The 2012 meeting of the United Methodist General Conference met April 24 to May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Florida. This top legislative body of the church, which meets once every four years, worked through legislation submitted by individual members, groups and organizations of the United Methodist Church to revise portions of The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. General Conference is the only entity that speaks for The United Methodist Church.
During the opening worship service, Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, the outgoing president of the Council of Bishops, invited the Conference to hear the call of Jesus in the "midst of all the legislation that will crowd our time and drain our energy."
Over the next ten days, delegates’ time and energy was spent as they worshipped together; experienced times of holy conversations; debated legislation in committees and as a body at large; celebrated inspiring stories of ministry from around the world; and experienced moments of tension and frustration as well as moments of grace and hope. The 988 delegates from more than 60 nations worked long hours each day to process almost 1200 pieces of legislation on issues facing the United Methodist Church around the world.
As the ten days came to a close, the General Conference experienced an unexpected time of drama when the Judicial Council, the highest court of the denomination, ruled that the legislation the Conference had passed earlier in the week to restructure the organization, was out of line with the United Methodist Church constitution and therefore was voided. Delegates then worked late into the last evening of the Conference to pass other legislation which kept most of the current structure intact, but reduced the size of general boards and agencies. They approved petitions that eight of the denomination’s 13 general agencies had submitted to reduce the size of their boards, independent of other restructuring plans. Therefore, these General agency boards shrank by 266 members, cutting the number of board members for the 13 agencies nearly in half. These Friday evening actions also kept intact the overall budget approved earlier in the day. The budget of $603.1 million for seven general church funds during the 2013-2016 period is 6.03 percent less than the amount apportioned for the previous four-year period –– the first time the assembly has accepted a lower budget than the amount set for the preceding period.
Most of the first week of General Conference was spent with delegates doing their work in 13 legislative committees to review, refine and make recommendations on petitions assigned to them. The committee recommendations then went before the entire General Conference body to act on the legislation. No legislation is final until the entire General Conference approves it.
Unlike previous General Conferences, this year delegates adopted a rule which says “any legislation not acted upon by the legislative committee at the time of the Saturday evening adjournment shall remain unfinished.” In the past, committees had to continue work until they acted on all petitions assigned to them. This new rule was debated during the organization of conference business sessions. However, it was adopted knowing that the 2012 General Conference rules also stated that the signatures of 20 delegates could bring any petition to the full body.
Some legislation was voted on by the entire body in the form of a consent calendar (items that got overwhelming support in a legislative committee are grouped and are voted on as a group). Other items were lifted from the consent calendar to be discussed, amended and voted on as a single petition.
As delegates prepared to begin their legislative work, on Wednesday morning April 25, the Conference heard three addresses to set the theological grounding for the work ahead. The Episcopal Address was given by Bishop Peter D. Weaver; the Laity Address by Steve Furr, Amory Peck, Betty Spiwe Katiyo and the Young People's Address by Joy Bohol & Krin Ali. Delegates began their work each day with a time of morning prayer together. They closed each day with an evening worship.
Some of the legislation acted on by the full body of General Conference included the following:
The North Alabama Conference Delegation submitted several petitions to the General Conference, two of which were approved.
One petition related to the election dates of Delegates to General Conference. The petition requested, in order to have time for better preparation, that Annual and Central Conferences could elect delegates earlier than the Annual Conference prior to General Conference. The approved legislation says, "Delegates to the General Conference shall be elected at the session of the annual conference held not more than two annual conference sessions before the calendar year preceding the session of the General Conference."
Another petition from the North Alabama Delegation related to who has the responsibility of setting the number of delegates to General Conference. Previously, that was the sole responsibility of the Secretary of the General Conference. Now that the petition was approved, the responsibility belongs to the Commission on General Conference.
On the first Friday evening General Conference participants gathered for An Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples. The Rev. George E. “Tink” Tinker, a citizen of the Osage Nation and an indigenous advocate and theologian, was the key speaker for the service. Tinker is on the faculty at United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology in Denver and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
On Sunday afternoon, April 29, there was a Service of Commissioning during which 23 new missionaries and 17 deaconesses and home missioners of The United Methodist Church were commissioned. The missionaries were from 11 countries. The missionaries serve through the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries; deaconesses and home missioners have a special relationship with the church through the Women’s Division of the agency.
During the second week of the meeting, the General Conference celebrated the adoption of a full communion agreement with six Pan-Methodist denominations. This affirmation establishes a new relationship among the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, African Union Methodist Protestant, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Union American Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist denominations.