By: Christa Meland
Later this month (Feb. 23-26), United Methodist delegates from around the world will gather in St. Louis, Missouri for a special session of General Conference. This special session will focus on human sexuality and church unity.
The purpose will be to receive and act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward. This 32-member Commission was authorized by the 2016 General Conference and appointed by the Council of Bishops to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and how to be in ministry with LGBTQI people, and to explore options to strengthen the unity of the church.
Here are 10 important things you should know about the upcoming General Conference:
1. Four delegates will represent the Minnesota Conference at the gathering—Revs. Judy Zabel and Woojae Im, along with Faye Christensen and Dave Nuckols (who served on the Commission on a Way Forward). Eight reserve delegates will also attend the gathering: Revs. Carol Zaagsma, Jeff Ozanne, Amy Jo Bur, and Paula Colton, along with Leslie Hobson, Walker Brault, Karen Thompson, and Shirley Durr.
2. Inevitably, some people will be pleased with the decisions that delegates make (or don’t make), and others will be disappointed by them. Whatever happens, the ministry to which we are called—making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world—will continue. Let us make space for each other’s grief, relief, fear, anxiety, hurt, and disappointment, and let us remember that God is with us and God’s mission is yet alive.
3. The Sunday after the 2019 General Conference (March 3) is Transfiguration Sunday. The Minnesota Conference’s Human Sexuality Task Force, appointed by Bishop Bruce R. Ough, has compiled an outstanding set of worship resources to be used that day. The resources—which include lectionary scriptures, prayer and liturgies, and sermon ideas—are intended to “combine the liturgical recognition of Transfiguration Sunday with food for the heart and soul regardless of the outcome” of General Conference. View resources
4. There are several ways you can follow along with what’s happening at General Conference. The special session will be live-streamed at UMC.org/gc2019. Copies of the daily editions of the Daily Christian Advocate (the official journal of General Conference) will also be available for free download at UMC.org/gc2019. The Minnesota Conference communications team will be on the ground in St. Louis providing real-time coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as special emails with news, features, and reactions from Minnesota delegates. Several times throughout the four-day gathering, Minnesota delegates will give updates via Facebook Live.
5. The special session of General Conference will have 864 delegates. A formula determines the number of delegates from each conference. Every conference is guaranteed at least two—one clergy and one lay. In 2016, the largest delegations came from North Katanga (48) and Côte d’Ivoire (34). The largest delegations from conferences in the United States were from Virginia and Western North Carolina (22 each). Most of the conferences in Europe and the Philippines had two delegates, as did nine in the United States. Each conference elects an equal number of clergy and laity.
6. The Commission on a Way Forward presented three plans (two of which it authored) that are at the core of what will be discussed and considered by delegates: the One-Church Plan, the Connectional Conferences Plan, and the Traditionalist Plan. The Council of Bishops is recommending the One-Church Plan. Learn more about all three plans / View two-page matrix of all three plans (provided by Nuckols)
7. Delegates will pray, worship, and fellowship together—but they will begin with a full day of prayer. After that, they will spend most of their time listening, deliberating, discussing, and voting on legislation. At this special session, delegates will vote on motions and amendments on petitions included in three plans in the Commission on a Way Forward report and other petitions from individuals and groups of United Methodists. Fifty-one petitions, besides those included in the Commission’s report, were submitted by the deadline. Delegates will use electronic, smartcard-enabled devices to cast their secret ballots and to request recognition to address the assembly.
8. Bishops convene and preside over plenary sessions and lead worship services, but they have neither voice nor vote at General Conference—meaning they have no role in deciding what does or does not get adopted.
9. The Advance Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) contains the agenda, rules, delegate listings, petitions, reports from the general agencies/commissions and study committees, information for delegates, and codes of conduct for the 2019 General Conference. If you want to get a better sense for exactly what delegates will be doing and discussing, that resource is worth exploring. Read Advance Daily Christian Advocate
10. If you or members of your congregation want to learn more about General Conference, United Methodist Communications is offering a free online course. This self-directed online course uses short articles, quizzes, and multimedia interactions to provide information about what General Conference is, shed light on its historical roots, and show how church policies are made within the context of this global gathering. Learn more
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church