By Jessica Brodie
Many ministries across the South Carolina Conference got a happy windfall in a season of what is, for some, financial uncertainty.
In September, the conference treasurer’s office dispersed apportionments collected from the 113 separating churches, which were recorded in a lump sum in August. These went to any entity approved as part of the conference budget.
The 113 churches, all of which had gone through the Local Church Discernment Process given disagreements with the denomination’s handling of human sexuality issues, had each voted to leave The United Methodist Church. In June, the annual conference formally approved their separation.
Part of the requirement to separate involved the churches paying all of their 2023 apportionments, any past due apportionments from 2022 and six months of 2024 apportionments.
In September, the treasurer’s office dispersed some of this: the 2022 apportionments, totaling $376,614.89, which was recorded as a prior year apportionment payment, and the 2023 apportionments, totaling $2,111,047.11. The latter amount was recorded as a 2023 apportionment payment. Westbury said some churches made payments on 2023 apportionments prior to separation, while some did not.
The 2024 apportionments have not yet been dispersed, though that dollar amount, $1,329,085, was recorded as an apportionment prepayment in August. Westbury said it will be recorded as an apportionment payment in 2024, most likely recorded in January or February.
Westbury said she thinks the 2024 payments will be dispersed in March.
Beyond the apportionments, separating churches were also required to pay the conference a tithe equal to 10 percent of the appraised value of all church property and liquid assets.
However, this 10 percent and the apportionments were “two different pots,” said the Rev. Mike Wood, chair of the conference Board of Trustees.
The Rev. Mitch Houston, chair of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, said he met in August with the trustees on behalf of CF&A and requested $2.4 million from the exit fund.
As of press time, Wood said, the trustees have not yet decided what to do with the 10 percent.
About the Local Church Discernment Process
The discernment process was open to churches who believe the UMC has not upheld its stated doctrine on issues of human sexuality. The process was developed by the Trustees of the Annual Conference and the Extended Cabinet, which noted it was needed because there was no other pathway to exit the denomination for churches that agree with the existing human sexuality language in the UMC Book of Discipline.
Currently, the Discipline states that, while persons of homosexual orientation are persons of sacred worth who need the ministry and guidance of the church, the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” though the church “implores families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”
While the 2019 General Conference added Para. 2553 as a pathway for exit to the Discipline, South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said that provision only applies to those churches that disagree with the Discipline’s current language on human sexuality.
You can read about the conference’s full discernment process at https://www.umcsc.org/discern.