What comes after General Conference deadline?


Key Points:

  • A lot has changed since the pandemic postponed The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly from its original May 2020 schedule to now 2024.
  • Those changes include new legislative proposals for General Conference delegates to consider.
  • Preparing all the legislation to be available in multiple languages takes time.

The September deadline to submit legislation to General Conference has come and gone. So, what’s next?

The coming months will provide a fuller picture of the proposals up for consideration when The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly next meets. The long-delayed General Conference is now planned for April 23-May 3, 2024 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

What is already clear is that the global pandemic and U.S. church disaffiliations have reshaped the international meeting originally scheduled in Minneapolis for May 2020. 

That year — before COVID shut down international travel and the meeting’s Minneapolis venue — General Conference delegates expected their main concern would be deciding how to split the international, 13-million-member denomination after decades of intensifying disagreement over LGBTQ inclusion.

Now, the big meeting will have a new location, a number of new delegates and new possibilities for how United Methodists across four continents might chart a future together.

Proposals coming before General Conference delegates next year include:

  • Worldwide Regionalization, submitted by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. Under the plan, the denomination’s seven current central conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines as well as the U.S. would each become United Methodist regional conferences with the same duties and powers to pass legislation for greater missional impact in their respective regions. The creation of the regional conferences around the globe requires amending the denomination’s constitution. Amendments must receive at least a two-thirds vote at General Conference and at least two-thirds of the total votes from church regional bodies called annual conferences.
  • Revised Social Principles, submitted by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The United Methodist Social Principles are General Conference-approved social teachings, designed for Sunday school classes, Bible studies, pulpit preaching, seminary classes and public advocacy. In 2012, General Conference authorized an effort to make the Social Principles more succinct, theologically grounded and globally relevant. The revised version coming before delegates for a vote is the result of a multiyear process involving input from more than 4,000 United Methodists around the globe. Passing the revised Social Principles requires a majority vote.
  • “Sent in Love: A United Methodist Understanding of the Church,” submitted by the United Methodist Committee on Faith and Order. This proposal, also the work of an international church body, aims to become The United Methodist Church’s official theological teaching document on ecclesiology — that is, the denomination’s understanding of church and the purpose it serves. If adopted by General Conference, it will join the denomination’s theological statements on baptism, “By Water and the Spirit,” and communion, “This Holy Mystery.”
  • Full communion with The Episcopal Church, submitted by the Council of Bishops. Full communion means each denomination acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the validity of each other’s baptism and Eucharist, and commits to work together in ministry. Such an agreement also means Episcopalians and United Methodists can share clergy. Episcopalians expect to vote on the agreement when they meet in June 2024. The United Methodist Church already has full-communion agreements with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Uniting Church in Sweden, five historically Black Pan-Methodist denominations and the Moravian Church in North America.  The United Methodist Church and Episcopal Church share historic ties to John Wesley’s Church of England
  • Connectional Table Board Make-Up, submitted by the Connectional Table. The United Methodist leadership body that coordinates the denomination’s mission and ministry has submitted legislation to makes its board smaller and more global in representation. The proposal would reduce the Connectional Table from a 64-member board with 49 voting members to a 60-member board with 44 voting members. Under the proposal, voting members would include six bishops, a youth or young adult from the Division on Ministries with Young People, five representatives of racial-ethnic caucuses and five members each from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Also among the voting members would be the presidents of 10 general agencies and two other denomination-wide bodies.

Getting legislation into a format that is readily accessible for a multinational and multilingual denomination takes time.

By denominational rules, the Advance Daily Christian Advocate — which contains the petitions and reports requiring General Conference action — must be available to delegates in four languages: English, French, Portuguese and Kiswahili. It also must be available at least 90 days before the assembly begins. That date is Jan. 22 for next year’s gathering.

Key terms to know

General Conference is both a big, international meeting and the only body that can speak for the whole church. Like any legislative body, General Conference also has some of its own lingo. Here are some terms that will have you talking like a General Conference veteran. 

The Book of Discipline: The United Methodist Church’s policy book that contains its law, doctrine, constitution, organizational work and procedures. Each General Conference amends the Book of Discipline.

The Book of Resolutions: This volume contains resolutions or pronouncements on issues that General Conference has approved. The text of any resolution is considered the denomination’s official position on a topic.

Petition: A request to the General Conference for official action on a topic or issue, similar to a bill before the U.S. Congress. But not all petitions are intended to become law. A petition can suggest a change in the Book of Discipline, approval of a resolution or some course of action the denomination should take.

Consent Calendar: In order to expedite the legislative process in the plenary session, committee items are grouped together, placed on a Consent Calendar and voted on in blocks. Any 20 delegates may have a Consent Calendar item removed by having such a request on file with the Secretary of the General Conference.

Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters: This permanent committee of General Conference handles all petitions relating to central conferences — seven United Methodist regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The committee also deals with petitions pertaining to regions in central conferences seeking to become autonomous or autonomous, affiliated Methodist churches.

Advance Daily Christian Advocate (Advance DCA or ADCA): A set of volumes containing the agenda, rules, delegate listings, petitions, reports from church organizations and other information for delegates.

Daily Christian Advocate (DCA): The official journal of the General Conference.

Read more of the General Conference glossary.

Because of how the pandemic has upended the printing and shipping industries, the newly submitted legislation initially will be available only online.

Legislation previously submitted when General Conference was set for 2020 will still be before delegates for their vote. That includes more than 1,000 petitions. The Advance Daily Christian Advocate containing those properly submitted petitions and reports is available in PDF form.

However, the Judicial Council — the denomination’s top court — has ruled that any postponement of General Conference resets the deadline for submitting petitions.

That means the Commission on the General Conference plans to release a supplement to the earlier Advance Daily Christian Advocate that contains newly submitted petitions and new, updated reports from the denomination’s general agencies.

Those won’t be the only changes in the coming supplement.

The current delegate handbook from 2020 “contains a very accurate but now very irrelevant map of the Minneapolis Convention Center,” Brian Sigmon, the editor of the Daily Christian Advocate and its advance edition, told General Conference organizers during their May meeting.

“New information with the correct dates and times and a map of the Charlotte Convention Center that is just as accurate but now also helpful and relevant will need to be published.”

The supplement also will contain updated lists of General Conference delegations, many of which have seen changes in the years of postponement.

This new material as well as the previously submitted legislation will be available by Jan. 22 at dailychristianadvocate.org. Delegates will be able to access the site for free, and others will need to pay for a subscription. Free PDF versions of the supplement also will be added to generalconference.org.

Print editions of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate will be available to delegates when they arrive at General Conference. Print editions of the Daily Christian Advocate, a record of General Conference’s daily proceedings, nominations and other information, also will be available during the meeting.

But Sigmon hopes delegates and others will continue to use the Daily Christian Advocate website during the meeting. The digital makeover is intended to make it easier for delegates to see the materials they need in their preferred languages without shuffling through multiple stacks of paper and volumes of legislation.

For now, the newly submitted legislation is in the hands of the Rev. Abby Parker Herrera — General Conference petitions secretary. She has the task of giving numbers to each properly submitted petition and assigning it to one of 14 legislative committees or the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

The legislative committees deal with different subject matters and related sections in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The standing committee deals with proposals that affect United Methodist regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

These committees are the first stop where legislation is debated, refined and possibly approved to go to the full body of General Conference delegates for a vote.

By Discipline, all petitions must receive a vote in their assigned committee and all legislation approved by a committee must receive a vote by the full General Conference plenary.

But it is possible for legislative committees and the plenary to vote down multiple petitions in bulk. Likewise, the General Conference plenary can approve multiple petitions in bulk if they qualify for the consent calendar.

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In any case, the proposals for separating the denomination remain before the delegates. That includes the proposed Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, which would allow churches and church regional bodies to exit with church property and funds to form a breakaway, theologically conservative denomination.

To some extent, that separation is already happening. The theologically conservative denomination, the Global Methodist Church, went ahead and launched last year. Some who negotiated the protocol have already left for the new denomination. Other negotiators, who are committed to remaining United Methodist, say the Protocol’s time has passed.

Also, over the past four years, more than 6,200 congregations, or about 20% of U.S. United Methodist churches, have used an already-existing provision of church law to leave. But that provision is only in effect in the U.S. and is set to expire at the end of this year. It remains to be seen whether General Conference will extend that provision beyond its current deadline and to other parts of the world.

Those who serve as General Conference delegates must be United Methodist, so any previously elected delegate who has withdrawn from the denomination can no longer serve.

In the meantime, many General Conference delegates are focused on how United Methodists can move forward more fruitfully in mission together.

The coming General Conference will have 862 delegates overall, equally split between clergy and laity. Of those delegates, 55.9% will be from the U.S., 32% from Africa, 6% from the Philippines, 4.6% from Europe and the remainder from concordat churches that have close ties to The United Methodist Church.

Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday Digests.

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