Commission on General Conference Looks Toward 2019 and 2020

October 10, 2017

Meeting at Camp Sumatanga in Gallant, Ala. for their fall meeting, the Commission on General Conference announced the America’s Center Convention Complex will be the venue for the 2019 special session of the General Conference, to be held February 23-26 in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.

Sara Hotchkiss, General Conference business manager, reported that hospitality for the 2019 event will be provided by the two annual conferences in the surrounding Greater St. Louis area -- the Missouri Annual Conference and the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. The conferences will work in collaboration with Explore St. Louis (the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission), which will also provide a significant number of volunteers.

The Council of Bishops made the call for a special session this past April, which would be "limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward." The deadline for the petitions secretary to receive such report is 230 days in advance of the special session, which will be July 8, 2018.

According to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, a special session "may be called by the Council of Bishops, or in such other manner as the General Conference may from time to time prescribe." The last—and only—special session of the United Methodist General Conference was held in 1970, to complete the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church, both of whom previously had special sessions.

Delegates from the 2016 General Conference will remain as delegates for the 2019 session, unless an annual conference chooses to have a new election.

The Commission on General Conference is simultaneously planning for both the 2019 special session and the regular session of the General Conference, which is scheduled for May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Commission continues to meet through Sunday, October 8.

GC Commission strives to bring new efficiencies to legislative event

The Commission on General Conference announced that the number of delegates for the 2020 General Conference will be roughly the same as the last. There were 864 delegates in 2016, compared to 988 in 2012. 

According to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, the General Conference may have between 600-1,000 delegates. A formula prescribed in the Book of Discipline (¶511.5) determines the number of delegates; however, if the result is above 1,000, then the formula is applied proportionately to achieve an approximate target number set by the Commission. The formula takes into account the total clergy and lay membership per conference, with each conference getting a minimum of one lay and one clergy delegate. 

Per an amendment to the Book of Discipline (¶511.5) in 2016, the statistics used for calculation of delegates to the General Conference come from the annual conference journals submitted to the General Council on Finance and Administration. Delegate counts per conference will be determined by the Secretary of the General Conference by December 1. For the 2019 special session of the General Conference, delegates from the 2016 General Conference would continue to serve unless an annual conference chooses to have a new election.

While the number of delegates won’t change significantly, there are other possible changes in the works. One being explored is how delegates and others get information through the Advance Daily Christian Advocate and the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA). The Commission heard a proposal to move from print to digital in 2020, and gave preliminary approval to move forward with a bid process for a software prototype.

A digital makeover would eliminate printing and shipping costs and enhance search and navigation capability, while maintaining easy access to materials and making all critical information about a petition accessible in one location in the user’s preferred language. 

“It’s a big step to be exploring this change of producing all the materials electronically. We hope that it’s going to improve the user experience,” said Brian Sigmon, editor of the DCA. “You’re going to be able to find what you’re looking for more easily and have a lot less to carry around.”

Another change approved by the Commission is to increase the number of legislative committees from 12 to 14 to more evenly distribute the workload. The two new committees would be World Community, which would handle matters related to Book of Discipline paragraph 165 (“The World Community”), and Ordained Ministry, which would handle matters related to paragraphs 305-369, 535, 635 and 666.

“The move to 14 legislative committees is intended to assist delegates in meeting the new requirements to vote on every petition assigned to a legislative committee,” said the Rev. Gary Graves, General Conference Secretary, referring to changes in ¶507.10 and ¶507.11.

The decision of a theme and logo for the 2020 General Conference is expected to be made in the fall of 2018.

In other business, the Commission authorized an approval process for working with GCFA's External Relations team to identify and develop relationships with prospective Ministry Partners to find alternative sources of income that would lessen the dependence of the General Conference on apportionment dollars and the General Administration Contingency Funds.

The Commission is met at Camp Sumatanga in Gallant, Alabama in a cost-cutting decision to meet in economically-priced venues to lessen the Commission’s expenses. The next full meeting of the Commission will be May 9-12, 2018, at a location yet to be determined.

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