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To Hold in Trust

This reflection is the second in a series from the leadership of the California-Pacific Annual Conference on the unity of our annual conference and our future within the United Methodist Church.

Some things are as Methodist as Methodist can be. Many might easily name the centrality of grace or the process of holy conferencing. Others might list our shared giving through apportionments or the many ways connectionalism is expressed. Many may not know, however, that one of the benchmarks of connectionalism that goes back to Wesley himself is the Trust Clause. A ‘Model Deed,’ informed by Wesley’s deeds from 1750, along with the mandate for a trust clause in all church property documents, first appeared in the American Methodist Book of Discipline (BOD) in 1797. 

Over two hundred years later, this requirement is still mandated by the current BOD. This clause is included in the legal documents and deeds of local church property and assets that affirm that such things are held “in trust” for the benefit of the entire denomination. It is a “fundamental expression of United Methodism whereby local churches and other agencies and institutions within the denomination are held accountable to and benefit from their connection with the entire worldwide Church.” (¶ 2501) 

Across the generations, our connectional system has called us to focus not on what is best for us individually or as independent congregations but to cast a broader vision, seeking what is best for the whole connection. United Methodists today are beneficiaries of the gifts and stewardship of Methodists that came before us. They built and sustained the church in their time to allow future United Methodist ministry to continue. The trust clause is one way we seek to be bound with a shared vision and mission in the service of Christ and ensures that United Methodist property will continue to be used for ministries and purposes of The United Methodist Church offered by future generations.  

This clause is particularly relevant to us today as congregations consider whether they want to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church under a time-limited paragraph, ¶2553 (2016 BOD addendum), approved by the 2019 Special-Called Session of the General Conference. This legislation gave Annual Conference Boards of Trustees the responsibility, in consultation with the Bishop, Cabinet, and other appropriate leaders, to establish the terms and conditions that need to be met for a congregation that votes to disaffiliate. One of those terms concerns the disbursement of property. Property matters vary significantly across the connection, so the leadership in each Annual Conference was able to consider their context and needs as they established the parameters for disaffiliation. 

In the California-Pacific Annual Conference, churches voting to leave the United Methodist Church must contribute 50% of the appraised value of all church-owned property to the Annual Conference if they vote to disaffiliate with their property assets. This appraisal will be established on the property remaining a church and not on the property’s potential value for other development types. Understanding that property values in our Annual Conference are very high, this approach to the appraisal value will help lower, in some places, significantly the contribution that a disaffiliating congregation will have to make.  

While this contribution is significant for those congregations seeking to leave, it allows them to continue their future ministry at and in their current property, retaining it at only 50% of its value. The 50% contribution honors the previous Methodist generations that have been in ministry and mission at those congregations and acknowledge the deep roots of this Methodist understanding that the property is not ours. Further, the 50% contribution provides resources to establish new United Methodist ministries. District Superintendents’ primary task is to serve as Missional Strategists for their areas. They work with the District Planning and Strategy Committees and the District Union to envision and begin new outreach to places that will no longer be served by any particular congregation that leaves the United Methodist Church.  

‘To hold in trust’ is a fundamental tenet of being a United Methodist congregation. It reminds us that we belong to each other and that the property we have is not our own. The property is also not owned by the Annual Conferences to do whatever it pleases. The Conference also holds property in trust for the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church. It is ultimately God’s property, a gift we are called to steward to share Christ’s love with all those around us. 

Rev. Sandra K. Olewine
South District Superintendent