In their final day of deliberation, delegates to the United Methodist General Conference voted on legislation ranging from the denominationwide budget to the conflict in the Sudan to a declaration on unity.
The unity resolution, supported by 95 percent of delegates during a May 7 vote, was sparked by talk of a proposal from a group of conservatives that would dissolve the United Methodist Church into two separate denominations. The proposal was never presented to the floor but was the subject of hallway discussions and attracted significant media attention.
The Rev. John Schol of Eastern Pennsylvania introduced the resolution, which reads: “As United Methodists, we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagreement, and affirm our commitment to work together for our common mission of making disciples throughout the world.”
Schol said he felt the need for such a declaration after receiving telephone calls from people back home who had heard the church was about to split. “It’s important to send a clear message that we are unified, a United Methodist Church which is not splitting,” he told reporters after the vote.
Other decisions required more negotiation. Delegates spent more than three hours debating the amount of money local churches would be able to contribute for worldwide ministries before finally approving a four-year, $612.5 million budget.
That figure represents a 12.2 percent increase over the 2001-04 budget and will be apportioned to each of the 63 U.S. annual conferences. The amount each conference is assessed is based on net expenditures, regional factors, including per capita income, and church attendance.
Delegates not only reaffirmed church unity but also managed to instantly increase its total size by about 1 million members by voting to receive the Protestant Methodist Church of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) into full membership. The formerly autonomous denomination had become a “mission” church through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
The process into full membership had been expected to take another four years. Started in 1924 by the British Methodist Church, the French-speaking denomination became autonomous in 1985. The Cote d’Ivoire church will be responsible for funding its own bishop over the next four years and then be incorporated into the denominationwide Episcopal Fund.
Youth and young adult members also were acknowledged May 7 when delegates agreed to a proposal that the next General Conference include an address by a young person.
“For a young person to make an address to the 2008 General Conference shows the entire church that young people can be in leadership and have a voice,” said Julie O’Neal, a co-chairperson of Shared Mission Focus on Young People. “We have some good things for the denomination to hear.”
Global conflict became a focus on the floor when delegates passed a resolution on the Sudan.
The Sudan resolution expresses concern for the 5 million people displaced in that East African country and the estimated 2 million people killed by violence and starvation there. United Methodists participate in an interchurch effort to care for Sudanese refugees entering the nation of Chad, but the denomination has no congregations in the Sudan.
In other business, General Conference delegates:
- Adopted “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion” as the official interpretive statement of the theology and practice of Holy Communion in the denomination.
- Approved new pension plans for clergy and employees of United Methodist agencies.
- Learned the Judicial Council is deferring requests for declaratory decisions on clergy pensions and the Connectional Table plan until its fall meeting.
- Supported a Congressional study of reparations and the effect of slavery on the lives of African Americans today and urged passage and signing of House Resolution 40.
- Agreed that, except in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law, clergy will be allowed to “listen to their own conscience” in deciding whether or not to report a case of suspected child abuse or neglect.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
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