Four constitutional amendments now before annual conferences
One delegate uses a camera phone to capture a video of another during the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
The 130 annual conferences in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Philippines and the United States are being asked to ratify four proposed amendments to the United Methodist Constitution.
General Conference 2012 approved the amendments. To be ratified, a proposed amendment must be passed by at least two-thirds of the General Conference delegates, followed by a two-thirds affirmative vote by the total aggregate number of annual conference members present and voting.
Lay and clergy members of annual conferences may debate a proposed amendment, but they cannot change it. They must vote either for or against an amendment as it stands. Issues addressed this year include praying for unity in the church, dates of General Conference, changing the term "lay speakers" and setting the boundaries of episcopal areas.
At their 2013 autumn meeting, the Council of Bishops will certify the results and announce the vote. Amendments that are approved become effective immediately.
Voting on the amendments is under way. Among the first to cast ballots were lay and clergy members of the Serbia/Macedonia Provisional Annual Conference who met in January. Voting by the 59 annual conferences in the United States will begin during the week of May 12 when the Detroit and Eastern Pennsylvania annual conferences and Red Bird Missionary Conference convene.
Speaker or servant?
Delegates from Cote d'Ivoire consider legislation at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
The proposal likely to generate the most discussion would amend Paragraph 32 to change the term "lay speaking ministries" to "lay servant ministries." Supporters of this proposed amendment say the change will remove the connotation that people serving as lay speakers are only trained in preaching. Lay speakers are trained to be witnesses "to the Christian faith through spoken communication, church and community leadership, and care-giving ministries" (2012 Book of Discipline, Para. 266.1).
Speaking for the legislative committee that considered it at General Conference, the Rev. Guy Ames III said the proposal from the General Board of Discipleship was approved 57 to 11. Ames, a district superintendent in the Oklahoma Conference, said trainers there "noted the appropriateness of this as we are expanding the basic course to leadership."
Lyn Powell, a layperson chairing the North Georgia Conference delegation, opposed the use of the word "servant." "All baptized lay persons in The United Methodist Church are lay servants, or if they are not, they should be," Powell said.
"The purpose of this name change is to get away from the idea that if you go through the lay-speaking program, that you can fill a pulpit," responded Ken Adams, a lay delegate from the North Indiana Conference, "The purpose of the lay servant ministry is to allow us to go with two different tracks in the lay-speaking program."
General Conference approved the proposed amendment by a vote of 618 to 306.
Scheduling General Conference
Annual conferences also will consider an amendment to Paragraph 14 deleting the requirement that General Conference must meet in April or May. The proposed amendment, which delegates passed 731 to 181, would declare that, after 2016, the General Conference would meet once in four years at a time and place determined by the conference or "by its duly authorized committees." Proponents suggest selecting a different month might make it easier for younger delegates and parents to attend the legislative gathering.
A third proposal would make it clear that jurisdictional or central conferences (and not bishops) have the authority to establish boundaries of episcopal areas. These conferences are composed of 50 percent clergy and 50 percent laity. General Conference delegates approved this proposed amendment to Paragraph 40 by a vote of 848 to 57.
Conference members also are asked to ratify an amendment to add the word "pray" to Paragraph 6 declaring the denomination will (pray), seek and work for unity at all levels of church life. The amendment was approved 865 to 50 by General Conference.
The Rev. J. Richard Peck is a retired clergy member of the New York Annual Conference.