Recently, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church. It was designed by a group of United Methodists – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists. Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses. I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles. I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward. I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world. I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog. The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.
Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:
15. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in Fall 2021, with the new expressions becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.
- The Indianapolis timeline will need to be examined to see if it is reasonable and realistic. General Conferences for new expressions – traditionalist and progressive expressions could be established as they see fit. The continuation of the UMC will be restricted by the current Book of Discipline’s rules on calling a General Conference.
16. Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House would be established as independent 501(c)3 organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be positioned to serve any expression that desired to receive services from them.
- We will need to clarify what we mean by ‘independent’. Will they no longer by governed by the UMC? No longer have boards elected by the UMC? If they are serving multiple expressions, this type of autonomy may be best.
- Wespath will be able to create/envision a way to serve multiple denominations with boards made up of members they select from the differing denominations.
- There are legal issues here that will need to be examined regarding the tax-exempt purposes, legal considerations, and Wespath’s need to be associated with the UMC (and other like expressions) to keep their proper status as a benefits operator. Wespath will have to give clarity on these needs.
17. All other agencies would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC with mutually agreed upon initial funding, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new expression. Such agencies could also contract to serve other expressions formed in this process.
- We need more clarity here and the agencies would need to speak into this process as it relates to any legislation.
- What is “mutually agreed upon initial funding”? Would this be mediated before General Conference? Is that even possible before GC20?
- There will be questions as to whether any of the resources (restricted or unrestricted) monies can be taken from any board or agency. Some believe we can put all the reserves in a ‘pool’ and distribute them equally to new expressions. This will require some due diligence by legal counsel as to the possibility of whether that can occur. Can one give money to a charitable organization for the purpose of supporting that specific organization, then ask for it back…or ask for it to be pooled with other monies and distributed to new organizations that are outside the intent of the original gifts?
- One big question: What happens to the associated UMC organizations/entities? Children’s Homes, Foundations, Retirement Homes, Conference Camps, etc.? Will they remain with the annual conferences? Most of them have tax-exempt status under the UMC umbrella. What if they don’t want to go with the annual conference? What if they want to leave the annual conference to join a new expression?
18. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-24 quadrennium, supported by all expressions.
- Central Conference support is a big question. People from all expressions desire to remain connected to Central Conferences, but how will that happen if they join a new expression? The easiest way is to budget support in the General Conference budget over the next four years. But that raises some questions?
- Will the new denominations/expressions support this? How can that be controlled or mandated? What if the money from new expressions doesn’t come in as expected? Would the budgeted amount be reduced based on those payments not received?
- What if churches in the UMC choose not to pay that apportionment? How will that budget item be paid?
19. A process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board.
- This is the most difficult and divisive part of our conversations. The Traditional UMC wants 50% of the UMC assets. Centrists/Progressives want to “budget/send” money with new expressions but not ‘pool and divide’ assets. What amounts are we talking about? Everything? Reserves? Restricted and Unrestricted? Properties? We realized quickly that this discussion will require professional mediation. There are too many hard lines on each side to come to agreement.
- The assets, including reserves, belong to the agencies. They are separately incorporated. There are so many restrictions to consider that it would be impossible to put those assets in a ‘pool’. The easiest way to allocate monies to new expressions is to keep the UMC intact and use the General Conference budget process to budget the proportionate share of monies paid out over time. The UMC may (I’m not sure on this) be able to move unrestricted reserves for other uses…but a new expression probably can’t make that happen.
20. Mandatory retirement provisions for bishops in the U.S. would be waived until 2022. Jurisdictional conferences would not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions. Retired bishops may be used where needed to lead conferences until new bishops are elected. Bishops in the other expressions would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those expressions.
- This will need to be vetted as to whether it can be done without constitutional amendment. Would we do the same for the entire UMC including Central Conferences?
I will plan to share updates from our ongoing discussions as we adapt this plan. The Indianapolis Group has and is adding voices from differing caucuses, agencies, and perspectives as they weigh in to what we have shared so far.
My hope is that any separation of the UMC will bear witness to the highest ideals of our Christian faith. I long for the church to show the world that while we may not agree, we can separate in a way that highlights love for God and one another.