As you may know, St John’s has begun conversations about becoming “dually affiliated” with the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. This is a conversation that has been brewing behind the scenes among church members, with our pastors, and staff, for some time, and began formally a couple of weeks ago at our January congregational meeting. Lots of discussion, good questions, and unbridled enthusiasm was experienced at that meeting; but here’s an update for those who missed it:

St John’s on the Lake has long been an outspoken voice for LGBT justice issues, specifically, and for progressive Christianity, more generally. These viewpoints are not as widely shared amongst our United Methodist sister churches as they are with United Church of Christ congregations (yet our unique voice within Florida Methodism would not be affected by a dual affiliation). Our theology, our hot-button issues, and our congregational practices (such as our worship style) are very closely aligned with UCC perspectives and it’s more likely that a visiting UCCer (as we like to call ourselves) would feel more immediately at home than might a visiting UMCer from elsewhere. So, firstly, our congregation has a very UCC “feel.”

Secondly, many of our newer members, active congregational participants, and staff, feel very connected to their UCC roots and while they’d like to be wholly immersed in St John’s, they don’t want to give up their UCC identity and connections! For example, most of our No Reservations folks are UCC and don’t want to leave the UCC, but feel at home here at St John’s and would like to make a commitment to the St John’s congregation. Why do they/we feel so strongly about our denominational affiliation? The reasons are many and varied but the top three are as follows:

1 – The UCC has always been a progressive voice (even since the Amistad), even knows itself as being the church of “firsts” (e.g. first woman ordained, first US African American ordained, first openly Gay man ordained, first denomination to support marriage equality, etc.) and this clear identity of being a social justice warrior is something we are proud of and don’t want to let go of.

2 – The UCC is a mainline denominational presence in the U.S., but pales in comparison to the number of congregations of the United Methodist Church, especially in Florida (the UMC has roughly 800 churches while the UCC has only 100). We don’t want the UCC to lose what limited visibility it has!

3 – Who wants to be asked to ignore their roots? Some of us have been UCC just as long as others of us have been UMC; if we were dually affiliated no one would be forced to give up their heritage.

Also, our particular set of ministries could be enhanced by being affiliated with the UCC as well as the UMC. Our views on being an “Altar for All” Church (being willing to hold same-sex weddings) are not unusual for UCC congregations. Some UCC congregations have been celebrating LGBT weddings in their sanctuaries for close to 20 years.  The denomination, as a whole, has taken such a strong stance on marriage equality that they even sued the state of North Carolina to be able to offer such ceremonies as a First Amendment right, and WON!! While UCC clergy are permitted and encouraged to be able to offer (as a ministry tool) such ceremonies by the UCC without risk—UMC clergy, covenantally bound to the UMC Book of Discipline, are currently forbidden from officiating.

Our two closest congregations on the beach, with whom we might logically share ministry efforts, are both UCC. Both the Miami Beach Congregational Church and Bal Harbor’s Church By the Sea can understand our particular ministry gifts and challenges far better than most of our UMC sister congregations (because we have no other UMC churches on Miami Beach). Thus developing a tighter and more formal bond (which would encourage a cooperative stance and discourage a relationship of competition) with them would be advantageous and helpful.

From a financial stand-point, we can only benefit from a dual affiliation:

From a denominational expense perspective, if we were either a Union Church (one unified membership roll, two denominational connections), or a Federated Church (two membership rolls within one congregation, each connected to a different wider church), our expenses would be allocated between UMC & UCC (50/50 if union, as a percentage of member identification if Federated). Thus, because UMC apportionments are assessed based on the amount of expenses a congregation spends on itself, our apportionment load would be significantly reduced (approximately cut in half, as a Union congregation). Correspondingly, within the UCC, all wider church support is voluntary. The only “expected” support would be an annual gift of $14.50 per member per year (e.g. 50 members, $725 per year, as a Union congregation). While we would expect to go beyond that basic level of wider church support, there would be no pressure from the “higher ups” to do so. In fact, if we were to give only a total of $2,500 per year to the FLUCC, we would immediately be the highest giving Florida UCC congregation of our size! Juxtapose that by the savings of approximately $12,000 in UMC apportionments and you can see that, from a financial perspective, this can only be a helpful step.

With respect to additional funding, because we have the No Reservations and new La Iglesia Unida (our Progressive Spanish Worship), we might be eligible for new church ministry grants through the UCC.  These ministries would probably NOT be of a type to be eligible for UMC grant support. Particularly, within the UCC, Latino-specific ministries are relatively new and therefore attractive for Church Development funds.

Finally, (for the purposes of this article), our staffing would become our congregational choice as well as more stream-lined. As it stands now, St. John’s senior pastor is “appointed” by the Florida Conference Bishop within the UMC. If we were to become dually affiliated, under the proposed by-laws the make-up of our Pastoral Staff would be entirely up to us. St John’s could decide they wanted to “call” a UCC Senior Pastor instead.

There are many more aspects of the change we are considering, which we will further explore in depth as we proceed with our discussions, particularly when we offer the workshops on United Methodist and United Church of Christ polity (organization, rules, and history). If you have specific questions, you can always ask or email us directly, or read the FAQs we have posted

that is posted below.

May God bless us on this journey and direct us to the right choice for our congregation’s health, vitality, and wholeness!

Union/Federated Church Conversation: FAQs

What does it mean to be dually affiliated with two separate denominations?

The United Methodist Church, in conjunction with the United Church of Christthe Evangelical Lutheran Church in Americathe Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the American Baptist Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) produced an ecumenical document in 1995 that was approved by the General Conference of 1996 and reaffirmed at each subsequent UMC General Conference. It is entitled “God’s Ecumenical Ministry, Shared: A Manual for Persons Involved in Ecumenical Shared Ministry (ESM).” It is one of several shared documents voted on by COCU (the Consultation on Church Union), and mutually affirmed by each of the official judicatory bodies of the above listed denominations.
The document makes three notable points on why ESM churches are compelling forms of ministry in our age.

  • ESMs continue to emerge because they make sense in a cooperative rather than competitive world. As we approach the third millennium, and after a century and a half of ESM history, we know that ESMs often play a vital role as an expression of “church” in communities across North America. Their median size is larger than congregations in most denominations. They are often very effective and successful partners in their communities. And most are effective in continuing the tradition of their sponsoring denominations.
  • Because ESMs tend to be open to new possibilities, they can often attract imaginative and creative leaders, both clergy and laity. Using resources from more than one denomination offers pastors and other professional staff opportunities for growth.
  • The diversity of ESM congregations allows them to be more inclusive and to participate in unique forms of mission, such as interracial programs, ecumenical youth ministries, international partnerships, and global peace initiatives.
What does the United Methodist Book of Discipline say about congregations that dually affiliate with two or more denominations?

Section III, Ecumenical Ministries, Paragraphs 207 and 208 of the 2012 Book of Discipline, pp.147-148, states:

  • (Paragraph 207) “Local churches, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may respond to opportunities for ecumenical resource sharing in their communities by creating ecumenical shared ministries, working with local congregations of other Christian churches to enhance ministry, make wise stewardship of limited resources, and live out the ecumenical spirit in creative ways responsive to the needs of God’s peoples as well as to opportunities for expanded mission and ministry.”
  • (Paragraph 208) “Definition—Ecumenical shared ministries are ecumenical congregations formed by a local United Methodist church and one or more local congregations of other Christian traditions. Forms of ecumenical shared ministries include
  1. Federated Church, in which one congregation is related to two or more denominations, with persons choosing to hold membership in one or the other of the denominations (split Membership Roll);
  2.  A Union Church, in which a congregation with one unified membership roll is related to two or more denominations (combined Membership Roll);
  3. Merged Church, in which two or more congregations of different denominations form one congregation that relates to only one of the constituent denominations;
  4. Yoked Parish, in which congregations of different denominations share a pastor.
What kind of Ecumenical Shared Ministry is St John’s leadership recommending to the congregation?

A Federated or Union Church model (a or b), see above.

What is Ecumenical?

Merriam-Webster describes Ecumenical as:
: involving people from different kinds of Christian churches
Full Definition of ECUMENICAL
1:  worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application
2  a :  of, relating to, or representing the whole of a body of churches
b :  promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation
Ecumenical is the relationship of different Christian denominations (Methodist, Disciples, Presbyterian, UCC, etc.), while interfaith/inter-spiritual is the relationship of different religions (Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Wiccan, Hindu, etc.).

What are the consequences of our property?

Because St John’s on the Lake is historically a United Methodist Church, our current property and all financial assets and liabilities up to the point of union, will remain United Methodist.  The UMC Discipline, Paragraph 209, states that all ESMs shall develop a clear covenant of mission, set of bylaws, or articles of agreement that include recognition of the UMC property clause. The UMC, like the Episcopal and the Evangelical Lutheran Churches, states that the property—even though held in trust by the local congregation—remains under the authority of the District Board of Church Location and Building (regarding selling, capital improvements, etc.) and the Conference Trustees (regarding abandonment of property). Paragraph 2548 (pp. 757-758) does make a provision for deeding church property to Federated or Union churches, but at this time, our plan is to state clearly in our bylaws that the property will remain United Methodist even as the congregation itself is dually aligned with the UCC & UMC.

Does the Bishop or District Superintendent need to approve a Union (or Federated) Church?

Strictly speaking—no. The UMC Discipline leaves this process completely up to the local congregation. The only thing that the bishop and district superintendent must approve is if we decided to somehow change the status of the property.  They must also see that we follow the Disciplinary rules regarding development of bylaws, articles of incorporation, etc. (Paragraph 209). However, we will make both our Bishop and our District Superintendent aware that we are having these conversations. It is important to us that all discussion remains open and that we have their blessings, when and if a final congregational vote occurs.

Will being dually aligned with the UMC and UCC allow us to bypass the UMC Book of Discipline’s restrictions on conducting same-sex unions/marriages on our property?

No. Our property remains under the rules and restrictions laid out in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.  Because our congregation has chosen the “Altar for All” stance (to allow same-sex unions/weddings on our property), we will still be, technically, violating the Book of Discipline just as we were before voting to be a Union Church. However, as we discussed prior to claiming that designation, there have been NO congregations sanctioned for offering these ceremonies to date within the UMC (the only negative consequences have been for the clergy-persons themselves).

Will our clergy be able to conduct same-sex weddings if we become a Union Church?

Ordained or licensed United Methodist ministers are bound by the covenant of the United Methodist Discipline regardless of the church’s status as a Union Church.  If any UMC Clergy, appointed as a pastor at St. John’s chooses to openly conduct a same-sex wedding, he or she risks the consequences of disobeying the Discipline regardless whether St. John’s remains UMC only or also dually affiliates with the UMC and UCC.

If St John’s dually aligns and subsequently chooses a UCC clergyperson as its next pastor, as an ordained UCC minister she or he would similarly be bound by a different covenant as set forth as a UCC minister, which does not restrict its clergy from conducting gay weddings. In our case, UCC pastors of St John’s could conduct same-sex unions without penalty from the UMC—but these could not celebrated at St. John’s without further violating UMC church law.

Would the next pastoral selection follow the UMC Appointment process (Request the bishop to send a pastor) or the UCC Call process (The congregation does a national search)?

The dually aligned bylaws of St John’s would state that our aim would be to alternate between systems. If the previous pastor was UMC, the congregation would aim for the next pastor to be UCC. However, the bylaws would also state that congregation would do what is in the best interest of St John’s, so the congregation might choose sequential UMC pastors or sequential UCC pastors instead of alternating.

Regardless, by being a Union Church the congregation has more flexibility in the pastoral selection process, including choosing interim pastors, than being only aligned with the UMC.

If St John’s wanted to hire an LGBT minister, could the congregation do that?

Having the flexibility to use the call system in the UCC would allow St John’s to call an open LGBTQ clergy as its minister or associate minister, though that person’s status would likely not be recognized by the UMC, who prefers unspoken “don’t ask; don’t tell” guidelines when it comes to LGBTQ clergy.

What will happen regarding our United Methodist Apportionments if we become a Federated or Union Church?

Even when financial circumstances have been such that we have not been able to pay 100% of our UMC Apportionments, it has always been our goal to do so. This will not change.

However, since Apportionments are assessed based on the church’s operating budget and we will be turning in half our budget to each denomination, our UMC Apportionments will be significantly reduced, perhaps as much as half.

By being aligned with the UCC, we will also take on the commitment to pay dues to the Florida Conference of the UCC, as well as missional offerings to the larger UCC.  The Conference suggests, but does not require, $14.50 per member per year. We would make this a requirement in our budget.

The bottom line is that being dually aligned will exponentially decrease our Apportionments and the UCC commitments will not add a huge amount onto our budget. We will seek to pay 100% of commitments to both denominations.

Will new members be joining the UMC or the UCC?

New members will join St John’s.  For reporting sake, should we choose to become a Union Church, we will divide our budget in half, and individual members will be free to call themselves UCC, UMC, or simply a member of St John’s. Should we instead choose to become a Federated Congregation, then we would allocate our expenses based upon the ratio of members choosing each denomination. The Union Church model recognizes that we are dually affiliated, but unlike the Federated Church model, does not divide the congregation into separate membership rolls.

Will our name change?

Yes; slightly. Our name would likely be St John’s on the Lake Church or St John’s on the Lake United Church.  A name change will require a congregational vote. Our sign, website, business cards, etc., will follow the lead of other dually-aligned churches, so might look something like “St John’s on the Lake—United Methodist & United Church of Christ” or “St John’s on the Lake United Church—A Congregation of the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.” Something like that.

Are there other local models of congregations that have Ecumenical Shared Ministries?

Yes, within the Florida Conference UCC, there is one other Union Church (Good Samaritan Church in Pinellas Park) with affiliations with the UCC and the Presbyterian Church. Currently in Florida, there are no other Union or Federated Congregations, within either the UMC or the UCC. There are quite a few such congregations (both UMC & UCC) across the U.S. We have been in contact, seeking advice from, a UMC-UCC Union models in the Austin TX area, Trinity United Church. Other parts of the country have a significant number of Union and Federated Churches.

If the bishop appoints our current UMC pastor elsewhere, what happens? Who would be our minister?

If the Bishop appoints our pastor elsewhere, it will be because the Bishop and cabinet believe he or she is needed more elsewhere. (Which by UMC Discipline, has always been the right and prerogative of the Conference’s presiding Bishop). Under the by-laws being proposed, as a Union Church, St John’s will have the option of choosing to ask the Bishop for a new appointment of someone who meets the qualifications desired by St John’s and laid out in Paragraph 211 above, or St John’s will have the option using the “congregational call” system supported by the UCC structure and polity.

Does the UMC have to approve us becoming a Union Church?

Strictly speaking, there is no vote or approval process for becoming a Union Church other than a vote by our own local church of St John’s on the Lake. The only exception to this would be if we wanted to change the current property (financial assets and liabilities) to something other than the United Methodist Church or even divide it.  We have no intention to do so.  Our property will remain under the umbrella of United Methodist, even though our congregation will be related to both the UCC and UMC. Our Bishop and District Superintendent, will want to be assured that our Union Church constitution and by-laws make this very clear. With all this said, we would like our Bishop’s and District Superintendent’s blessings in this process because it is our intention to remain in good relationship with the Florida Conference.

Will St John’s be treated differently by the United Methodist Bishop and District Superintendent if we become a Union Church?

The UMC Book of Discipline provides very clear instructions on how Bishops and District Superintendents are to work with Union Churches.

Paragraph 210 of the 2012 Discipline states: “Cabinets, conference staff and other leaders shall be expected to work with ecumenical shared ministries at their inception as well as maintaining avenues of vital relationship and connection to the United Methodist Church, while recognizing that such avenues must also be maintained with the denominational partners in ministries.”

Furthermore, Paragraph 211 states: “Cabinets shall be urged to give priority in the appointment process to the providing of ecumenical shared ministries with pastoral leaders who have demonstrated commitment to ecumenism and who exhibit a clear appreciation for a variety of denominational expressions and polities.”

Are the UMC and UCC far apart theologically?

Both the UMC and the UCC are what is typically termed “mainline denominations” within the U.S. This means that both denominations (as well as the Presbyterian, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Lutherans) have seen large support within our culture and history and are accepted as having “appropriate” Christian beliefs and practices. The UCC is, by far, the largest Protestant denomination in the Northeast (particularly New England), even though it is virtually invisible in the deep South.

The biggest difference between the two is that the UMC (being the largest mainline church) seems to prefer the status quo, while the UCC keeps pushing the progressive boundaries of ministry within our culture. It almost always takes a position on the leading edge
(some UCCers would say it’s more like the “bleeding edge” because the UCC regularly faces backlash from more conservative and fundamentalist Christians).

Surprisingly enough, it should be recognized that many people at St John’s have difficulty with the same types of theological issues (e.g. “blood theology” and “hell and damnation”) and ministry practices (exclusionary membership tactics and exclusive/imperialistic language) as most UCCers . Therefore, our congregation veers a bit from a centrist UMC Congregation but in precisely the same ways and for the same reasons as a typical UCC congregation would.

In reality, the St John’s way of looking at our faith is much more in line with the UCC’s typical foci than it is with the UMC, especially in the deep South.

What is the legal history behind/of our property?

The United Methodist Church, like other connectional mainline Christian denominations (Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church-USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, etc.) have been bound by a property clause. In the UMC the property, debt, insurance, and financial assets belong to the local church. However, if the local church chooses to do major renovations, or sell or buy property, these actions must be approved by the District Committee on Church Locations and Building.  If a UMC property is abandoned, it becomes the property and responsibility of the Conference Board of Trustees.

A recent case in the Episcopal Church has challenged the property clause laws in the US. In the court case, the local church – which was trying to hold onto their property after leaving the denomination – actually won the case and was able to keep the property. This was immediately challenged by the Episcopal Church but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear it, which means it effectively becomes legal for the local church to hold onto the property as its own.

However, this does not apply to us because we are not leaving the UMC and will continue have annual Charge Conference meetings with the District Superintendent.  As a Union Church, we would continue to relate the UMC as well as the UCC. Our property up to the point of Union remains under the authority and direction of the United Methodist Discipline.

If at some point in the future St. John’s on the Lake decides to sell or buy our property, or should the General Conference vote to allow congregations who take issue with the conservative approaches currently held in the Book of Discipline to leave the UMC and take their property with them (as is being proposed for this 2016 General Conference’s consideration), this will have to be revisited.

AS another example, if we wanted to buy a piece of property in which we could hold gay marriages, we would likely want that property to be owned by the UCC portion of self-identity, not the UMC, so as not to be confined by the UMC restrictions.  But again, this is a moot concern at this point because we plan to be part of both denominations, and we are not selling our current property, nor abandoning it.

How does our position, primarily as a Reconciling Congregation, in the UMC affect our place in the work for justice in the UMC?

For many years, St John’s was the only Reconciling Congregation in our conference, and we are currently the only Altar for All congregation. Would becoming a Union Church diminish our witness? We don’t know, but have no reason to anticipate that it will.  Now there are three congregations in our conference affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network and another that will likely vote to affiliate sometime this year. The LGBTQ witness isn’t all leaning on us anymore so we have more freedom to pursue what is best for our own congregation in order to maintain our values going forward.

In addition, we are not leaving the UMC.  We will still be a part of the Florida Conference and the Southeast District, and our senior pastor, Glenn, is still a member of the Florida Conference as an ordained elder.  None of this will change.  We will simply be adding the UCC to our affiliation, not dropping the UMC.

There may be some United Methodists who will use our dual affiliation to discount our impact, but we have already had churches and clergy for decades whom have attempted to discount our impact because of our Reconciling affiliation or because of our work in Progressive Christianity.

Does the UCC have any requirements as far as ritual or Sunday worship?

No. The UCC is congregational and non-hierarchical, so the ritual and a worship life of the church are up to the local congregation.

Is this a short-term or long-term action?

This is a long term action. While our primary motivation for exploring dual alignment with the UCC came out of the UMC’s increasing tightening of the screws, both ethically and concerning polity, this is not a stop-gap measure that we will reverse. St. John’s on the Lake’s leadership simply believes the UCC closely aligns with St. John’s on the Lake’s congregational values of inclusiveness in both theology and in social justice.

Because we plan to continue to be very much committed to the United Methodist Church as well, we are not seeking to become a UCC church only, but one that allows us to continue to work toward change in the UMC while providing the ability for us to be connected to a denomination – the UCC – that more closely aligns with our values and culture as a congregation, and that allows more freedom for individual congregations to determine their own path and values.

What are the potential negative impacts?

At this point we can think of none. Up until relatively recently, the UMC General Conference consistently made it a chargeable offense for clergy to conduct same-sex unions or our local churches to provide same-sex ceremonies.

Now, with multiple congregations in our conference connected to the Reconciling Ministries Network, our Bishop’s public stance on clergy participation in same-sex marriages, and our Annual Conference’s 2015 vote to handle any clergy complaints with a “just resolution process” instead of charges; we do not think our UMC witness will be diluted. We believe becoming a Union Church will only impact us positivity.

We send delegates to the UMC. Would we have similar involvement with the UCC?

Yes, we would send delegates to both the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ (of which, Pastor Gaye is an Board Officer and Treasurer).

Would this be a burden administratively?

No. There would be slightly more paperwork in order for us to be accountable to both the UMC as well as the UCC, but this would not be a burden.

What is the UCC equivalent to Apportionments?

Another way this question has been asked is, “How will this affect our finances?”

First of all, this vote is not about money. However, this will change our apportionments to the UMC and involve commitments to the UCC.  Our budget will be allocated in two – one half (as a Union Church) or the appropriate membership ratio (as a Federated Church) falling under the UMC, the other the UCC. The UMC requires apportionments based on the congregation’s operating, non-mission budget. With split budget, our UMC apportionments may be significantly lower.

There is no real equivalent to Apportionments in the UCC.  The UCC does not require Apportionments, but do suggest that congregations send $14.50 a year per member to the Florida Conference.  In addition to this suggested per member amount to the local association, we would strive to give the same or more to the general church of the UCC. Similar to the 5 Star Church Challenge in the UMC, there is a Challenge Goal of 5 special offerings in the UCC that we will give to as well.

After dual alignment, we plan to continue our tradition of taking up special offerings in addition to the offering toward our operating budget, usually toward mission and justice ministries.  After dual alignment, we will add offerings toward the UCC in addition to those we send to the larger UMC; so, for instance, we will not only support the Reconciling Ministries Network—the effort within the UMC for LGBTQ inclusion, but we will do the same for the O&A (Open and Affirming) movement within the UCC.

Will the UCC need to approve our action of becoming a Union Church?

Yes, this happens by vote of lay and clergy members in the Florida Conference of the UCC.  We have begun dialog with them, will participate in some of their meetings, will offer both a UMC as well as a UCC history and polity class at St. John’s on the Lake (which we hope will be well attended), and will meet with particular UCC committees and officials.

They are fully aware of our process but can only take formal action after we have had a congregational vote approving dual/federated alignment. Their Conference Minister (equivalent to our Bishop) has indicated that they would be very happy to have us join them and don’t anticipate any obstacles, but have also made very clear that this is our decision not theirs, and is based on the timeline that works best for us.