Preparing for General Conference
On January 20-22 top leaders in the United Methodist Church came together in Portland, Oregon to get a preview of what is to come at General Conference in the same location this May.
The General Conference is the only body that speaks for the United Methodist Church. It meets every four years, and is comprised of an equal number of clergy and laity delegates. Conferences are assigned a number of delegates based on their size. Missouri has 12 delegates. Attending the pre-general Conference briefing from Missouri were Brian Hammons, the first elected lay delegate in Missouri and the leader of this year’s Missouri delegation, and the Rev. Cody Collier, the first-elected clergy delegate.
The gathering will address divisive issues, but presenters stressed the need for the unity of the denomination. Collier is going into his seventh General Conference with optimism.
“There was a strong feeling of people wanting the church to be unified – to be the body of Christ,” Collier said. “I had a real sense that there is an intentional effort at this next General Conference to shape some of the crucial conversations with spiritual discernment rather than some of the rancor and cultural barriers that have often existed.”
Hammons said the pre-conference briefing was helpful. “We learned more about how this conference will handle key issues and got some insight into the process, which we can pass along to our delegation,” he said. Read more about this in Laity Voices on page 30.
Collier believes lessons were learned in 2012, when considerable effort was put into a restructuring plan that was heavily amended before it could be passed, only to be ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council after it passed. Most proposals for change are coming out more in phases in this General Conference, rather than more comprehensive restructuring proposals like what came forward in 2012. Collier said he thinks progress will be made.
“I don’t think we should restructure for budgetary reasons, but to be more effective in ministry and mission to the world,” he said.
During the past four years Collier served on the Commission on General Conference, and changes have been made in order to help facilitate the work of General Conference. This time more review and monitoring will occur before legislation is brought to the floor of the General Conference so that the implications of it are understood. In 2012 one problem was that the Book of Discipline would be amended in one place to provide for a change in polity, but that change created inconsistencies in other parts of the Book of Discipline. This time advisors will attempt to guide committees how changing one area will impact other areas in the Book of Discipline.
A large topic of discussion at the pre-conference briefing was around Rule 44. This rule would allow agenda items to enter a small-group discernment process before proceeding to the floor. Approving Rule 44 would be a two-step process – the first step is to adopt the rule so the process could be used, the second step would be voting to use the process on certain items on the agenda.
If the rule is adopted, more than 90 pieces of legislation have already been flagged for referral to the process. Collier believes there will be considerable discussion on this proposal as a way forward as delegates grapple with issues of importance that can divide and confound us.
He is also encouraged by the schedule change. Previously worship was often at the end of the day, and daily schedule extended through 9:30 p.m. This year the day begins with worship, and concludes at 6:30 p.m.
“I believe that starting the day with worship will help center us, and ending it at 6:30 p.m. will provide the delegation some time to talk through the events of the day with each other, and get some needed rest before the next day begins,” he said. “I am also glad that for the first time delegates will have hand-held electronic devices to log their votes in legislative committees as well as the Plenary Session. This will certainly make the voting process faster and less stressful following deliberations.”
Since January 1, Conferences around the world are praying for the upcoming General Conference session. Each Conference is assigned a different day, and many have volunteers praying around the clock on that day. Both Hammons and Collier are signed up to pray at 6 a.m. on March 7 (sign up at http://tinyurl.com/mogcprayer), but he’s hoping people will look at not just their shift, but the entire day as a day of prayer.
“It could be a day of fasting or reflections,” Collier said. “We need prayers for the delegates, everyone involved in General Conference, the entire church and the decisions being made.”
Collier sees General Conference as being another opportunity to strengthen local churches in their witness and mission as United Methodists.
“The key is that we leave the Conference equipped and ready to Therefore Go to make disciples for the transformation of the world,” he said.
To read an overview of topics covered at the Pre-General Conference news briefing, click here.