After lengthy debates lasting through the dinner hour, delegates to the 2008 General Conference took a hesitant step toward reorganizing the 11.5 million-member United Methodist Church so it does not appear to be a U.S. church with satellite communities in Africa, Asia and Europe.
The last time the quadrennial legislative assembly met in 2004, nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world created a Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church. That six-member group proposed the possibility of making the United States a "central conference" similar to other conferences outside the United States.
The group said it prefers the word "worldwide" rather than "global," since global might be associated with the "homogenization and dominance of Western economy and culture."
The task force submitted 23 petitions that would amend the constitution to allow for the creation of a regional conference for the United States and change the name "central conference" to "regional conference."
In response to the proposals, delegates asked the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to create a 20-member committee to consider recommendations of the study group and suggested that the six members of the early study be included in the new committee. The new group will also consider the financial implications of proposed changes in structure and report back to the 2012 General Conference.
Arthur Jones, a lay delegate from North Texas Conference who introduced the recommendation from a legislative committee, said the creation of a study committee does not require the creation of a U.S. regional conference; however, if the U.S. church were to become a central conference, it would probably convene after General Conference.
The assembly offered a series of guidelines for the new study group, including a listing of powers that should be maintained by General Conference and the "duties and powers" of regional conferences.
Under the plan, the five jurisdictional conferences in the U.S. would continue, and bishops would continue to be elected in those quadrennial gatherings.
A minority report that did not provide similar guidelines was defeated. The defeated report would have allowed the study group to function "without restrictions to bind them," and the defeated motion called for a report to be made public 12 months before the 2012 General Conference.
Proposed changes in the constitution have been reviewed by legislative committees and will be considered later in the week.
Members of the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church were Bishop Ann Sherer, chair; Bishop Scott Jones; Bishop Ruediger Minor; Kristina Gonzalez; Forbes Matonga; and Dora Washington.
*Peck is a retired United Methodist clergyman and four-time editor of the Daily Christian Advocate now serving as an editor for United Methodist News Service during General Conference.
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