Both umbrellas and points of order were raised during an April 27 session of General Conference.
It didn't feel like Sunday to veteran delegates to the legislative arm of the 11.5 million-member United Methodist Church. In the preceding 11 sessions of the 40-year-old denomination, delegates took Sunday off to attend local churches in cities where the meetings have been held once every four years. However, with the shortening of the 2008 gathering from 12 days to 10, Sunday became a working day.
Some legislative committees concluded their work on April 26. Others spent their Sunday afternoon plodding through legislative proposals. That evening, delegates enjoyed the traditional "area night," hosted by the church's Fort Worth Area. The event included a performance by the Texas Boys Choir.
Worship was still the first order of the day.
In her sermon, Phoenix Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño told the assembly about men, women and children who are being "swallowed up" by the Sonoran Desert. She celebrated the placing of water tanks in the desert by United Methodist volunteers for Humane Borders, a faith-based organization supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
In an appeal for a change in how immigration issues are approached in the United States and abroad, Carcaño said, "Jesus is not an American, German, Filipino, Liberian or even Nazarene. Nor is Jesus beholden to U.S. immigration policies or the policies of any nation." Her statements were met by enthusiastic applause.
Carcaño said the church needs to confess that it may be complicit in poverty-that many U.S. members may have more than they deserve and have not been faithful stewards of their resources.
The United Methodist Church has declared ministry with the poor as one of its four areas of focus for the immediate future.
A 36-member children's choir from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference sang in Creek, Choctaw and English during the morning service. The children, ages 2 to 17, came from some of the 89 churches and more than 35 tribes represented in the conference.
The service of worship closed with a slideshow of people stuck in grinding poverty and those who are ministering to them. The song "The Whole World in God's Hands" played in the background.
Central conference committee
A Central Conference Commission has traditionally met a few hours prior to the opening of General Conference to address issues concerning churches outside the United States. Delegates approved a plan that will allow a central conference standing committee to meet twice within the 2009-2012 period. The estimated cost of two meetings is $264,500.
All proposals involving the spending of unbudgeted funds are referred to the Connectional Table and the General Council on Finance and Administration for advice and recommendation before final action is taken by the full assembly. A motion to keep these funds within the $642 million apportioned general funds proposal was defeated.
The assembly voted 521-89 to create a task force to examine ways in which churches, agencies and conferences can address global warming. The 12-member group will make recommendations for such things as solar panels, meetings by conference calls, and building insulation, then report its findings to the 2012 General Conference.
Cost of the four-year endeavor, including meetings, printing and mailings, is estimated at $66,000. Delegates will review that cost after receiving recommendations from GCFA and the Connectional Table.
Black church initiative
Delegates voted 739-15 to continue a 12-year-old initiative known as Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century and suggested a budget of $1.4 million for 2009-2012 period. There are more than 2,400 African-American churches and 432,354 African Americans within the U.S. denomination.
Thirty congregational resource centers have developed more than 100 learning units that provide training tools for African-American churches across the United States, according to Cheryl Stevenson, executive director of the initiative.
The 700,000-member Côte d'Ivoire church was formally received as a United Methodist annual (regional) conference after four years of legal questions over the implications of the action.
The 2004 General Conference called for only two delegates to represent the West African conference at the 2008 assembly. Judicial Council upheld that decision, saying the autonomous church had not fulfilled requirements to be a full annual conference. Now the largest in the denomination, the Côte d'Ivoire Conference is expected to have the largest delegation at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
"I am very joyful today, more than yesterday," said Bishop Benjamin Boni, leader of the church in Côte d'Ivoire. "We are today fully united in the church, and members in Côte d'Ivoire share together fully with others in The United Methodist Church."
The joining of the Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 marked the end of the Central Jurisdiction, a non-geographic Methodist structure for African Americans.
General Conference honored men and women who worked 40 years ago to eliminate that race-based structure, formed in 1939 as a compromise measure between northern and southern branches of Methodism.
"For Methodist blacks, the creation of the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction was a humiliating disappointment," W. Astor Kirk told delegates. He was a member of the Committee of Five that sought the dissolution of the race-based jurisdiction. However, Kirk said, "many resourceful men and women used the organization as an instrument for empowering Methodist blacks."
Earlier in the day, General Conference suggested $400,000 in funding for the African-American Methodist Heritage Center for the 2009-2012 period.
As a time-saving measure, petitions that receive fewer than 10 opposing votes in a legislative committee are placed on a consent calendar. If the proposal does not call for funding or a change in the constitution, and if 20 delegates do not call for its removal, it is bunched together with other non-controversial proposals and voted on as a group in a plenary session.
Items passed on the consent calendar included: 1) authorization to continue a dialogue with Episcopalians with an interim agreement on the Eucharist until full communion is established between the churches, and 2) acceptance of the Malawi district of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area as a missionary conference.
Iowa Bishop Gregory V. Palmer was installed on April 26 as the new president of the Council of Bishops. Palmer, 54, will serve a two-year term as leader of 69 active and 87 retired bishops. He succeeds Houston Area Bishop Janice Riggle Huie. Bishop Larry Goodpaster, 50, of the Alabama-West Florida Area is the president-designate and will take office in 2010.
On the 40th anniversary of the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction, the Rev. Gil Caldwell told a gay-rights rally outside the convention center of a time when blacks and white bishops were turned away at the door of a Methodist church in Mississippi. That church then argued it was "not un-Christian" for them to remain an all-white congregation. He drew a parallel between that era and today's restrictions on the full participation of gays and lesbians in The United Methodist Church.
Later in the day, Black Methodists for Church Renewal held an Africana dinner and worship event at the nearby Renaissance Worthington Hotel, featuring a performance by the Africa University Choir, a homily by Bishop Palmer and presentations to the retiring Ebony and African bishops.
*Peck is a retired United Methodist clergyman and four-time editor of the Daily Christian Advocate now serving as an editor for United Methodist News Service during General Conference.
News media contact: Rich Peck, e-mail: [email protected].
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405(817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470(615) 742-5470.