Delegates, actions illustrate ‘worldwide’
"Buy reading glasses" may be among the first to-do items for delegates elected to General Conference 2020.
In addition to more than a thousand petitions and the contents proposed for a new hymnal, significantly revised sections of the Book of Discipline and rewritten Social Principles will be on their pre-GC reading list. General Conference 2016 approved continuing both projects to make them more applicable to a worldwide church. Those were among actions that underscored The United Methodist Church's status as a global denomination – illustrated as 360 of the 864 delegates were from annual conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe.
In addition to authorizing the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters (Stc-CCM) and the Standing Committee on Faith and Order to continue work on a general Book of Discipline, delegates approved the sample draft of several chapters of Part VI and a plan for consultations in 2017 with annual conferences on the proposed changes. General refers to church entities that are worldwide in nature.
Bishop Patrick Streiff, chair of the central conference affairs committee, discussed the work with Interpreter in January. He said reworking entire sections of the Discipline offers "a chance to do some major shifts where it will raise awareness of what it means to be a worldwide church, where essentials are needed to connect us, but not overregulations that bind us and prevent mission."
He further hopes the central conferences will not need to make as many adaptations as they do with the present volume, that the number of revisions each General Conference makes will be reduced and that the likelihood will increase of the current editon being used across the denomination.
Writing new Social Principles
The General Board of Church and Society will continue its work on worldwide Social Principles to submit to the 2020 legislative assembly. Among the goals are to make the collection of statements on a wealth of social issues less United States-centric. The process began with a series of consultations in locations around the world in 2014 and 2015.
No new bishops for Africa now
Africa will be getting five more United Methodist bishops, but not before 2020. The denomination's rapid growth in some parts of that continent has prompted a widespread recognition that more bishops are needed.
However, the delegates narrowly defeated an effort to add two bishops in the coming quadrennium in Nigeria and Zimbabwe and approved the recommendation of the Stc-CCM to add five bishops after General Conference 2020.
The Rev. Rodney Steele, a delegate from Arkansas speaking for the committee, argued for adding the five bishops at one time, under a comprehensive plan and with funding in place, rather than adding two now.
Other speakers said the need is too pressing to wait.
"It's a huge continent, and the bishops are overloaded," said Rudolph Merab, a delegate from Liberia.
Betty Katiyo, West Zimbabwe Conference, agreed, telling fellow delegates, "We are all aware that the church is growing in Africa, and we don't want to stifle that growth."
New regions created
Delegates also approved petitions to create the Southeast Asia and Mongolia Provisional Central Conference with ministries in Laos, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam and a provisional annual conference in Rwanda.
As Africa University approaches its 25th anniversary, delegates took a few moments to celebrate. "The university matters because a relevant and holistic education generates a living legacy that changes everything," said Munashe Furusa, vice chancellor. "You and The United Methodist Church have answered a call to witness through this transforming ministry."
A small group of Lumads — indigenous people of Southern Philippines who have been the target of cruelty for decades — attended General Conference and were featured in a video about their plight.
Delegates also heard a presentation on the Korean War and on efforts, including by United Methodists, to bring about peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
Adapted from United Methodist News Service reports by Sam Hodges, UMNS news writer, and Joey Butler, multi-media editor for United Methodist Communications.