Delegates consider legislation during the 2008 United Methodist General
Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Dec. 9, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
The denomination's financial agency is asking the Council of Bishops to call a special session of General Conference to address funding pensions for United States clergy and reorganization of its 40-year-old structure.
The General Council on Finance and Administration approved a motion to encourage the bishops at their May 2010 meeting to call a special session before the planned April 25-May 4, 2012, General Conference in Tampa, Fla. The council also decided to work with the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits to help ensure annual conferences could pay clergy pension plans.
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In November, the Council of Bishops also discussed the idea of a special called session to discuss both matters.
"I'm sensing there is a way in which those two things go together," Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops, said Dec. 9. "I have put it (special session) on the agenda for the January executive committee meeting of the council as an item for more conversation."
A committee led by Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president-elect of the Council of Bishops and chair of the Call to Action Steering Committee, recommended hiring an outside consultant to do an audit of the church's structure when the two bodies met in November. The plan was approved by the bishops and the Connectional Table, a 60-member group responsible for coordinating the mission, ministries and resources of the United Methodist Church.
Issues under consideration include eliminating guaranteed appointments for clergy, recruiting young leaders and exploring the "right sizing" of the denomination's general agencies and church activities.
The idea for a special session was introduced by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference at the fall Council of Bishops meeting.
"If we move toward a four-year cycle in which all our old ways move us forward, I wonder if this dream can come to pass?" she asked, referring to the recommendations of the Call to Action Task Force. "It will require a different sort of gathering than a General Conference."
The bishops also at the November meeting approved a special task force to respond to the challenges of funding clergy pensions. Bishops Jonathan Keaton, Scott Jones, Leo Soriano, Clifton Ives, Paul Leeland and Warner Brown were assigned to the task force.
Barbara Boigegrain, top executive of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits, said "robust" discussions about the economic downturn and the church's response to it have been going on for a year. The resolution from the General Council on Finance and Administration came as a surprise, however. "No one had asked questions of us," she said.
Boigegrain said the board has been gathering information from the annual conferences and has heard from all but two. She said all the conferences will be able to pay their responsibilities to pension funds for 2009 and 2010. Further analysis is ongoing, she said.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline states a special session of the General Conference may be called by the Council of Bishops. A special session before the 2012 meeting would be composed of the delegates to the 2008 General Conference "except when a particular annual conference or missionary conference shall prefer to have a new election it may do so."
The purpose of the special session should be stated in the call and only that business should be discussed unless there is a two-thirds vote by the delegates to add other business. The last special session was in 1970 and was called to deal with the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which created The United Methodist Church.
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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