General Conference 2012 concludes

5/7/2012

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.

General Conference is a 10 day meeting of delegates from around the world

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.

Legislation

Some of the legislation acted on by the full body of General Conference included the following:

  • Not  approving a request for a full-time President of the Council of Bishops with no residential responsibilities (a set aside Bishop)
     
  • Not approving a petition for term limits for Bishops within the United States
     
  • Passing legislation concerning the makeup of the Commission on the General Conference and the translation of the Daily Christian Advocate (the publication of General Conference containing all the submitted legislation) into additional languages.
     
  • Passing legislation regarding the time of year General Conference meets every four years to allow the possibility of meeting at a time that would better accommodate students and parents. This will change the UMC constitution, thus will need to be voted on by Annual & Central Conferences and then ratified by the Council of Bishops.
     
  • Clarifying that the power of boundary of Episcopal area decisions lies with jurisdictional and central conferences instead of College of Bishops. This is a UMC Constitutional change to be voted on by Annual & Central Conferences and then ratified by the Council of Bishops.
     
  • Creating the Burundi Annual Conference in Africa and endorsed a new episcopal area in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
     
  • Approving the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, making it the sixth racial-ethnic ministry plan for the church
     
  • Establishing the Central Conference Theological Education Fund, with $5 million in funding coming from the World Service Fund
     
  • Dedicated $7 million to recruit and train young clergy in the United States.
     
  • Making United Methodist Women an autonomous organization within the United Methodist Church (instead of being within the church’s mission agency)
     
  • Ending security of appointment of elders and established next steps if an elder or associate member is not continued under appointment. This legislation also establishes a task force who will develop a list of criteria to guide the Cabinet and Bishop as they make missional appointments. This legislation will be reviewed by the Judicial Council in the fall of 2012.
     
  • Making changes to the Conference committee on investigation and revision of the complaint processes for chargeable offenses
     
  • Referring a petition to have The Guidelines for Leading your Congregation made available as free downloadable files on the official United Methodist website to the United Methodist Publishing House.
     
  • Reaffirming a resolution opposing Israeli settlements in Palestinian land and added a clause affirming “the church’s commitment to non-violent response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and (acknowledging) the need to hear the voices of all those – Muslims, Christian, and Jewish –– harmed by the conflict....” However, delegates rejected legislation to divest from specific companies which provide products that are used by the Israeli military in the occupation of Palestinian lands.
     
  • Not approving petitions that would change wording in the Book of Discipline ¶161.F to note that there is disagreement among United Methodists on the subject of homosexuality. Therefore, all language in the Book of Discipline relating to human sexuality is unchanged.
     
  • Changing Lay Speaking Ministry to Lay Servant Ministries while keeping the historic Lay Speaker term for one type of Lay Servant Ministries. Also, voted to change the name of the Conference Director of Lay Speaking to the Director of Lay Servant Ministry.  This later legislation will change the UMC constitution, thus will need to be voted on by Annual & Central Conferences and then ratified by the Council of Bishops.
     
  • Passing legislation stating that General Boards and Agencies, the Connectional Table, Jurisdictional/Central, Annual Conference, District, and Local Church groups within The United Methodist Church that have young people in membership should consider the school schedules of young people when planning meetings.
     
  • Approving a modified Clergy Retirement Security Program. The new pension plan combines a defined benefit component with a defined contribution component, like the current retirement program, but with a reduced benefit for clergy and, consequently, a lower contribution for U.S. annual conferences. (Presenters estimated approximately a 15% savings in contribution costs.) The legislation gives annual conferences final authority in determining whether clergy who serve half time or three-quarter time appointments can participate in the program. The program is mandatory for full-time clergy.
     
  • Approving a petition stating that clergy who are unable to attend annual conference because of (long-term) incapacity or advanced age shall not be counted in the equalization between clergy and laity for the Annual Conference meeting.  This legislation was later sent to the Judicial Council for a ruling on if it violates the UMC Constitution.
     
  • Passing legislation that provides uniform rules for the retirement age of Bishops for both jurisdictional and central conferences.
     
  • Passing legislation to have each of the five U.S. jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church separately bear the cost of episcopal leadership. This was deemed “unconstitutional” by the Judicial Council.
     
  • Electing John Street UMC Trustees, Secretary of the General Conference, the Judicial Council (the highest judicial body or "court" of The United Methodist Church) and the University Senate (an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church).
     
  • Adopting legislation that petitions to General Conference must come from groups within the church and not from individuals
     
  • Electing members to the General Council on Finance and Administration and to the Commission on General Conference.  North Alabama’s Zac Riddle was elected to GCFA and Gloria Holt was elected to serve another term on the Commission on General Conference.

Legislation from North Alabama

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.

Special times or worship, repentance and celebration

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. 


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