Mary White, center (in orange), discusses legislation prior to General Conference plenary sessions on April 30, with (l. to r.) Ruth Daugherty, Lillian Smith, Jordan Harris, and George Hollich.
By Mary White*
During the first week of General Conference, delegates met in their assigned legislative committees. A bishop was assigned to each legislative committee to help them organize, then each committee elected leadership: chair, vice chair, and secretary. Sub-committee chairs were elected, with each committee having 4 to 5 sub-committees. All elected officers attended training before the first session of their legislative committee.
The sub-chairs are given several petitions to approve, refer or bundle. Then they report back to the full committee for approval of the sub-committee’s actions. All petitions had to be completed by 9:30 p.m. on Saturday evening April 29, 2012. There were 13 legislative committees, however the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference had only 10 delegates; they were assigned as follows:
Church and Society 1 Robin Hynicka
Church and Society 2 Dawn Taylor Storm
Conferences George Hollich
Discipleship Judy Ehninger
Faith and Order Ruth Daugherty
Financial Administration Mary White, Elected committee sub-chair
General Administration James Todd
Global Ministries Lillian Smith
Local Church Tracy Bass
Ministry and Higher Education Jordan Harris
Opening Day April 24, 2012
The 2012 General Conference was washed in sights and sound of water as delegates from around the world began our work with an opening worship service that invited them to discipleship by the sea. Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a member of the Maskoke Nation and a son of the Wind Clan People, consecrated the worship and workspace in his native language and tradition. He asked the delegates to be mindful of the land where they are. “We are not your history; we are not Tampa’s or Florida’s history. We are living, breathing vibrant people.”
Marcia McFee, director of worship, was inspired by the stories of Jesus at the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee and the Tampa Bay setting. Videos, graceful dances and flowing music set the tone as we prepare for the long hours and difficult decisions ahead. All delegates were given soft blue silk prayer mantles handmade by United Methodists in all five jurisdictions. The mantles are a reminder that throughout the conference United Methodists would be praying for them.
Western North Carolina Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president of the Council of Bishops, delivered the opening sermon “The Radical Invitation,” reflecting the first day’s theme of the “Call.” He invited the 4,700 in attendance to hear the call of Jesus in the “midst of all the legislation that will crowd our time and drain our energy.”
In an emotional Episcopal address, New England Bishop Peter Weaver brought onto the stage four teenagers who survived genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and were baptized in a chilly river in New Hampshire. Bishop Weaver called for a “resurrection revolution” in the United Methodist Church. He said, if God can bring to life the crucified Christ; surely God can bring to life a calcified church.
The Laity Address:
The Laity address was given by three lay persons, Amory Peck from Bellingham, WA, Steve Furr from Jackson, AL, and Betty Kativo of Zimbabwe each coming with a different perspective. “Imagine if all laity brought just one person to Jesus Christ each year what a joy that would be for our church.” Each echoed the importance of the ministry of laypersons.
Young People’s Message:
Too few young people are in leadership roles in the UMC; this statement was echoed by two young adults during the Young People’s address. Their theme was “Rooted, Changed, and United.” They said that we must overcome our age differences. Our speakers were Krin Ali, age 18, from Denver, who was joined by video from the Philippines Eva Algodon-Bohol age 24.
Service of Repentance:
If United Methodist is serious about repenting for past injustices against native people, they must prepare for a long and painful journey, says a Native American theologian. There is a lot of history that has been concealed; you have to go dig it up,” said Rev. George Tinker. Rev. Tinker expressed his respect for the United Methodist Church for the courage to engage in the process of repentance. He said he realizes how hard it is for white people to know the true story of America. It is not taught in our schools. Native Americans have to learn this in their homes and from their grand parents.
The Judicial Council:
The Judicial Council, the UMC’s top court, has ruled that bishops have the sole authority to determine the time when an annual conference will meet. In the United Methodist Church, the Judicial Council is like the Supreme Court.
The Surrendered dance team from Nuevo Nacimiento United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pa., dances before the May 3 evening plenary session at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Bishops Restructure, Limit Council Meetings:
As part of the global campaign to redirect more energy toward increasing the number of vital congregations, the Council of Bishops voted to meet as a full body only once a year. The full council which will include active and retired bishops, which usually meet twice a year, instead, only active bishops will meet in the spring to focus on solving share problems.
The assembly approved a $603.1 million budget for seven general church funds for 2013-2016. That total is 6.03% less than the amount apportioned for 2009-2012. This is the first time we have adopted a lower budget than the amount set in the preceding four years.
Two new funds for higher education, combined with earlier recommendations to reduce agency budgets by 6%, which means general agencies, will receive nearly 10% less money for 2013-2016 than they did in 2009-2012. The Judicial Council decision on Plan UMC led the General Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table to reallocate funds set aside for the Plan UMC Council on Strategy and Oversight. The World Service Fund received $1.5 Million; $1.Million to the General Administration Fund to pay for General Conference deficits and $500.000 went General Administration Contingency Fund . Delegates approved two new line items in World Service Fund. They established a new $5 million fund for theological education in central conference and $7 Million to recruit and train young clergy in the Unite States.
In other business, we called for the Advance edition of the Daily Christian Advocate to be translated into Kiswahili and increased the size of the Commission on General Conference, thus adding some $600,000 to the cost of the conference.
For the first time, delegates agreed to save money by eliminating the right of individuals to petition the General Conference. All petitions now must be submitted by a local church council or larger units of the UMC. An individual can no longer submit petitions to the General Conference.
A proposal to end guaranteed appointments was approved on a consent calendar. An effort to reconsider the previously approved legislation was defeated 564-373.
Under this new legislation, bishops and cabinets will be allowed to give elders less than full-time appointments. The legislation also would permit bishops and their cabinets, with the approval of their boards of ordained ministry and annual conference’s executive session, to put elders on unpaid transitional leave for up to 24 months. Clergy on transitional leave would be able to participate in their conference health program through their own contributions.
Each annual conference is asked to name a task force to develop a list of criteria to guide the cabinets and bishops as they make missional appointments. The cabinets shall report to the executive committees of boards of ordained ministry the number of clergy without full-time appointments and their age, gender and ethnicity. Cabinets will also report their learning as appointments making is conducted in this new manner.
A motion was approved to ask the Judicial Council for declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the approved change that removes guaranteed appointment for elders and associate members. The matter was referred to the Judicial Council to be placed on the fall docket.
The Plan UMC:
After several false starts to create a new structure, the session of the 2012 General Conference approved Plan UMC, a realignment of the 13 general agencies that serve the UMC. The plan was defeated in the legislative committee. The Rev. Scott Campbell called for a declaratory decision from the judicial council on whether any part of the structure was constitutional. That decision delivered on May 4 declared the entire plan unconstitutional.
United Methodist Women:
General Conference approved UMW autonomy. It approved a series of recommendations from UMW that will structurally strengthen ties between local UMW members, their national structure and the ministries they support around the world. The actions will provide more flexibility to local, district, conference, and jurisdictional UMW as they organize mission in their respective committees.
The national UMW organization will be governed by a 25 member board of directors with 20 elected by UMW members through jurisdictional channels and five through a nominations process to ensure diversity of age, race, language, physical ability and working status. The board will be responsible for managing the organization’s program, policies, and finances including investments, budgets, and property polices.
Demonstrations by groups seeking changes in church law that call the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” prohibit the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and prohibit marriage to same gender couples began on April 25 with a silent witness outside the evening session. Demonstrators moved into the plenary hall on May 1 and 2 but remained on the perimeter of the delegate seating area in a mostly silent witness.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the UM Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and the Rev Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio proposed a substitution motion to Para.161.F that sought to clarify that United Methodists disagree on whether homosexual practice is contrary to the will of God and urged unity over division and respect for co-existence. Their substitution replaced the last paragraph of a petition submitted by the Global Convocation of Young people after its 2010 conference.
At the end of the discussion, supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including non-delegates crowed around the altar, inside the bar of the conference, singing. The session ended early because of the demonstration. The remaining petitions related to human sexuality were not addressed by the time of the conference adjourned on May 4, and the statements in the current book of discipline will remain church law through the 2016 General Conference.
In other business the assembly modified the pension plan: United Methodist clergy in the United States will continue to participate in a retirement program that includes a monthly pension payment. Delegates approved 819-78 a modified clergy retirement security program. The plan combines a defined benefit component with a defined contribution component, like the clergy’s current retirement program, but with a reduced benefit for clergy and, consequently, a lower contribution for U.S. annual conferences. It is mandatory only for full time clergy.
*Dr. Mary White is first elected lay delegate and chair of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference delegation.