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Waiting...

You know the feeling when you are waiting for something: the expectation, the worry, the hope, the wondering. For some (many?), the work of the United Methodist General Conference feels less than significant. While I agree that what happens in the local church is one of the most essential ways we can live out our faith, this gathering of United Methodists from across the globe matters. Please join me in praying for the General Conference and its members over these next two weeks. We've been waiting a long time for this event.


The General Conference (GC) that will convene on Tuesday, April 23, is significant for many reasons. A GC is supposed to take place every four years. However, this will be the first since the specially called and narrowly focused 2019 Conference in St. Louis. In 2019, there was great hope for compromise and reconciliation, but that did not happen. 


This will be the first regular meeting called GC since 2016, following multiple postponements due to the pandemic and other obstacles. It will also be the first since a wave of disaffiliations, or congregations voting to leave the UMC, rolled through our denomination. We enter into a season of what John Wesley called "Holy Conferencing," hoping that what happens in Charlotte, North Carolina, between now and May 3, is truly holy. 


There are three areas of focus for this worldwide gathering. 


Regionalization: At its heart, Regionalization would give US UMCs the same privileges as UMCs outside the US, allowing them to adapt certain parts of the Discipline to the missional needs of their area. Currently, the US must abide by everything in the Discipline in ways others don't. Plus, delegates worldwide have to spend their time voting on US-centric legislation, such as US pension plans that conform to US laws. One important note: Regionalization alone won't magically solve our issues around sexual orientation. A limited number of decisions can be made regionally, and our most significant documents are unchangeable by region.


The vote on Regionalization may be affirmed in an early ballot. Such a move would indicate trust around the globe in moving forward together. Regionalization is a constitutional amendment, meaning it will also need ratification by our Annual Conferences. 


Revised Social Principles: This document has been years in the making. It's a timely update of the heart and soul of our witness for social justice. This version does not contain harmful language about sexual orientation. If the Revised Social Principles remain intact and pass early, many resolutions to remove harmful language will be moot.


Removing Harmful Language: Harmful language exists in other areas beyond the Revised Social Principles. If the Social Principles don't pass, work will begin to remove them line by line through the legislative committee process.


Ready for Next Steps: As others have said, the greatest hope for this GC is to remove the hurtful language. Positive, permissive language is not up for a vote. In other words, we won't fix everything in Charlotte this year, but we have a beautiful opportunity to move well toward a new future. The Council of Bishops has already called another General Conference for 2026, likely anticipating that we will be able to build on foundations set in Charlotte. 


The United Methodist News Service, UMNews.org, is your best source for continuing coverage. Most news outlets do not have dedicated religious reporters, and how most denominations make decisions is complicated. A brief recap or 30-second news blurb will likely omit important details and nuances. UMNews is known for balanced and accurate reporting on all things United Methodist.


Remember that this GC is still tagged the "2020 General Conference." Did I mention that the work of denominations can be nuanced and confusing? 


How to Follow Along: Go to resourceumc.org. You will find a guide to legislation, agendas, links to livestreams, backgrounders, and more. Make note that the agenda lists everything during Eastern Daylight Time. Worship, especially opening worship (today at 2 pm Central Time) and tomorrow's Episcopal Address, Report on the Social Principles, and the Young People's Address are particularly worthy of your time. 


The revised Social Principles relating to the care of creation open with this statement:  We acknowledge that unsustainable human activities have placed the entirety of God's creation in peril. A creation that is in peril is a creation that needs God. As people of faith, we have the power to be reflections of God and God's transforming, death-defying work through Jesus Christ. Through Christ, God has handed us a sacred trust—that we will live as agents of love, hope, peace, and healing in a broken world—and in doing so—bring God's kingdom to come. 


Will one General Conference fix everything that needs our attention in the United Methodist Church? We know the answer to that question. Still, as the General Conference opens today, I am hopeful. Anxious, yes, but mostly hopeful. Faithful, committed people are gathering in Charlotte. The delegation from Missouri has been intentional in its preparation, not only reading and studying legislation but also focusing on remaining spiritually centered and fully engaged.


The Missouri delegation includes:

  • Clergy delegates—Andy Bryan, Emanuel Cleaver III, Kimberly Jenne, Matt Miofsky, Sally Haynes, Trista Soendker Nicholson, and alternates Nate Berneking and Lori Lambert. 

  • Lay Delegates: Amy Thompson, Ivan C. James, Jill Champney Wondel, Colette Cummings, Jon Copeland, Steve DeWilde, and alternates Randy Biggerstaff and Jon Gray.

Clergy delegates Choongho Kwon, Joel Kidwell, and I have been working alongside these people. I will join them in July for the Jurisdictional Conference along with lay delegates Margie Lutjen Briggs, Abigail Wimberley, and Hannah Shanks. 


Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, 'The church is the church only when it exists for others." I will watch and pray as decisions unfold at the General Conference in Charlotte. I hope you will join me in prayer. 











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