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Task force will seek ways to streamline General Conferences

By Jackie Campbell*
4/10/2003 | PITTSBURGH (UMNS)

News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: Artwork of the 2004 General Conference logo is available with this report.

In an effort to better control costs, a newly formed United Methodist task force will examine ways to improve the operation of the church's top legislative assembly.

The group's goal will be to produce a document that looks at the pros and cons of current and proposed procedures for conducting the church's business at General Conference. The assembly draws nearly 1,000 delegates together every four years to make decisions affecting the church's operation, laws and stands on social issues. It will meet again April 26-May 7, 2004, in Pittsburgh.

The Rev. James Perry, chairperson of the church's Commission on the General Conference, appointed the task force, or "jump start" subcommittee, at an April 3-4 meeting in the host city.

"2004 is the first time that finance is going to be the driving force in issues in General Conference," said Bishop Bruce Blake of the Oklahoma Area. The church should consider proposals that could streamline operations, including examining the petition process by which legislation is brought before the assembly, he said. Members may also look into the frequency and length of General Conference sessions.

The cost of hosting the General Conference provided an example of the need to study alternatives. The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference host committee for the 2004 gathering has a budget of $300,000 - nearly eight times more than the $40,000 cost of hosting the event in Pittsburgh in 1964, said the committee's Rev. Alan Morrison.

Because the current cost is too great for a single annual conference to bear, Morrison said, Western Pennsylvania has asked for contributions of $5,000 from each of the conferences in the Northeastern Jurisdiction. It also will seek help from the church's general agencies and the United Methodist Foundation.

The subcommittee will work to provide information for future General Conference commissions to consider in proposing change. Members of the task force include: the Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss of Centennial, Colo., facilitator; the Rev. Paul Extrum-Fernandez of West Sacramento, Calif.; Roland Siegrist of Linz, Austria; the Rev. Denny White Jr. of Charlotte, N.C.; and Aileen L. Williams of Rochester, Minn.

In other action, the Commission on the General Conference approved a proposal from the host committee to defray costs by selling the badges required for visitors to the conference for $2 each. The committee has designed a souvenir welcome badge that will sell for $2. T-shirts and denim logo shirts also will be sold.

The commission also spent time working on language-related concerns. The group decided to ask that bishops in the church's central conferences - regional units in countries other than the United States - be responsible for notifying General Conference planners of the names of delegates who will require translators for legislative work sessions and other activities, and the languages they speak.

Plenary sessions of the 2004 General Conference will be simultaneously translated from English into five languages - German, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili.

For legislative work sessions, requests for translators in any language must be made in advance. Organizers said they would attempt to secure services for consecutive translation in any language if a request is received before the General Conference.

The commission selected the languages for simultaneous translation based on input from bishops of the central conferences.

"There was unanimous support among the bishops for Portuguese and French translation," Blake said. "And the Congo bishops felt very strongly that Swahili was needed in simultaneous translation."

The 10 million-member church has more than 1 million members in Europe, Africa and the Philippines. Most of the delegates who represent those areas at the conference speak English, German, French or Portuguese.

The Advance Daily Christian Advocate, which contains a delegate handbook and other conference materials, including proposed legislation, will be produced in English, French, German and Portuguese. The cost of translating the voluminous document from English into the three other languages is about 17 cents per word, or an estimated $605,000 to $675,000. The 2004 conference will be the first for which the book will be available in a language other than English.

A suggestion to provide Advance Daily Christian Advocate material in Spanish was not accepted. The Rev. Roberto L. Gomez of Mission, Texas, a Hispanic member of the commission, said the benefit would not justify the cost for a small number of Spanish-speaking delegates - in contrast to a greater number of delegates who would speak only French, for example. He said funds could be better used to translate changes made in the Book of Discipline and other materials for Spanish-speaking church members after the General Conference. He also noted that it was more important that the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry be given 30 minutes for a presentation during the assembly.

The commission heard a report from worship planners, who said they envision a General Conference opening service that surrounds delegates and church leaders with songs from all over the world. The songs will celebrate a renewal of baptism and Holy Communion, emphasizing the conference theme, "Water Washed and Spirit Born."

Banners, dancers and a variety of drummers and musicians will emphasize the worldwide nature of the gathering in the opening service, said the Rev. Barbara Day Miller, dean of worship at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta and music director for the General Conference. "It will emphasize the transforming, renewing spirit of God, using words from the hymn 'Wash, O God, Your Sons and Daughters' by Ruth Duck."

The Rev. Carlton R. Young, the editor of the United Methodist Hymnal, has produced an expanded arrangement of the hymn for the opening service, Miller said.

Representative choirs from throughout the church will participate in worship each morning of the General Conference. Other groups will be invited to offer music or dance at various locations around the Convention Center.

"We had 75 groups apply to participate, and we will be choosing some of them to invite," Miller said. Applications came from throughout the United States and from international groups, as well.

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*Campbell is a staff writer for the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.