The effort to create a new United Methodist structure for U.S. decision-making received a boost from bishops in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
“The central conference bishops will promote and solidly support the U.S. regional conference proposal,” Bishop Harald Rückert of Germany announced to applause near the end of the fall Council of Bishops meeting.
Rückert was reading a statement he said the Central Conference College of Bishops unanimously passed during its meeting Nov. 1 after hearing a presentation on the proposal.
The Connectional Table, a multinational body that acts as a sort of church council for the denomination, drafted the proposal. The group’s goal is to have a body to take up matters that solely affect the U.S. church and ease the burden on the multinational General Conference. U.S. proposals often dominate The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body assembly.
While the Connectional Table doesn’t see the proposal as addressing the denomination’s homosexuality debate, other United Methodists see it as a way of allowing the church in the U.S. to make changes to allow same-sex marriage and ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
Wespath, the denomination’s pensions agency, collaborated on the legislation to help vet any legal or administrative issues. The proposed regional conference would encompass the United States and maintain the current five U.S. jurisdictions.
“I believe this proposal will enable us to live more fully as a worldwide church,” said Bishop Christian Alsted, Connectional Table chair, in a statement after the bishops’ meeting. “It will give the church in the U.S. a structure to deal with its unique missional challenges and to do its visionary, strategic and administrative work.”
Ultimately, General Conference delegates will have their say when the assembly convenes May 5-15, 2020 in Minneapolis.
The central conference bishops’ endorsement is a big deal for an idea that previously has faced strong opposition. As recently as 2016, petitions to create a U.S. central conference and other proposed new regional structures didn’t make it out of committee at General Conference.
Bishops don’t have a vote at General Conference, but they have influence in other ways. When bishops speak, United Methodists frequently listen.
The Council of Bishops in May affirmed the Connectional Table’s work on the structure. The central conference bishops went a step further — asking their steering committee to invite representatives from the Connectional Table to present the proposal to General Conference delegates in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. United Methodist protocol dictates that church leaders only visit an area at the resident bishop’s invitation.
Immediately after the Nov. 3-6 Council of Bishops meeting, UM News reached out to multiple central conference bishops to for comment on the proposal. Only three responded, including Alsted.
“The makeup of The United Methodist Church has changed significantly over the past 20 years and soon half of its membership will be in Africa,” Alsted told UM News. “For the General Conference to become a meaningful global gathering that will help the church pursue God’s mission, it needs to be reshaped.”
For more than 200 years, The United Methodist Church and its predecessors have operated with assumption of United States as default.
The denomination’s constitution authorizes central conferences to make “such changes and adaptations” to the Book of Discipline as missional needs and differing legal contexts require.
In practice, that means central conferences make decisions related to administering their own clergy pensions, their own church property and in some cases, their own clergy’s educational requirements.
Alsted said central conference bishops wish to extend that privilege to entire church.
Source: United Methodist News