Q&A: Mt Bethel UMC

 

On July 12, 2021, attorneys for the Board of Trustees of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church advised current leadership of Mt. Bethel UMC and their attorneys that agencies of the Conference have determined that “exigent circumstances” threaten the future of this local church. Given this determination, all assets of the local church have transferred immediately to the Conference Board of Trustees. While the transfer of assets is effective immediately, the Board of Trustees has given the acting leaders of the local church 10 days within which to complete the transfer.

 

What are the exigent circumstances at Mt. Bethel UMC?

In recent months, acting leaders of the church have taken steps that constitute exigent circumstances under the policies of The United Methodist Church. These include:

  • signing a 20-year lease of property to the Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, Inc. without complying with the policies outlined in the Book of Discipline,
  • changing its governance structure without convening a Charge Conference when it formed a seven-person executive committee (Such a committee does not exist in the established governance structure for churches as described in the BOD),
  • sought to limit the role of the appointed pastor-in-charge and not accepting the properly appointed interim pastor,
  • hiring a lay “chief executive officer/preaching pastor” for its United Methodist pulpit without required approvals,
  • making plans to use credit lines, transfer interests in assets, and sell property without Administrative Council or Charge Conference approvals,
  • failing to convene a Charge Conference necessary to properly elect a new Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee Chair when the previous Chair stepped down.
     

Was the church aware of the potential for these actions?

The acting church leaders were fully aware.

Legal representatives of the Board of Trustees of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church communicated to Mt. Bethel’s registered agent, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and secretary in June that the church was no longer in good standing due to certain actions. These leaders were offered help in righting the situation. No resolution came from this communication.
 

What Boards and Committees were involved in this decision?

The Central West District Committee on Building and Location, the North Georgia Conference Appointive Cabinet and the Bishop, and the Conference Board of Trustees have all spent hours prayerfully discerning next steps. There has been additional consultation with legal counsel, the Conference Committee on Finance and Administration, and others.
 

What does “closure” mean in this situation?

Mt Bethel is not technically “closed.“ Rather under Discipline paragraph 2549.3.b, “title to all the real and personal, tangible and intangible property of the local church” have been immediately transferred to the conference Board of Trustees “who may hold or dispose of such property in its sole discretion.” Therefore, all assets of Mt Bethel UMC are now the property of the conference Board of Trustees and the local church has no assets or property. Unless this crisis is resolved by that time, the annual conference in June 2022 will decide whether to formally close the local church. In the meantime, the conference Board of Trustees will control all of the assets. 

What does this mean for members of Mt. Bethel?

It is of utmost importance to the Board of Trustees and Conference leaders that worship and ministry continue at Mt. Bethel. We recognize that the actions being taken by a small group of leaders do not reflect the larger congregation. Be assured that this present crisis will pass.
 

What does this mean for employees of Mt. Bethel?

The Trustees hope to see worship and ministry continue at the Mt. Bethel church property and will work with existing employees to facilitate such work.
 

What does this mean for the Mt. Bethel Christian Academy?

The Trustees are aware of the important work of the Mt Bethel Christian Academy and hope to see ongoing Christian education through the Academy. The Trustees are committed to working with the Academy staff, faculty, and families to see that its important work can continue without interruption.
 

When does this go into effect?

This action is effective immediately as of July 12, 2021, but the Board of Trustees have given church leaders 10 days to complete the transfer.
 

What happens after 10 days?

Once the Board of Trustees has gained legal/physical control of all assets, it will engage the services of a CFO to provide appropriate supervision and oversight of all church financial matters. Until that time, functions of the church, including those that are financial in nature, are anticipated to continue as is.
 

Is this related to disaffiliation?

This situation is unrelated to disaffiliation, differences of opinion, or theology. What has occurred is simply a rejection by the leadership of the rules and procedures for our church as outlined in the Book of Discipline and amount to an obstruction of the appointment process and polity of The United Methodist Church.
 

Have Conference leaders refused to meet with Mt. Bethel leadership?
At the request of the Bishop, the appointed Pastor-in-Charge has requested on numerous occasions to meet with the Administrative Council. Those requests went unanswered. Conference leadership has declined to meet with the “Executive Team” because they lack any official capacity in United Methodist polity. 
 

When will Rev. Dr. Steven Usry become Pastor in Charge and begin to give leadership into God’s future for Mt. Bethel?

His appointment as “Pastor-in-Charge” began July 1, 2021.  Rev. Dr. Usry has been working tirelessly and as best he could given the unfortunate circumstances created by a small group of leaders at Mt. Bethel.  He has been developing relationships and he looks forward to the first possible opportunity to give worship, pastoral, and administrative leadership for the community of faith of Mt. Bethel.


Previous Updates on this Situation

July 3, 2021 – Pastoral Letter from Bishop Sue: Updates on Mt. Bethel UMC
https://www.ngumc.org/newsdetail/update-on-appointment-at-mt-bethel-15295017

June 11, 2021 - Video Conversation on the Appointment Process
https://www.ngumc.org/newsdetail/at-the-table-a-conversation-on-the-appointment-process-15275557

April 26, 2021 – Pastor Letter from Bishop Sue: Update on Appointment Announcements
https://www.ngumc.org/newsdetail/pastoral-letter-15211068


Background and Definitions

Book of Discipline

The Book of Discipline outlines the law, doctrine, administration, organizational work, and procedures of The United Methodist Church. Each General Conference (global meeting) of The United Methodist Church amends The Book of Discipline, and the actions of the General Conference are reflected in quadrennial revisions. 

Trust Clause

In The United Methodist Church, church assets are held “in trust for the benefit of the entire denomination.”

The United Methodist Trust Clause is a part of church law whereby every church building and church assets are held “in trust for the benefit of the entire denomination.”

Book of Discipline paragraph 2501: “All properties of United Methodist local churches and other United Methodist agencies and institutions are held, in trust, for the benefit of the entire denomination, and ownership and usage of church property is subject to the Discipline. This trust requirement is an essential element of the historic polity of The United Methodist Church or its predecessor denominations or communions and has been a part of the Discipline since 1797.
 

Conference Board of Trustees

Like many organizations, the North Georgia Conference holds and is responsible to steward a variety of property assets aimed at supporting its mission, which in our case is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our Board of Trustees is charged with the responsibility, and is vested with the authority, to steward property assets held in trust by our Annual Conference, on behalf of our Annual Conference. In addition to receiving, collecting, and holding in trust such assets, another critically important dimension of this Board’s responsibility, as outlined in our Book of Discipline, is to “intervene and take all necessary legal steps to safeguard and protect the interests and rights of the annual conference anywhere and in all matters relating to property and rights to property whether arising by gift, devise, or otherwise, or where held in trust or established for the benefit of the annual conference or its membership.” (Book of Discipine ¶ 2512)
 

Appointment Process

“Itinerancy” refers specifically to the commitment made by pastors to go and serve wherever their bishop sends them.

Before they are ordained or licensed, clergy in The United Methodist Church agree to serve where their bishop appoints them. Appointments are for one year at a time. For full-time ordained clergy, the goal is to match the gifts and graces of the particular pastor with the ministry needs of a particular congregation in a particular season. In this leadership pattern, no two consecutive pastors are alike – over time, the combination of skills blends to form a broad base of developed ministries.

While bishops make appointments, they incorporate a consultative process outlined in The Book of Discipline that includes district superintendents, pastors, and staff/parish relations committees. The needs and desires of clergy are considered, and ultimately “the mission of the church comes first.”