Visitors to the 2019 special General Conference will no longer need to pay a $200 registration fee to witness the historic gathering firsthand.
General Conference organizers have found a way to avoid requiring the controversial fees and still cover the costs of The United Methodist Church’s top policymaking assembly.
In May, the Commission on General Conference reluctantly decided to charge each visitor a registration fee of at least $200 to help pay for the initially unfunded meeting.
The denomination’s Council of Bishops has called the special General Conference for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, with the goal of helping the denomination resolve its longtime debate over homosexuality. The dispute has threatened to split the 12.5 million-member, multinational denomination, and already at least some congregations are heading for the exits.
Paying for the meeting, which will bring together 864 lay and clergy delegates from four continents, also was proving to be a challenge. The commission was facing a $688,000 shortfall in making the meeting’s budget of a little under $3.7 million.
In a July 12 conference call, Moses Kumar — General Conference treasurer — told commission members that the fees would no longer be needed, thanks in large part to negotiated cost savings and a grant from United Methodist Communications.
“I want to thank all of the board of United Methodist Communications for stepping up to give us this grant,” Kumar said.
The denomination’s communications agency, which includes United Methodist News Service, has made a $450,000 grant to the special General Conference. The agency also previously had volunteered to provide all production for the February 2019 meeting at no cost to the commission.
“We recognize that this is a monumental event for the church in its history,” said Dan Krause, top executive of United Methodist Communications, in a statement. “It was a chance for us to help the denomination, while also recognizing a broader communication role.”
Kumar said the commission will be able to make up the remaining amount through negotiated savings and new revenue from ministry partners — that is, groups willing to help sponsor the special session.
Kumar is also the top executive of the denomination’s finance agency General Council on Finance and Administration, which had already committed up to $3 million toward the special General Conference.
The commission reverses the fees after at least five annual conferences — East Ohio, Minnesota, New England, Pacific Northwest and Upper New York — voted to ask the denomination’s top court to rule on whether such mandatory fees are permitted under church law.
The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, includes a paragraph encouraging open meetings except under particular circumstances.
Kumar told the commission he is not certain what impact the withdrawal of the fees will have on the Judicial Council, which next meets in October.
To learn moreRead Commission on General Conference press release about the decision to rescind registration fees.
The special General Conference will be held in downtown St. Louis in The Dome, part of the America’s Center Convention Complex. The denomination’s last special session of its lawmaking assembly, in 1970, was also in St. Louis.
General Conference will be sharing the convention complex with a high school and middle school volleyball tournament.
General Conference visitors will be requested to pay $7 ahead of General Conference, and $10 at the door to help offset the expenses of the credentialing process. Sara Hotchkiss, the business manager, said these much smaller, suggested fees cover the cost of badges required by venue security.
Delegates, reserves, official monitors required in the rules of the General Conference, Judicial Council members, hospitality volunteers and General Conference staff will not be requested to pay this amount.
The suggested amount for credentials dates back to at least the 2008 General Conference, Hotchkiss said. What’s new this time is that all General Conference participants — including visitors — will need to wear badges to enter the plenary hall.
Convention center staff will monitor the badges to direct attendees to proper seating areas based on their credentials. The venue requires this as a safety measure for all using the facility.
The 864 lay and clergy delegates to the General Conference will act on a report by the bishop-appointed Commission on a Way Forward, which has offered three different approaches to ministry with LGBTQ individuals.
More details of the credentialing process and a diagram of seating in the plenary hall will be released later. Registration will begin in mid- to late fall.Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.