General Conference Postponed Over COVID-19 ConcernsMeeting Will Move to 2021

General Conference Postponed Over COVID-19 Concerns
Meeting Will Move to 2021

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

This story was updated on March 23, 2020 to reflect the announcement that General Conference will be rescheduled to 2021.

The Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference has announced that General Conference 2020, previously scheduled for May 5 – 15 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will no longer occur as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Executive Committee was notified by the Minneapolis Convention Center that events taking place through May 10, 2020 will be restricted, following recommendations made by the Minnesota Department of Health, the governor of Minnesota and the mayor of Minneapolis.

Current recommendations in Minnesota are that events with 50 or more people either be postponed or canceled.

The General Conference is a quadrennial event that brings together delegates from not only the United States of America but from countries in Africa, Europe, and Asia as well. More than 43% of delegates are from outside of the United States.

This year’s General Conference will bring together 862 delegates from all over the world, as well as communicators, bishops, venue staff, and spectators, bringing the total in attendance to well over 1,000 individuals.

The Commission met by teleconference on March 21 to discuss plans for the event, including setting new dates for the General Conference. In a press release sent on March 23, the Commission determined that General Conference will not meet in 2020, and will instead work with the Minneapolis Convention Center to determine a rescheduled date in 2021.

“Because it is important for people to be safe and to make sure that all delegates from around the world can participate, I am grateful the decision has been made to postpone General Conference,” said Bishop Mueller of the Arkansas Conference. “I hope that all Arkansas United Methodists will continue to demonstrate a spirit of unity we are experiencing during this pandemic as we walk into the future.”

The Rev. Mark Norman, Southeast District Superintendent and Lead Clergy Delegate of the Arkansas Delegation, shared his own relief at the decision to postpone General Conference, and offered a word of advice for how United Methodists should continue forward following this announcement.

“With this global pandemic we have to make the safety and health of the entire General Conference a priority. My concern is how we will move forward as denomination. On one hand it is a good thing to have more time to have fruitful conversations. On the other hand if we fill this extra time being mean and rude to one another, we destroy our witness in the world! I have truly loved the recent creativity and passion of Arkansas United Methodists. Let’s use our energy serving our neighbors and sharing the gospel beyond the walls of our churches!

For more information regarding General Conference 2020, please check the General Conference page on our website at arumc.org/gc2020. We will also be updating our social media with any breaking news regarding General Conference 2020.

The Commission’s press release can be read here: www.umc.org/en/content/united-methodist-general-conference-to-be-postponed

The March 23 press release can be read here: https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/general-conference-to-move-to-2021

The Need for Space and a New Form of UnityCreating Overlapping Theologically and Contextually Defined Regional Conferences in Four Global Regions

The Need for Space and a New Form of Unity
Creating Overlapping Theologically and Contextually Defined Regional Conferences in Four Global Regions

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

The Landscape Matters

Tod Bolsinger’s Canoeing the Mountains uses Lewis and Clark’s westward journey of discovery to help the church better understand the nature of our journey into a rapidly changing world. Bolsinger chronicles how Lewis and Clark had to adapt to a landscape vastly different from the one they expected in order to complete their mission. His thesis is remarkably simple: the church will only be able to carry out the mission Jesus has given us if we are able to adapt to our actual landscape, and not just forge ahead based on long-held assumptions.

The Current United Methodist Landscape
Four key characteristics shape our current United Methodist landscape.

First, the anger, ugly rhetoric, and blame that enveloped the 2019 Called General Conference Session in St. Louis has intensified to the point that it seems impossible to imagine a future in which progressives and traditionalists can move forward together without each having a structured safe space to live out their convictions faithfully.

Second, since the called session a year ago, a significant group of bishops, pastors, laity, and congregations have vowed to ‘resist harm’ in a variety of ways, including non-compliance. This means that the legislation adopted by the General Conference in 2019 will very likely be unenforceable in the United States in the years to come.

Third, sixteen diverse leaders recently completed a mediation process that resulted in the issuance of a “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation”. This offering proposes shaping the ongoing United Methodist Church as progressive in matters involving LGBTQIA individuals, while also providing a way for those who embrace a more traditional understanding of marriage and ordination to create a new expression of Methodism. It currently seems to be the presumptive way forward for the 2020 General Conference.

While embraced by many, however, the proposed Protocol fails to provide an acceptable solution for the 30% – 40% of the United Methodist Church in the United States that is more traditional concerning human sexuality, but wishes to stay in the United Methodist Church. Those in this group feel ignored by the Protocol at best, and tossed aside as the ‘cost of doing business’ at worst. Perhaps more importantly, they contend they now face a heart-wrenching choice of having to stay in a denomination they believe does not express their deepest convictions or leave the denomination they love.

Concerns about the viability of the Protocol are being raised throughout the global church as well. The Liberian Annual Conference recently unanimously passed a resolution calling for significant amendments to the proposed Protocol that would considerably alter its focus. This includes every Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conference voting to decide whether to join a traditional or progressive expression, with a 50% plus one vote being the threshold for decision. It also includes a statement that challenges a fundamental assumption of the protocol, “Whereas, any attempt to align or subjugate all central conferences and their annual conferences and congregations to a post-separation UMC by default, as the Protocol proposes, would be viewed as an act of colonialism and injustice against the Central Conferences.” (“Resolution of The Liberia Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church on Proposed Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation” February 14, 2020)

Fourth, Jesus calls those who love him to live in unity. We cannot achieve this on our own, because there are powerful forces pulling us apart. We can no longer fool ourselves into thinking the institutional church can foster it, because the United Methodist Church is fracturing. We cannot expect it to magically appear based on votes at General Conference, because a legislative process can never provide true unity in Christ. We can only receive the unity Jesus offers as a gift, vision, and expectation to live into as we trust him enough to step out in faith.

The mandatory nature of this unity is expressed in John 17:20-24, when Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and God are one. Its realization is described in John 14:5-8, when Jesus makes it clear we are only connected to each other by being connected to him. Its reality is experienced weekly by the majority of United Methodists, when they sit in pews with people of opposing opinions and experience the truth of Paul’s affirmation in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (vv 20-21)

Navigating the United Methodist Landscape in Order to Faithfully Move Ahead
We cannot ignore any of these four characteristics that define our landscape if we are to faithfully and fruitfully guide our beloved church into the future. Yet that is exactly what we seem to have done! The proposed Protocol provides safe space for those who seek a church that is fully inclusive of the LGBTQIA persons. It also offers an easy way for those who wish to leave the connection to do so. But it fails to provide a faithful response for traditional leaning United Methodists who wish to live their faith with integrity within the United Methodist Church; particularly in Africa and the United States, but also in other Central Conferences.

Of course, this is not a surprising outcome. It is easy to become ensnared in a binary choice mindset of “either-or”, “up or down”, or “win-lose”; assume that matters involving human sexuality are the only issues important to traditional leaning United Methodists; and forget that relationships often carry greater weight than issues.

The exclusion of what is probably a majority of United Methodists globally means that we are on a very dangerous trajectory. In fact, any legislation that does not allow those who wish to remain as United Methodists to do so without compromising core convictions in a safe and protected way is unjust.

Adaptive Change Through a “2-by-4” Approach
The United Methodist Church desperately needs an adaptive approach that addresses the full reality of our landscape: painful division; deep and faithful convictions; a flawed Protocol proposal with momentum that fails to provide a place for traditional leaning United Methodists who wish to remain in the denomination; and Christ’s mandated call for unity.

There is an approach that can curate a continuing United Methodist Church which provides clearly defined spaces for laity, congregations, pastors, and bishops to live with theological integrity, while trusting the Holy Spirit to help us live into a new form of unity in Christ. It does this by creating two geographically overlapping theologically and contextually defined Regional Conferences in each of four Global Regions of the United Methodist Church: the Philippines, Africa, Europe, and the United States. Of course, those who do not wish to join this endeavor will be able to gracefully exit the denomination.

The Philippines Central Conference will become the Philippines Region with two geographically overlapping theologically and contextually defined Regional Conferences. The three Central Conferences in Africa will become two Regional Conferences in the Africa Region. The three Central Conferences in Europe will become two Regional Conferences in the Europe and Eurasia Region. The five Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States will become two Regional Conferences.

Overview of Annual Conferences, Regional Conferences and the Global Conference
The roles and responsibilities of Annual Conferences, Regional Conferences and the new Global Conference will reflect the shape of the new United Methodist Church.

Annual Conferences

  • Relate to either the Progressive or Traditional Regional Conference in its Region by a majority vote
  • Recruit, credential, deploy and supervise clergy
  • Begin new places for new people
  • Develop and carry out missional strategy
  • Partner with a global annual conference
  • Develop lay leadership
  • Appoint itinerant clergy through an episcopal system that provides open itinerancy with guaranteed appointments
  • Elect delegates to the Regional Conference
  • Elect delegates to the Global Conference
  • Negotiate relationships with general agencies as desired

Two Theologically and Contextually Defined Regional Conferences in Each of Four Regions

  • Relate to the Global Conference
  • Collaborate with other Regional Conferences, including establishing formal structural relationships if desired
  • Create a “Regional Conference Book of Discipline”
  • Adopt social principles
  • Determine roles and responsibilities for bishops
  • Elect, deploy, and support bishops (bishop’s membership in Regional Conference College of Bishops)
  • Determine standards for marriage
  • Determine requirements for ordination
  • Negotiate relationship with general agencies as desired

Global Conference

  • Craft a deeper unity in the United Methodist Church
  • Create a “Global Book of Discipline” that focuses on doctrine, mission, and shared heritage
  • Convene the Global Conference every four years to focus on unity, evangelism, mission, and ecumenical matters
  • Maintain GCFA
  • Support Africa University
  • Support Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Coordinate UMCOR on behalf of all the Regional Conferences
  • Meet annually as Colloquy of Bishops from all Regional Conferences to focus on unity, learning, shared mission, and unity in Christ

Process

  • All General Agencies will become free-standing and negotiate relationships with Regional Conferences
  • Regional Conferences (and Annual Conferences in those Regional Conferences) can use the cross and flame or some version of it
  • Annual Conferences will choose which Regional Conference in their Region to join
  • Congregations and pastors not agreeing with the decision of their Annual Conference can join the other Regional Conference in their Region
  • WesPath will continue to manage pensions for the entire United Methodist Church
  • Two Regional Conferences will be created in each of the four Regions in 2020-2021
  • Annual Conferences will vote concerning which Regional Conference to join in 2021
  • Laity, congregations, clergy, and bishops will be able to choose a different Regional from their Annual Conference in 2021-2024
  • $39,000,000 will be committed to addressing racism and will be available to both Regional Conferences in the United States
  • Annual Conferences and congregations that do not wish to be part of the United Methodist Church will be provided with a gracious and easy exit

Can ‘2X4’ Work?
Creating two theologically and contextually defined geographically overlapping Regional Conferences in each of our four Global Regions will provide space for everyone who wishes to remain in the United Methodist Church. It avoids forcing people to be part of a church with which they disagree or enforcing conformity through disciplinary measures. It connects people in mission and ministry who might be tempted to stay in their kindred groups. It offers wonderful opportunities to create a more nimble church with significantly lower apportionments. Perhaps most importantly, it expresses the unity Jesus mandates in John 15: Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (vv 4-5)

It is fair to inquire, however, whether this proposal for navigating into the future can become a reality. It can. First, the legislation that has already been written can be easily adapted. Second, the General Conference can amend whatever comes before it when it gathers in May in Minneapolis. Finally, even the high threshold of two-thirds support needed from General Conference and Annual Conferences for constitutional amendments ensures that this is not merely a win for some and a loss for others, but a way forward for everyone who loves the United Methodist Church.

We are in a fragile and tender time. The risks are high and the consequences potentially tragic if we make decisions that tear apart the Body of Christ in local congregations and our global connection. Yet we can be filled with hope that we can experience both the space we need and the unity Christ gives us to embody for one simple reason: the Holy Spirit always triumphs.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

United Methodist Bishops meet to discuss General Conference, elect new officers

United Methodist Bishops meet to discuss General Conference, elect new officers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church will meet November 3-6 at Lake Junaluska Assembly in North Carolina to prepare for the 2020 General Conference, elect new officers and ratify a constitutional amendment among other things.

Coming from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, the more than 100 bishops who will be in attendance will also tackle proposals on how to dismantle racism, promote discipleship; and strengthen mission strategies in the global denomination.

The meeting opens on Sunday, Nov. 3, with a Memorial Service at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, to remember and honor bishops and spouses who have died in the preceding year.

Among the bishops to be memorialized are Bishop Benjamin R. Chamness, Bishop William B. Oden, Bishop Judith Craig and Bishop C. Dale White. There will be a special moment of remembrance for Bishop Kenneth Hicks and his wife, Lila Elaine Hicks, who died a few days apart. Spouses of bishops to be honored include Mrs. Mary Ann Hunt, Mrs. Mary Jean Russell and Mrs. Linda Carder.

Election of officers
The bishops will be electing a new president, president-designate, and secretary of the Council who will serve for two years. The current officer holders are Bishop Ken Carter, president; Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, president-designate; and Bishop Mande Muyombo as secretary. The new officers will take office at the end of the May 2020 General Conference.

Also to be elected will be the executive secretary and the ecumenical officer. The executive secretary serves as the operations officer of the Council and works closely with the Secretary to monitor actions of the Council and Executive Committee. The ecumenical officer is responsible for relationships with other Churches and/or ecclesial bodies. Both serve four-year terms and take office on September 1, 2020. Bishop Marcus Matthews and Bishop B. Michael Watson are the current holders of the positions.

Constitutional Amendment 1
The bishops will also vote to ratify a constitutional amendment, which annual conferences had to revote because of an error in the earlier text sent to the conferences. Amendment #1 was one of the five constitutional amendments that were approved by the 2016 General Conference.

Residential bishops will later meet in a Learning Retreat from Nov. 6-8 at the same venue.

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Media Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
mmulenga@umc-cob.org
202-748-5172
www.unitedmethodistbishops.org

General Conference 2020 Petition Submission Process Opens

General Conference 2020 Petition Submission Process Opens

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Petitions for consideration by the 2020 General Conference may be submitted to the Petitions Secretary now through September 18, 2019.

According to church law, “Any organization, clergy member, or lay member of The United Methodist Church may petition the General Conference…”.

Detailed instructions for submitting a petition are available on the General Conference website at umc.org/gcpetition. Petitions must be typed and may be submitted through the General Conference website, by postal mail or fax, or via e-mail to petitionsecretary@umcgc.org. This e-mail address should be used for petition submission only. All other correspondence should be directed to aherrera@umcgc.org.

Due to the passage of legislative material by the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, an addendum to The Book of Discipline 2016 may be found at https://www.umofficialresources.com/updates. These paragraphs replace what is printed in The Book of Discipline 2016.  Petitions related to these paragraphs must reference the material in the Addendum. The Errata (corrections) for The Book of Discipline 2016 are included at the end of the Addendum document and should also be considered in petition texts.

The mailing address for petitions (hard copy accompanied by digital version on USB drive) is:

Abby Parker Herrera, Petitions Secretary
United Methodist General Conference
7409 Barcelona Drive
Austin, TX 78752

Eligible petitions are given numbers and assigned to one of 14 legislative committees or the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The committees will debate the proposals and determine whether to approve, amend, combine or reject them for recommendation to the full body of General Conference.

When submitting a petition, you must indicate whether a petition has “general church budget implications,” meaning a petition that causes the need for funding (i.e., creation of a new program, staff position, support requirements, etc.) through the general church apportionments. Such petitions require review by the General Council on Finance and Administration to verify if the funding is already included under the recommended quadrennial budget.

Submitters must also indicate whether a petition has “global implications,” meaning it is a constitutional amendment, has a direct effect on the global work of general agencies, places requirements or expectations on all annual conferences, districts or churches, or speaks to societal concerns regardless of the particular form of secular government.

Questions about the petition submission process may be submitted by e-mail to the Petitions Secretary at aherrera@umcgc.org.

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About General Conference
General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The assembly meets at the beginning of each quadrennium to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years. General Conference 2020 will take place May 5-15, 2020, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis. 

Media Contact: Diane Degnan
ddegnan@umcom.org
(615) 742-5406 (office) (615) 483-1765 (cell)

General Conference 2020 seeks liturgists

NASHVILLE, Tennessee: The 2020 General Conference worship design team invites United Methodists to take an active role in the worship experience at the denomination’s quadrennial event as it seeks individuals to write liturgy, including prayers, calls to worship and litanies. The denomination’s top legislative assembly is set to meet May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis.

To apply for the opportunity to write or provide original liturgy for General Conference, individuals are asked to submit a letter of application that includes the following: a sample of liturgy that includes a 5-minute devotion, a call to worship, and a prayer of confession all based on Philippians 3:14, along with the name of the writer, email address, phone number, and local church name.

Applications should be emailed to gc2020liturgy@gmail.com. Application deadline is August 1, 2019.

“One of the many strengths of the United Methodist Church is the variety of gifts in our denomination. General Conference affords us an opportunity to experience God in many ways in a central location,” said Raymond Trapp, Worship and Music Director. “When liturgists from across the connection bring their voices together in prayer and celebration, the power and beauty of God is manifested in a sacred way.”

Please note that all liturgy submitted, regardless of use by the General Conference, becomes the intellectual property of General Conference and may be used and/or distributed with the proper citation at the worship team’s discretion.

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About General Conference
General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The assembly meets at the beginning of each quadrennium to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years. General Conference 2020 will take place May 5-15, 2020, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis

Media contact:
Diane Degnan
ddegnan@umcom.org
615.742.5406(o) 615.483.1765(c)