For some international delegates, most of the proposed changes before General Conference deal only with matters of concern in United States — and they are wary.
The General Conference briefing for central conference delegates drew hundreds of participants on Monday morning at the Tampa (Fla.) Convention Center. Sponsored by the United Methodist Connectional Table and arranged by United Methodist Communications, the briefing highlighted key legislative proposals.
Delegates from Africa, Asia and Europe heard presentations about the Act of Repentance, Call to Action and church restructuring plans, clergy reforms, episcopacy reforms, budget, social issues, proposed changes in the pension plan, and the worldwide nature of the church. Plans to restructure the church, social justice issues and worldwide nature of the church had the most reaction from delegates.
Council of Bishop President-elect Bishop Rosemarie Wenner outlined the Call to Action plan and explained how vital it was for the church to embrace the proposed changes. While noting that the plan was not perfect, Bishop Wenner urged the delegates to read for themselves what was contained in the proposed legislation.
The Rev. Øyvind Helliesen, a district superintendent from Norway Annual Conference, and a member of the Connectional Table, and The Rev. Andy Langford, a pastor from Concord, N.C., echoed Bishop Wenner’s sentiments.
Langford, who is also a Connectional Table member, countered the notion that the proposal focused only on the United States. “We,in the United States,” he told the delegates, “are dragging you down.” He alluded to the lack of focusamong our general agencies as one of the main problems the church was facing, and he said the Call to Action proposal will mandate that every general agency have a global emphasis.
Speaking against the Call to Action plan, the Rev. Forbes Matonga of Zimbabwe wondered why research on the vitality of the churches was not conducted outside the United States where the church is growing.
Matonga, a member of the Connectional Table and a supporter of Plan B, an alternate structure proposal, said that about 4.5 million United Methodists are African and that number is growing. “The center of Christianity has shifted to the south,” he said.
On social justice issues, delegates heard a passionate appeal from the Rev. Liberato Bautista, assistant general secretary for United Nations and International Affairs in the General Board of Church, to confront what he said was discriminatory languages in theBook of Discipline,especially in regard to human sexuality.
However, the Rev. Ilunga Kandolo Kasolwa, vice dean in the School of Education at Katanga Methodist University in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told the delegates that the social justice issues were viewed from a different cultural perspective especially by delegates from Africa. He urged the delegates to think about the global implications on social issues and not only the United States perspective.
The global nature of the church also attracted several questions, especially when the delegates broke into smaller groups to discuss separate issues. Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones, chairperson of the Worldwide Nature of the Church Committee, and the Rev. Ruby-Nell Estrella, a pastor from Manila, Philippines, shared the details of the committee’s work.
Among the proposals were plans to incorporate a new worldwide United Methodist Church covenant into theBook of Discipline.The covenant will be accompanied by aLitany for the Covenant of The Worldwide United Methodist Church.
Making a global church out the United Methodist Church would require creating a new globalBook of Discipline“that specifies what decisions the General Conference makes, and which areas of ministry and organization are adaptable by Central Conferences.,” Bishop Jones said.
He said plans are to in motion for annual conferences to study a proposed new model for a worldwide church. This study may result in petitions for greater structural change at the 2016 General Conference.
“We believe that the United States should be a central conference,” said Bishop Jones but added, “We are not yet ready to bring in that legislation yet.”
Several of the delegates said afterwards that they were impressed with the presentation, and it will help them make informed decisions.