NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church's top legislative assembly won't be meeting in Richmond, Va., in 2012, as announced last fall, but will convene in Tampa, Fla., instead.
In making the change, the United Methodist Commission on the General Conference cited a church policy regarding meeting in cities that are home to professional sports teams with Native American names.
The 2012 General Conference will be held April 25 to May 4 in the 600,000-square-foot Tampa Convention Center.
At the time of the initial selection, commission members were unaware that Richmond is home to the Richmond Braves, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Atlanta Braves.
"We reviewed many issues when considering the finalists, but the name of the minor league sports team never came up in our discussions," said Gail Murphy-Geiss of Centennial, Colo., chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference. "We had earlier eliminated Atlanta from consideration because it was home to the major league baseball team, the Braves.
"When the minor league Braves issue was quickly brought to our attention after the original announcement, we believed we were obligated to revisit the issue.
"We are sad for the great United Methodists in Virginia who were excited about hosting the General Conference but are pleased to take a strong stance against teams with offensive names. However well intended, sports teams named after Native Americans demean the heritage of native peoples. They perpetuate unhealthy and unfair stereotypes."
Murphy-Geiss said the commission is working with the Rev. Alan Morrison, the business manager of the General Conference, to develop detailed written procedures and policies to help the commission consider future sites of the General Conference, including reviews of cities' major and minor professional sports team names.
Tampa was a finalist in the original search process for the 2012 General Conference. When the commission reopened its search, negotiations resulted in Tampa offering the strongest proposal, Murphy-Geiss said.
In addition to the 1,000 or so delegates, the 10-day gathering is expected to attract about 4,000 other people to the Tampa area and will generate about $20 million in anticipated direct spending.
Tampa is part of the Florida Annual (regional) Conference, which is third in membership size, behind Virginia and North Georgia. It has 728 local churches and a total membership of more than 329,000.
*This report was adapted from a press release by the Public Information Office at United Methodist Communications.