By Brian Hammons
General Conference is coming up soon. In just a few weeks, May 10-20, 864 delegates from around the world will meet in Portland, Oregon to celebrate, pray, worship, deliberate, and vote on proposals to set policy and direction for the entire United Methodist Church. Twelve of those delegates are from Missouri (six lay and six clergy), with four alternates – all elected last June at our Missouri Annual Conference session. I’m honored to serve in leading the delegation, along with Rev. Cody Collier.
Cody and I recently attended the Pre-Conference Briefing in Portland, to learn more details about how this year’s General Conference will work and gain some insight into key issues that will be discussed. I came away with greater clarity about the details of the event that we can pass along to our delegation during upcoming meetings. I also came away with a sense of the scope of planning and expenditure of resources – both human and financial – that this General Conference will require. In addition to the 864 delegates, many more people are involved including alternate delegates, bishops, agency personnel, communication and finance directors, translators, worship leaders, and many more. The cost is projected to be about $10.5 million. It truly is a major convention that will take over much of downtown Portland for almost two weeks.
So – what will come from General Conference, and how will it impact our churches in Missouri – especially your congregation?
The main tasks will be to revise our denomination’s Book of Discipline, discuss Resolutions regarding social issues, adopt a budget to fund the general church’s ministries, and elect members of Judicial Council.
Those tasks will all be accomplished. While the budget may impact our local congregations a bit (through World Service apportionments), legislation revising parts of the Book of Discipline could have some impact upon the local church over time.
Of course, many things will not change, including our core mission – Making Disciples of Jesus Christ – and the local congregation’s day-to-day ministries as the “most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” (BOD par. 120).
Proposals will be debated in committees during the first week and in plenary session the second week of General Conference. It’s much like our U.S. Congress or state legislature, except that it all happens very quickly. The process using parliamentary procedure presents challenges when we value relationships and unity with long-term spiritual health of our connection. In fact, sharp differences can hurt when dealing with some issues under the pressure of time and voting. So, much prayer is needed – and appreciated!
The briefing in Portland reviewed some of those issues: Structural changes affecting conferences and general agencies; ordained ministry changes; positions on many social issues; a new hymnal; and changes to the church’s positions regarding human sexuality. All of these involve emotionally-charged opinions, the last one perhaps the most. A proposed rule change would even place 99 proposals relating to human sexuality in a different process for discussion.
You can learn more about the 2016 General Conference through the website. There’s even an app for mobile devices.
Please keep our Missouri delegates in your prayers as we continue to read information and prepare for General Conference. And pray for the church and the Methodist movement, as God continues to work through you– in local congregations – to reach people all around us with the transforming grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
Whatever is done at General Conference, the Methodist movement will continue as our local congregations reach out with the light and life of Jesus in their communities. I’m thankful for that!