With a drum welcome from indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, United Methodists gathered for the 2016 General Conference, the top legislative body of the denomination, joined in a cacophony of “alleluias” in many languages during opening worship.
Meeting May 10-20 at the Oregon Convention Center, the 864 delegates will consider 1,000 petitions that will determine how the 12.3-million-member denomination orders its ministry, structures its agencies and addresses social justice issues, including human sexuality, for the next four years.
The theme of the 2016 General Conference is “Therefore Go.” The Commission on the General Conference selected the theme that ties to the roots of The United Methodist Church in Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Directing music and worship is the Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett of Eagle Creek, Oregon.
Delegates from the United States, Europe, Africa and the Philippines opened the session with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper and an address by San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., president of the Council of Bishops.
Plan UMC Revised partly unconstitutional
One of the proposed plans to realign the structure of The United Methodist Church will need yet another revision if the denomination’s top legislative body decides to adopt it.
In a May 9 ruling, the United Methodist Judicial Council declared, “Plan UMC Revised contains components that fail the test of constitutionality and components that are, as stated, entirely constitutional.”
Whether church delegates want to take action on the “constitutionally adequate” parts of the plan “is a legislative matter left to the processes of General Conference,” the denomination’s top court said.
Some of the constitutionality concerns are over issues of authority. “Plan UMC Revised” gives new authority and power to the Connectional Table, a church coordinating body; realigns the general agencies and eliminates three commissions.
In Decision 1310, the court mostly rejected legislative language that would give the Connectional Table new authority in the hiring and firing of agency top executives.
However, the church court affirmed that General Conference has the authority to discontinue commissions, as proposed under Plan UMC Revised.
African digital divide?
At General Conference 2016, delegates are supposed to use a tablet computer to register their desire to speak, and some African delegates aren’t happy about it.
Central conference delegates have been given their own tablet computers for online access to the Daily Christian Advocate and other relevant documents, but there is concern that delegates lacking a certain degree of skill with tablets will struggle with the new electronic queuing system.
Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, said he has heard the Africans’ “digital divide” concerns and has relayed them to the Commission on General Conference. He said he’s been assured accommodations will be made, as needed.
An unofficial ordination
Susan Laurie, 21 years after answering God’s call to ministry, was unofficially ordained as a United Methodist pastor by a grass-roots group of LGBTQ people and supporters at 10:32 a.m. inside the Oregon Convention Center.
This ceremony is not officially recognized. The United Methodist Church does not allow “self-avowed practicing” homosexuals to be ordained.
The time of the ceremony was significant. It was a reference to Judicial Council Decision 1032, which ruled gay people could be refused membership in The United Methodist Church because of their sexual orientation.
After the laying on of hands and prayer, Laurie and her wife, Julie Bruno, served Holy Communion.
In other news:
- Bishop Christian Alsted, who leads the Nordic and Baltic Area, addressed delegates and urged them to embrace the concept of Christian conferencing during General Conference, especially on issues where debate grows tense.
- A standing legislative committee of The United Methodist Church on May 9 reconfirmed its plan to recommend five new bishops for Africa four years from now.
- The delegates adopted all but one rule recommended by the Commission on General Conference that plans the legislative gathering. The delegates deferred discussing a proposed Group Discernment Process, outlined in Rule 44, until May 11.
Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications. Contact him at [email protected] or 615-742-5470.