Legal Update on Sarcoxie UMC
Earlier today a Jasper County judge denied the Missouri Annual Conference’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Sarcoxie United Methodist Church but also denied to consider Sarcoxie UMC’s motion asking the Court to invalidate the trust clause. Sarcoxie UMC sued the Conference in January of this year with an intent to disaffiliate from the Conference without paying their pension obligations and other fees as outlined by the United Methodist Book of Discipline ¶2553. In today’s decision, the judge ordered the Missouri Conference and Sarcoxie into mediation by the end of July to attempt to work out terms of disaffiliation. The Conference is pleased with this decision and would prefer to negotiate terms of disaffiliation with local churches according to ecclesiastical law. The local church indicated an unwillingness to do so and filed a lawsuit instead. The judge’s recent decision will allow the Conference to revisit conversation with the local church about their responsibilities and obligations to the Conference and its members.
Payment of the disaffiliation withdrawal liability and three years of apportionments is intended to protect Missouri churches and clergy left in the connection following a church’s disaffiliation. Sarcoxie UMC, like the other churches that have filed lawsuits, seek an order nullifying the United Methodist trust clause. Although the Conference disagrees with this position, it is important to note that the value or ownership of church property plays no role in the disaffiliation process. The outcome of these cases will have no impact whatsoever on the disaffiliation process and payment. Lawsuits filed by Morning Star UMC and Schweitzer UMC earlier this year are currently in early stages and there are no further updates. Details about the process of disaffiliation are spelled out in Bishop Bob Farr’s full statement and frequently asked questions document.