Delegates make commitments to global church

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As with a number of other items that were resolved without much notice in the morning plenary May 1, delegates to the 2012 General Conference approved two pieces of legislation that further the global ministry of The United Methodist Church.

The Pacific Islander Ministry Plan was approved on the morning’s consent calendar, making it the sixth racial-ethnic ministry plan for the church. The consent calendar comprises a large number of petitions that are acted upon at the same time.

A committee approved by the 2008 General Conference was charged with studying the needs and challenges of Pacific Islanders in the United States – a group that includes Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, native Hawaiians and others. The ministry plan is the result of that work. Its goal is to resource, strengthen and advocate for the growth and development of Pacific Island churches and ministries within the United Methodist connection.

At least 1.1 million Pacific Islanders live in the United States, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, and there are about 80 churches, congregations and fellowships in the United States. Methodism in the Pacific Islands dates back to 1822.

The plan joins the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries, Korean American Ministry Plan, Asian Language Ministry Plan, Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century and the Native American Comprehensive Plan.

Commitment to worldwide church

Through the consent calendar, delegates also approved the Covenant for a Worldwide United Methodist Church. It is a product of nearly eight years of study by the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church.

In a time when the membership of the U.S. church is in decline and conferences outside the United States are growing, the covenant celebrates both the diversity of the church and its connectedness across the globe.

The covenant reminds delegates that the church’s worldwide connection enables United Methodist to fulfill their “missional calling beyond national and regional boundaries.” It also urges them to “affirm our unity in Christ and take faithful steps to live more fully into what it means to be a worldwide church in mission for the transformation of the world.”

The demographics of the 2012 General Conference delegates reflect current growth trends. More than 39 percent are from the annual conferences in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Theological education in central conferences

After significant debate, delegates voted to establish the Central Conference Theological Education Fund, with $5 million in funding coming from the World Service Fund.

The action was taken after approval of an amendment that sought to specify the source of the funding, which was not included in the original petition.

Those in favor of the amendment said it would ensure monies would be available for the fund. Those opposed said fulfilling the mandate through World Service funds would further deplete resources for the denomination’s general agencies, which are already facing budget cuts.

The funding decision will be referred to the Connectional Table and General Council on Finance and Administration for consideration May 4. It is already included in the budget proposed for the next four-year period.

Another amendment to the original petition sought to ensure that the commission created to disburse the funds would have proportional representation from the church — one more instance of efforts to be more inclusive of United Methodists outside the U.S. church. That amendment also passed.

A new African conference

Delegates approved a petition to create a Burundi Annual Conference. Burundi currently is one of five countries in the East Africa Annual Conference.

The proposal also called for placing the Burundi Conference in the Congo Central Conference, but delegates decided that it should be in the Africa Central Conference, which also includes the East Africa Conference.

Power to change Discipline

Rounding out concerted efforts toward greater inclusion of central conferences in ordering the life of the church, delegates approved a petition enabling central conferences to make changes to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, with some exceptions.

They may not adapt portions that deal with the constitution, doctrinal standards, local church and church membership, and other items listed in Parts I-IV.

Other business

Delegates also voted to change the preamble to the church’s Social Principles, but only after considerable debate sparked by a minority report that was amended and finally approved over the original petition.

The intent of the original petition was to maintain unity while acknowledging diversity of opinions, according to the Rev. Tracey Malone, Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, and chairperson of the Church and Society A Committee, which brought the petition before the body.

Beginning with, “We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the Gospel,” the minority report streamlined the language of the original petition.

Those opposed to the minority report felt it did not include the nuances of the original petition over issues of diversity of opinion. Those in favor said the original report lengthened the preamble unnecessarily.

An amendment stating, “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” was added to the minority petition, which was then adopted.

Delegates also revised the Social Principles statement on abortion to say, “We mourn and are committed to the diminishment of high abortion rates.”

Churches are encouraged to provide “age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support of initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.”

Churches are also encouraged to support “crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women explore all options related to unplanned pregnancy.”

Tuesday afternoon deliberations

A highlight of the May 1 afternoon session was a celebration of the pan-Methodist denominations, with leaders from each of the churches speaking to the General Conference. Delegates had already voted to recognize those denominations and The United Methodist Church as being in full communion, or fully connected.

In other afternoon business:

• Delegates gave the group of 2012 retiring bishops a long-standing ovation.

• Late in the day, a group of about two dozen protesters silently walked around the perimeter of the hall holding signs protesting the church’s current policies regarding sexuality-related issues, repeating their protest earlier in the morning session.

• Presiding Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Richmond (Va.) Area offered a prayer for a delegate from Nigeria whose uncle was killed in a terrorist bombing earlier this week.

• Delegates approved a new episcopal area in the South Congo, but deferred the question of adding another bishop to the Standing Committee on the Central Conferences.

• A proposal to limit debate on petitions to one speech for and one speech against was defeated by a narrow margin.

• Delegates approved jurisdictional committees on episcopacy meeting annually instead of bi-annually, but defeated an amendment that would have required a specific evaluation of bishops that would have included apportionment success and membership numbers in the annual conference.

*Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla., and serving as part of the United Methodist News Service team at General Conference 2012. Caldwell is Virginia Conference editor and a member of the UMNS General Conference team.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, Tampa, Fla., (813) 574-4837, through May 4; after May 4: Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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