Sep 18, 2023

A lot has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic postponed The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly from its original May 2020 schedule to April 23-May 3, 2024, at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The coming months will provide a fuller picture of the proposals up for consideration at the long-delayed General Conference.

The September deadline to submit new legislation to General Conference has come and gone. And preparing all the legislation in multiple languages will take months.

General Conference delegates expected their main concern would be deciding how to split the international, 13-million-member denomination after decades of intensifying disagreement over LGBTQ inclusion. Now, the big meeting will have a new location, a number of new delegates and new possibilities for how United Methodists across four continents might chart a future together.

By denominational rules, the Advance Daily Christian Advocate — which contains the petitions and reports requiring General Conference action — must be available to delegates in four languages: English, French, Portuguese and Kiswahili. It also must be available at least 90 days before the assembly begins. That date is Jan. 22 for next year’s gathering.

The coming General Conference will have 862 delegates overall, equally split between clergy and laity. Of those delegates, 55.9% will be from the U.S., 32% from Africa, 6% from the Philippines, 4.6% from Europe and the remainder from concordat churches that have close ties to The United Methodist Church.

Over the past four years, more than 6,200 congregations, or about 20% of U.S. United Methodist churches, have used an already-existing provision of church law to leave. But that provision is only in effect in the U.S. and is set to expire at the end of this year. It remains to be seen whether General Conference will extend that provision beyond its current deadline and to other parts of the world.

Those who serve as General Conference delegates must be United Methodist, so any previously elected delegate who has withdrawn from the denomination can no longer serve. In the meantime, many General Conference delegates are focused on how United Methodists can move forward more fruitfully in mission together.

Proposals coming before General Conference delegates next year include:

  • Worldwide Regionalization, submitted by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. Under the plan, the denomination’s seven current central conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines as well as the U.S. would each become United Methodist regional conferences with the same duties and powers to pass legislation for greater missional impact in their respective regions. The creation of the regional conferences around the globe requires amending the denomination’s constitution. Amendments must receive at least a two-thirds vote at General Conference and at least two-thirds of the total votes from church regional bodies called annual conferences.
  • Revised Social Principles, submitted by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The United Methodist Social Principles are General Conference-approved social teachings, designed for Sunday school classes, Bible studies, pulpit preaching, seminary classes and public advocacy. In 2012, General Conference authorized an effort to make the Social Principles more succinct, theologically grounded and globally relevant. The revised version coming before delegates for a vote is the result of a multiyear process involving input from more than 4,000 United Methodists around the globe. Passing the revised Social Principles requires a majority vote.
  • “Sent in Love: A United Methodist Understanding of the Church,” submitted by the United Methodist Committee on Faith and Order. This proposal, also the work of an international church body, aims to become The United Methodist Church’s official theological teaching document on ecclesiology — that is, the denomination’s understanding of church and the purpose it serves. If adopted by General Conference, it will join the denomination’s theological statements on baptism, “By Water and the Spirit,” and communion, “This Holy Mystery.”
  • Full communion with The Episcopal Church, submitted by the Council of Bishops. Full communion means each denomination acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the validity of each other’s baptism and Eucharist, and commits to work together in ministry. Such an agreement also means Episcopalians and United Methodists can share clergy. Episcopalians expect to vote on the agreement when they meet in June 2024. The United Methodist Church already has full-communion agreements with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Uniting Church in Sweden, five historically Black Pan-Methodist denominations and the Moravian Church in North America.  The United Methodist Church and Episcopal Church share historic ties to John Wesley’s Church of England
  • Connectional Table Board Make-Up, submitted by the Connectional Table. The United Methodist leadership body that coordinates the denomination’s mission and ministry has submitted legislation to makes its board smaller and more global in representation. The proposal would reduce the Connectional Table from a 64-member board with 49 voting members to a 60-member board with 44 voting members. Under the proposal, voting members would include six bishops, a youth or young adult from the Division on Ministries with Young People, five representatives of racial-ethnic caucuses and five members each from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Also among the voting members would be the presidents of 10 general agencies and two other denomination-wide bodies.

    Read more from the United Methodist News Service story by Heather Hahn