General Conference need not be just a springtime occurrence in coming years.
That is one of the biggest changes United Methodists approved in ratifying four amendments to the denomination’s constitution.
One amendment removes the requirement that General Conference — the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly and the only body that can speak for the church — meet in April or May. The body still will meet every four years.
The Council of Bishops on Nov. 4 officially certified that the amendments had won approval.
To be ratified, a constitutional amendment first requires a two-thirds majority vote at General Conference, which happened in 2012. Then, it must win a two-thirds majority of the total voters at annual conferences, which happened in 2013 and early 2014.
San Francisco Area Bishop Warner Brown Jr., the president of the council, announced that the amendments had surpassed the needed votes.
The changes to the constitution will be included when the next Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, is printed in 2016. But most of the amendments take effect immediately.
Flexibility step toward global church
The increased flexibility for General Conference dates will take effect after the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
As a practical matter, the assembly will remain in the spring at least until 2024, since the 2020 General Conference is scheduled for May 5-15 in Minneapolis.
Great Plains Area Bishop Scott Jones said he thinks the change will make it easier for countries outside the United States to host General Conference. Jones’ area includes United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska.
“I believe The United Methodist Church is on a journey to living more fully into its worldwide nature,” he said, “and the amendment that frees up the time of General Conference is a great step forward in becoming a global church.”
Bishop David Kekumba Yemba, who leads the Central Congo Area in the Democratic Republic of Congo, agreed. “I think it is a step ahead.”
The Rev. L. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist II, secretary of General Conference, added that the change also has the potential to save the denomination money in holding the lawmaking assemblies, which cost millions to convene.
For example, a United Methodist-related university might be able to hold a future General Conference if the gathering occurs when the university is out of session and space is available. The change also will make it easier for United Methodist college and seminary students to serve as General Conference delegates, instead of risking missing exam time.
The other three amendments do the following:
- Adds the word “pray” to Division One, Paragraph 6, Article VI, which now says: “The United Methodist Church believes that the Lord of the church is calling Christians everywhere to strive toward unity; and therefore it will pray, seek, and work for unity at all levels of church life… .”
- Changes the term “director of Lay Speaking Ministries” to “director of Lay Servant Ministries” in Division Two, Section VI, Paragraph 32, Article I. This change establishes that a director of Lay Servant Ministries is part of conference membership. It supports other changes the 2012 General Conference made to recognize that a layperson’s certified ministry can involve more than filling the pulpit when the pastor is on vacation.
- Changes Division Two, Section VII, Paragraph 40, Article I to read: “The number, names, and boundaries of the annual conferences and episcopal areas shall be determined by the jurisdictional conferences in the United States of America and by the central conferences outside the United States of America according to the provisions under the respective powers and pursuant to the respective structures of the jurisdictional and the central conferences. The authority of jurisdictional and central conferences provided herein is not circumscribed or limited by the authority provided to the College of Bishops to arrange a plan of episcopal supervision.”
For questions about the amendments, contact InfoServ, the denomination’s official information service, at [email protected].
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].