for permission to disaffiliate at this meeting is unknown, I expect it to be in the same range as the April Meeting.

What does this mean? Beyond a sadness over the split in the United Methodist Church, and the Florida Annual Conference in particular, there is not an immediate impact on us. The Conference believes that the final number of churches that will disaffiliate will be between 23 and 25 percent. The Bishop has pledged to cut the Conference budget and reduce apportionments so that the remaining churches do not take on the financial burden left by those who chose to move on. He has already made moves in this direction by reducing the Cabinet staff and not replacing some positions. It is my belief that the overall impact will be minimal on Cason.

I also believe that this gives the UMC the opportunity to regain our focus and get back on mission. For too long, we have allowed these internal and very human arguments to keep us from the work the Church was called to, and as a leaner, more united people, we can again go about doing the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

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