(Rev. Kelli Hitchman-Craig) - Following a difficult year processing over 190 church disaffiliations, the Alabama-West Florida Conference Board of Trustees is proud to share their newly adopted re-affiliation policy. The policy was developed in response to a motion made by Dr. Nathan Attwood, Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church Marianna, FL, during the 2023 session of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference held at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama.
In his motion, Dr. Attwood implored the body to remember the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. He urged, “On the very day that the Prodigal Son left home, the father began to make preparations for his return, and so it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ, as the spiritual home of the churches who have left, to make sure that the light is on, there’s a plate in the oven, and that we are ready to receive them with open arms, with the robe and the ring.” The AWF Board of Trustees has been hard at work since the close of the June Annual Conference session to accomplish just that—creating a policy that welcomes home those churches who have disaffiliated and, like the Prodigal Son, now wish to return home.
When the news of the Trustees’ re-affiliation policy reached Dr. Attwood, he reflected, “When our denomination divided in 1844 over the issue of slavery, the deepest division in our history, it took 95 years for reconciliation to take place; and that process is still ongoing. There’s no reason it should take 95 years or more for us to reconcile. The sooner reconciliation begins, the sooner Christ’s prayer for us can be fulfilled.”
In a recent interview, Dr. Attwood shared, “We’ve talked about disaffiliation for long enough, the conversation needs to turn towards reconciliation.” He continued, “Our communication about how to disaffiliate has been so clear, it should be just as clear for churches to learn how to come home.” In the wake of disaffiliation, many churches have not aligned with a new denominational home. Many are left with questions about who will fill their pulpits and preside over their sacraments. As those churches weigh their options, Dr. Attwood’s motion serves as a hopeful reminder “that there is always the option of going home.”
As the Conference Board of Trustees approached this work, they did so in a spirit of hopefulness. The Board is made up of a mix of both laity and clergy, men and women, with several occupational backgrounds. Board Chair, Rev. Emily Kincaid, shared “It’s a very hard-working board, we’re honored to serve our Annual Conference.” “The Board was very excited to consider and pass the policy; we are grateful for the request that came from Dr. Attwood.” She continued, “this is the most life-giving work of what the Board has been doing.”
The policy itself sets out a path for disaffiliated churches who wish to re-affiliate with the United Methodist Church. The framework of the new policy is ¶259 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which governs new church starts. The policy applies to congregations who bring with them church property. Congregations without church property are admitted into the connection through a different procedure. Terms for re-affiliation include a core group of congregants, financial stability, and the transferal of the property’s deed to the Annual Conference, as laid out in the Trust Clause (¶2501). The procedure to re-affiliate is similar to that of disaffiliating: it requires a meeting with the District Superintendent, articulation of why the church wishes to re-affiliate, and an affirmative vote by the church’s leadership structure and congregation. The results of the vote are then taken to Conference leadership for approval; there is no vote by the Annual Conference for readmittance. Should the re-affiliating church be within three years of their decision to disaffiliate, the first year’s connectional giving, or apportionments, are waived.
Following the Trustees adoption of the policy, Rev. Kincaid reflected, “This season of disaffiliation has had so much grief, so to think about reconciliation and reaffirmation has been really hopeful! This is what we’re supposed to be about— the ministry of Jesus is reconciliation!” When asked about her hopes for the policy, Rev. Kincaid responded, “We hope that the policy will be used a whole lot, that will make us really happy!”
If you or your congregation is interested in re-affiliating with the United Methodist Church, contact our DSs here.