What is a General Conference?

What is a General Conference?  It is the only body that can set the official policy of the denomination and speak for the whole United Methodist Church.  It is empowered to consider and vote on petitions and resolutions that are put before it.  The results of these votes lead to changes in the Book of Discipline (the binding rule book of the denomination) and the Book of Resolutions (the non-binding stances by the denomination on various social issues).  These petitions and resolutions are submitted by individual both clergy and lay, annual conferences, and other agencies, boards, or groups within the denomination.  The petitions and resolution deal with a host of issues: shared ministry, missions, funding, budgets, justice, and the churches official stance on matters like abortion and human sexuality.  If the General Conference makes these decisions who makes up the General Conference?  The General Conference is made up of roughly 1,000 delegates elected from each of the 129 Annual Conferences around the world.  (If the UMC is a country the Annual Conferences are the states and the districts are the Counties.)  Each Annual Conference delegation is half clergy and half laity (laity are the people in the church who aren’t the clergy).  The size of the delegation is determined by the number of clergy and laity within each Annual Conference.  That means that the major decisions of the church are made by a body designed to reflect the geographic, cultural, linguistic, and theological diversity that make up our denomination.  This can make decision making hard, yes (translation services alone cost 2.3 million at the last general conference) but it means that we are a truly global and democratic denomination.  There is no other denomination with a body like the Methodist General Conference.  There is strength in that diversity.  We hear many views and many different voices become part of the conversation.  Also, we believe that the kingdom of heaven will be made up of every race, tribe and language so it can it be a bad thing for the denomination highest body to look like that?  What role do the Bishops play?  All of the 66 active Bishops and most of the retired Bishops are in attendance.  The active Bishops rotate leading the various sessions, basically making sure the debates and votes follow our rules.  The Bishops not leading can not speak on the floor unless the General Conference votes to allow it.  The Bishops do not vote at General Conference.  How often does the General Conference meet?  Every 4 years 2012, 2016 and again in 2020.  There is a provision though for the Bishops to call a special General Conference to deal with important issues facing the whole denomination.  The last called General Conference was in 1970 to organize the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren to create the United Methodist Church.  Why have I written all this?  Because later this month there will be another called General Conference.  The matter before the Conference will be the denominations teachings on human sexuality.  I know this is a big and controversial issue.  There will be time to talk fully about this Conference.  What is being proposed and discussed?  What changes may be made?  I will be communicating with the congregation about these issues at two session February 13th at 5 before Bible Study and February 17th after worship.  Right now though I think its important to just know what a General Conference is and who will be there.  There are also 2 other important points I want to hold up.  First, if this was your church last Sunday nothing has changed.  Our mission has not changed our life together has not changed.  We will continue to worship, to love, to grow and to call others to faith in Jesus.  Second, be not afraid.  This is always good advice.  Lets not let anxiety and worry about the future of what may happen rob us of the joy off the present.  Lets enjoy each other, work together, and fellowship.  We may not know the future but we know the One who holds the future.


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