Author: Donald P. Wiley, Philanthropy, Estate Planning and Probate Attorney – Lay Reserve Delegate, North Texas Conference
Daniel Soliz, First Alternate Lay Delegate, North Texas Conference
Rev. Owen Ross, clergy delegate, Director, Center for Church Development, North Texas Conference
Tim Crouch, lay delegate, Chair, North Texas Conference delegation
John Wesley gave us his 3 Simple Rules. As we approach the special session of the General Conference, we need to keep those rules in mind in all of our decisions.
Rule # 1 Do No Harm
Rule # 2 Do Good
Rule # 3 Attend to the Ordinances of God, or,
as Bishop Reuben Job put it: “Stay in Love with God!”
The Unintended Consequences of Rushing To Exit
Many are in a rush to come up with quick, cut-and-paste plans of exit without thoughts of the unintended consequences. As a philanthropy and estate planning attorney with forty years of practice, when I think about Rule # 1, three very likely scenarios come to mind… without simple answers:
- Joe Bob Wesley, a homebound but devoted member of 1stUMC, Cut N Shoot, TX for 60 years, has made a gift of $1,000,000 in his will to “1st UMC Cut N Shoot” , or “The 1st UMC Cut N Shoot Foundation”. After GC 2019, the church votes to leave. Two years later, Joe Bob dies, his will unchanged. 1st UMC Cut N Shoot, a new church plant by the UMC, is excited about the $1,000,000 gift. Cut N Shoot New Methodist Church, Joe Bob’s old church sues, saying the money should be theirs.
- Joe Bob Wesley gave $500,000 to 1st UMC Cut N Shoot, TX, or the 1st UMC Cut N Shoot Foundation as the first part of a documented $1,000,000 endowment fund for the 1st UMC Cut N Shoot Mission School in Honduras. The church votes to leave. Joe Bob now wants his money back and sues… because the church has violated the terms of his endowment – it is no longer 1st UMC Cut N Shoot, TX, but Cut N Shoot New Methodist Church …
surviving children and grandchildren of Joe Bob Wesley, long since passed, sue
the Cut N Shoot New Methodist Church Foundation, the Foundation of the former 1st UMC Cut N Shoot, TX for return of the principal gifts since:
- such gifts were made to the United Methodist Church pursuant to the trust clause;
- the Foundation had a letter agreement with the UMC for use of its tax exempt status as a subsidiary organization; and
- because the church and foundation are no longer part of the UMC, such funds are no longer being used for their intended charitable purpose and, according to the will, revert to the heirs of Joe Bob.
You might say, ‘this will never happen’… ‘this is far-fetched’: I will simply say unless we take time to catch a breath and prayerfully consider what we have done, after we have made choices
- these scenarios will happen
- these and their variations are not far-fetched at all; and
- there is no way to begin to plan for possible exits of congregations with related foundations, nonprofit ministries, unimproved property and management of hundreds of scenarios like those outlined above in the short time we have in St. Louis.
With Wesley’s rules in mind, I believe all plans for exit should be referred to a group charged with developing recommendations for solutions to issues related to appointments, itineracy, the trust clause, pensions plan and related exit issues. The recommendations of that group, with supporting legislation for moving forward, would be reported to the 2020 General Conference.