Special general conference tops the news in 2019

Translate Page

For the second year in a row, The United Methodist Church’s struggle to stay together despite longstanding division over homosexuality was the denomination’s top news story of 2019.

This year, however, the focus was on unity efforts by the Commission on a Way Forward and others, culminating in a special called session of General Conference Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.

Thirty-eight ballots were cast by church communicators and United Methodist News staff for the top five United Methodist news stories in 2019. February’s special General Conference had 154 total votes, including 28 first-place votes.

Other stories that made both the 2018 and 2019 top-five list were the United Methodist response to immigrants and asylum-seekers and the church’s relief and rebuilding work after natural disasters. Rounding out the “Top 5” this year were voting irregularities related to the special General Conference and a revote on an amendment to the church’s constitution.

Here's a more detailed recap of the top stories and related articles:

First: GC2019 makes headlines

A special General Conference called to deal with the decades-long division over how to be in ministry with LGBTQ people ended with the 438-384 vote passage of the Traditional Plan. That vote, and the divisiveness on display, drew news coverage around the U.S. and beyond.

The Traditional Plan, which takes effect Jan. 1, tightens bans on same-sex weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy. In April, the Judicial Council found that while some provisions of the plan were still unconstitutional, the rest of the Traditional Plan could stand.

But with the next General Conference just around the corner — May 5-15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center — alternative plans have been developed and submitted as legislation and debate continues over whether The United Methodist Church will hold together.

In May and June, U.S. annual conferences elected more delegates who publicly oppose the Traditional Plan than did so during February’s special General Conference. Active efforts, including officiating at same-sex weddings or supporting gay clergy, are being made to resist its implementation.

While advocates from various perspectives agree the shift was unlikely to be big enough to overturn the plan, strategizing continues to occur ahead of the 2020 General Conference.

The Rev. Arturo Gonzélez Sandouzl (second from right) and other members of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force pray with Isabél and her 16-month-old daughter Kassandra at a makeshift camp near the bridge leading to the U.S. in Matamoros, Mexico. The mother and daughter traveled from Nicaragua in hopes of seeking asylum in the U.S. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
The Rev. Arturo Gonzélez Sandouzl (second from right) and other members of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force pray with Isabél and her 16-month-old daughter Kassandra at a makeshift camp near the bridge leading to the U.S. in Matamoros, Mexico. The mother and daughter traveled from Nicaragua in hopes of seeking asylum in the U.S. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Second: Providing assistance to immigrants, refugees

Throughout 2019, United Methodists and Methodists extended helping hands to displaced people on the U.S.-Mexico border and those fleeing violence in Congo.

United Methodists and members of the Methodist Church of Mexico in El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico, help migrants stranded in Mexico while awaiting asylum. Methodists in Mexicali, Mexico, helped migrants who have fled violence in Central America with food, while in McAllen, Texas, churches help with a respite care center for migrants. The Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist pastor, serves Holy Communion weekly as U.S. citizens gather in Friendship Park to glimpse loved ones on the other side of the border wall.

National Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist group, provides free or low-cost immigration legal services to vulnerable immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is providing close to $2 million in grants to JFON and Church World Service to support a three-year pilot project of the Board of Global Ministries, its parent agency, aimed at asylum seekers in the U.S.

Some United Methodist churches in the U.S. also provided sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation.

In Congo, The United Methodist Church offered shelter to more than 2,500 displaced people who fled violence to Uvira to avoid conflicts between the Banyamurenge and Bafuliro tribes.

Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa and other United Methodist church leaders tour Ngangu, Zimbabwe, an area hard hit by Cyclone Idai in March. Photo by Priscilla Muzerengwa, UMNS.
Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa and other United Methodist church leaders tour Ngangu, Zimbabwe, an area hard hit by Cyclone Idai in March. Photo by Priscilla Muzerengwa, UMNS.

Third: Responding to wind, water and fire

Again and again in 2019, United Methodists responded to natural disasters, supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief and its partners.

In the U.S., the approach of spring came with deadly consequences. United Methodist pastors of Lee County, Alabama, became a team of crisis counselors after a March 3 tornado killed 23. As the month progressed, churches in Nebraska and other states were dealing with widespread flooding.

By the end of May, United Methodists were continuing to respond to flooding in various U.S. locations and assisting those affected by tornados, including one that struck Dayton, Ohio, area. And California residents once again faced an extended wildfire season.

In Africa, Cyclone Idai tore through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March, ripping tin roofs off houses and hurtling them like deadly missiles that killed and maimed. Otherwise placid rivers jumped their banks and submerged towns and villages, drowning hundreds and leaving hundreds of thousands more with no homes or possessions.

United Methodists were among those picking up the pieces after an April 22 earthquake struck the main island of Luzon in the Philippines and killed at least 16 people. Local churches and homes were among the buildings damaged.

Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas on Sept. 1 and lingered, creating both physical and psychological devastation. UMCOR has been working with the two Methodist denominations in the Bahamas to assist with recovery.

“Emotionally, it’s going to scar us for some time to come,” said the Rev. Kenneth Lewis of Freeport. “I have to deal with members who lost everything. The house is gone, belongings gone, no food, no clothing, no vehicles.”

The Commission on General Conference met in August at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky.  The commission promised an independent investigation after Voting irregularities were revealed soon after the adjournment of the special 2019 General Conference. Photo by Diane Degnan, United Methodist Communications.
The Commission on General Conference met in August at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky.  The commission promised an independent investigation after Voting irregularities were revealed soon after the adjournment of the special 2019 General Conference. Photo by Diane Degnan, United Methodist Communications.

Fourth: Voting irregularities

Voting irregularities revealed soon after the adjournment of the special 2019 General Conference called into question at least one crucial vote. A motion to substitute legislation that spelled out a pathway for churches to depart the denomination over LGBTQ issues passed by just two votes.

The General Conference Commission promised a full, independent investigation and decided in a closed-door meeting in August to void the vote on the motion to substitute and ask the Council of Bishops to request the Judicial Council to rule on what the effect of that vote nullification was.

In its Oct. 30 oral hearing on the matter, the Judicial Council questioned the lack of documentation and decided to reschedule the case for the 2020 spring session, noting “our inability to get the information requested during oral argument.” The council did rule on the effective date of the petition, saying it went into effect when the special General Conference ended.

Dawn Wiggins Hare (right), top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, becomes emotional as she and Harriett Jane Olson, United Methodist Women chief executive officer, lament the failure of two amendments to the church's constitution focused on equality in the church for women and girls during the United Methodist Women Assembly  2018 in Columbus, Ohio. File photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
Dawn Wiggins Hare (right), top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, becomes emotional as she and Harriett Jane Olson, United Methodist Women chief executive officer, lament the failure of two amendments to the church's constitution focused on equality in the church for women and girls during the United Methodist Women Assembly  2018 in Columbus, Ohio. File photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Fifth: Constitutional amendment revote

After a revote, United Methodists around the globe have amended the denomination’s constitution to proclaim, “Men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” The newly adopted measure also commits United Methodists to work toward ending discrimination against women and girls.

Selecting the Top 5

Conference communicators and editors, as well as United Methodist News staff, vote each year on what stories were the biggest news in the denomination.

A first-place vote counts five points, second place four, and so on. If two stories get the same number of points, the number of first-place votes is used as the tiebreaker. 

The revote took place after the Ask the UMC and UM News teams reported incorrect wording in what was initially sent to annual conference voters.

Other stories getting multiple votes in the survey included the:

  • Continued response to the Ebola outbreak in Congo;
  • Proposed 2021-2024 general church budget, the smallest in more than 20 years;
  • Reaction to a video released by the North Carolina Conference that featured male clergy reading aloud comments their women colleagues endured;
  • Return of Native American land in Ohio and Oregon;
  • Action by churches in West Virginia and around the U.S. to help deal with the crisis of opioid-related deaths;
  • Focus on global health in Africa and the Philippines;
  • Condemnation by Filipino United Methodists of human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings and the treatment of indigenous people in the Philippines;
  • Struggles by individuals and churches affected by the economic hardships in Zimbabwe.

Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.

Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free daily or weekly digests.


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Disaster Relief
Volunteer Rose Calhoun (left) hugs flood survivor Rosemarie Peak, who was picking up relief supplies at United Methodist Mountain Mission in Jackson, Ky. At right is fellow volunteer Debbie Holcomb. The volunteers are members of Hampton (Ky.) United Methodist Church.

Volunteers share hugs and ‘God stories’ after flooding

As help pours in for Kentucky flood survivors, United Methodists work to organize and distribute truckloads of donations — while also offering a listening ear.
Violence
The Rev. Obang Olamo, senior pastor at Ethiopia United Methodist Church in Gambella, shares a sermon during Sunday worship service. A clash between separatists and government forces in western Ethiopia in June left 37 dead, including at least three members of Ethiopia United Methodist Church. Photo by Gad Maiga, UM News.

Church members slain in Ethiopia

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is sending $10,000 in aid to Ethiopia after deadly clashes between separatists and government forces.
Violence
St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, is a foremost example of Cossack Baroque and one of the country's most recognizable landmarks. Photo by Roman Brechko, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; graphic by UM News.

Church faces obstacles to help war-displaced

United Methodists continue to scramble to provide aid to war-displaced people in Ukraine and surrounding countries. One recent challenge: Finding new housing for displaced people in western Ukraine who had been using a school as shelter.