The United Methodist Church is a "connectional church," which means United Methodist churches are connected by a system to guide their work, govern their policies and to be in ministry throughout the world in more ways than any one person or any one congregation could do alone.
In order to guide the work of the church and conduct necessary business, United Methodists use the process of Christian Conferencing. In United Methodism, a Conference is both a worshipful meeting to conduct business and make decisions to determine programs and the direction of ministry of the church and a large geographical grouping of churches.
Some United Methodist conferencing happens on an annual basis: a local congregation holds a charge conference each year; a district, or a group of churches supervised by an ordained elder known as the District Superintendent, hold a District Conference annually; and each year clergy and lay representatives from each pastoral charge of a larger geographically defined region that includes multiple districts meet for an Annual Conference presided over by a Bishop. The Annual Conference is the basic organizational body in The United Methodist Church. It is during the Annual Conference meeting that business is conducted, new clergy are ordained and clergy appointments are fixed for the next year.
Every four years, this connection of conferencing grows beyond the Annual Conference as representatives from every Annual Conference and Central Conference (the regional Conferences outside the United States) meet for General Conference and representatives in the United States also meet for a Jurisdictional Conference.
This year, 2012, is a quadrennial year in the United Methodist Church. Therefore, conferencing will happen at all levels.
The General Conference is the highest legislative body in the denomination. It is the only entity that speaks for The United Methodist Church. Elected clergy (pastors) and lay (local church members) delegates from every Annual Conference and Central Conference will gather to worship, pray, debate and vote as one body. Bishops preside at the sessions of the General Conference but do not have the privilege of voice or vote in its deliberations.
The primary responsibility of the General Conference is to enact legislation for the denomination. The General Conference revises The Book of Discipline which outlines the organization, beliefs and official policies of The United Methodist Church. Delegates also revise The Book of Resolutions, a volume declaring the church’s stance on a variety of social issues.
The 2012 General Conference will be made up of 988 delegates from around the world. The North Alabama Conference Delegation to General Conference includes:
There are approximately 1200 pieces of proposed legislation before the General Conference delegates. Each piece of legislation, which was submitted by individual members, groups and organizations of the United Methodist Church, will first go before one of the 13 legislative committees of the General Conference. The recommendations of these committees are then presented to the entire body of the General Conference for discussion, action and vote. (You can track legislation as this conferencing process happens at http://calms.umc.org/2012/Menu.aspx.)
Restructure of the United Methodist Church – The proposed legislation to restructure the denomination originated with the Call to Action process. (See umccalltoaction.org.) Other proposals for restructure have also emerged since the General Conference petition deadline passed. (See umcplanb.org and www.mfsagc12.org/StructureVisuals.html.)
Reforming the Council of Bishops – Reforms proposed include to create a “set-aside bishop” who would serve as president of the Council of Bishops for four years without the responsibilities of overseeing a geographic area. The North Alabama Conference Delegation has submitted petitions regarding retired Bishops’ membership and activity in the Council of Bishops and the jurisdictional or central conference’s College of Bishops.
Clergy Appointments and Ordination Process – Proposed recommendations include eliminating guaranteed appointments for ordained elders and streamlining the candidacy process for ordination.
Budget and Budget-related issues –The recommended budget of $603 million reflects a reduction of 6.6 percent and marks the first time a budget smaller than that for the previous quadrennium will be presented. There are also petitions, including several from North Alabama Conference delegates and members, with proposals ranging from the General Church budget to not exceed 1% of the sum of local church income to changing the apportionment (connectional giving) formula so that each local church gives ten percent of general budget income to the Annual Conference.
The Global Church – There are a variety of recommendations seeking to make the denomination less U.S.-centric and to strengthen the worldwide connection. These recommendations range from streamlining the Book of Discipline to focus on law and doctrine applying to the entire church to calling for discussion of creating “continental conferences” that would focus on regional church issues.
Clergy Pensions – There are two proposals to shift more of the risk in retirement preparation from annual conferences to individual clergy. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is asking delegates to choose between the two options.
Homosexuality – There are numerous petitions on the church’s stance and statements on homosexuality.
Immigration – Several church groups have put forth petitions calling for immigration reform and advocating for the change of tough immigration laws passed in several states.
An Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons will occur on Friday, April 27, 2012. This worship service is intended to begin the process of reconciliation and continued healing from atrocities and injustices committed against Native Americans and indigenous peoples around the world.
For more General Conference information and to watch live streaming of the 2012 General Conference visit www.gc2012.umc.org. You can also get updates from the North Alabama Conference. Go to www.northalabamaumc.org/gc2012 for more information.
The North Alabama Conference includes churches in the geographical area from the middle of Alabama north to the Tennessee state line. During the Annual Conference meeting clergy and lay representatives from local churches will worship together; share in times of Bible study; and make business decisions necessary to support the ministry of the Annual Conference and its churches.
The 2012 North Alabama Annual Conference will mark the last time Bishop William H. Willimon will preside as the Resident Bishop of the Birmingham Area. Bishop Willimon will retire at the end of August.
The 2012 Annual Conference will have the feel of a homecoming as the gathering happens on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College. The North Alabama Annual Conference met on the campus each year from 1954 to 2006.
To help challenge and equip North Alabama local churches for ministry, the Annual Conference will feature guest speaker Rev. Michael Slaughter, Lead Pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC, and Bible Study Leader Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., Bishop of the Holston Annual Conference.
For more information on the North Alabama Annual Conference go to www.northalabamaumc.org/ac2012.
Jurisdictions are five large regional divisions within the United States and are composed of the Annual Conferences within their boundaries. The Jurisdictions are North Central, Northeastern, South Central, Southeastern and Western. The North Alabama Conference is in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. There are 15 Annual Conferences which make up the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
Every four years, elected delegates from the Annual Conferences meet together for a Jurisdictional Conference to vote on business matters and to elect ordained elders to be Bishops for the church. (All five Jurisdictional Conferences happen simultaneously.) Once elected, a Bishop will be appointed to oversee an Episcopal Area within that Jurisdiction. An Episcopal Area is made up of a part, a whole, or multiple Annual Conference areas. There are 13 Episcopal areas within the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
Bishops are appointed in four-year terms and are itinerate within the Jurisdiction. In the U.S., bishops normally serve in one Episcopal Area for up to two terms, but they can continue in that Area for a third term with special approval of the jurisdictional conference. Bishops are elected for life, but there is mandatory retirement when a Bishop turns 68 on or before July 1 in the year of a Jurisdictional Conference. (This means no Bishop will be appointed to preside over an Episcopal Area beyond the age of 72.) At retirement a Bishop continues to serve the Church on the worldwide level as a part of the Council of Bishops.
The 2012 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference will elect new Bishops to succeed the Bishops retiring within the Southeastern Jurisdiction in August. After all the new Bishops are elected, the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy will appoint all active Bishops in the Jurisdiction to an Episcopal Area.
On Thursday evening, July 19, 2012, the Southeastern Jurisdiction will recognize its retiring Bishops. This group includes Bishop Will Willimon who has served North Alabama since his election in 2004. Following this celebration, the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy will announce the Episcopal Assignments for 2012-2016. This announcement includes who will be the new Resident Bishop for the Birmingham Area. The newly assigned Bishops will begin their terms on September 1, 2012.
The North Alabama Conference Delegation to the 2012 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference includes:
Clergy Alternate Delegates to SEJ
Lay Alternate Delegates to SEJ
For more information about the 2012 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference go to www.sejumc.org/jurisdictional-conference.