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Walkers participate in the 5K run/walk along the Peoria Riverfront in support of Imagine No Malaria during the 2012 Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.

United Methodists prep for 2013 conferences

A UMNS Report By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
7:00 A.M. ET May 3, 2013 | NASHVILLE, Tenn.

United Methodists in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States are packing their suitcases, gathering their Books of Discipline and perusing reams of documents as they prepare for days of deliberation and celebration.

It's annual conference time in the United States and around the world.

May and June are the most popular months for United Methodism's annual (regional) conference sessions, with Eastern Pennsylvania starting the cycle May 16-18. The last U.S. conference to convene will be Desert Southwest on June 27-30.

United Methodists in the Liberia Annual Conference launched this year's sessions by meeting Feb. 4-10. Members of the South Mozambique Annual Conference will wrap up the year when they gather Dec. 4-8.

The most popular dates for U.S. conference sessions are June 5-8, June 6-9 and June 13-15, with five conferences each. Four conferences will convene during each of these time slots: May 30-June 1, June 6-8 and June 9-12.

Constitutional amendments

High on the agendas for all annual conferences are four proposed amendments to The United Methodist Church's Constitution. The 2012 General Conference approved all four amendments.

To be ratified, a constitutional amendment first requires a two-thirds majority vote at General Conference. It next must win a two-thirds majority of the total annual conference voters.

During 2013 Liberia Annual Conference session, the Rev. Jerry DeVine urges delegates to leave their comfort zones and get involved in the work of the church. A web-only photo courtesy of the Liberia United Methodist Church.
During 2013 Liberia Annual Conference session, the Rev. Jerry DeVine urges delegates to leave their comfort zones and get involved in the work of the church. A web-only photo courtesy of the Liberia United Methodist Church.
  • The first amendment would add the word "pray" before the words "seek, and work for, unity" in a paragraph on ecumenical relations (2012 Book of Discipline, Division One, Paragraph 6, Article VI).
  • The second amendment would affect the Discipline, Division Two, Section II, Paragraph 14, Article II. The words "in the month of April or May," which currently limit General Conference dates, would be replaced by the following, pending Council of Bishops vote: "The General Conference shall meet once in four years at such time and in such place as shall be determined by the General Conference or by its duly authorized committees. The change in the preceding sentence shall become effective at the close of General Conference in 2016."
  • The third amendment would change the term "Lay Speaking Ministries" to "Lay Servant Ministries" (Discipline, Division Two, Section VI, Paragraph 32, Article I).
  • The fourth amendment would affect Discipline, Division Two, Section VII, Paragraph 40, Article I. The revised copy would read: "The number, names, and boundaries of the annual conferences and episcopal areas shall be determined by the jurisdictional conferences in the United States of America and by the central conferences outside the United States of America according to the provisions under the respective powers and pursuant to the respective structures of the jurisdictional and the central conferences. The authority of jurisdictional and central conferences provided herein is not circumscribed or limited by the authority provided to the College of Bishops to arrange a plan of episcopal supervision."

Topping agendas in several conferences are health insurance and pension changes, budgets and new structures. A broad range of social issues such as alternative fuels, gun control, human sexuality, hunger, immigration and military spending also will compete for delegates' attention.

What's an annual conference?

In the United States, United Methodist local churches are organized into 59 annual conferences, regional bodies that meet yearly for legislative purposes. They are the primary link to the church's connectional structure. Annual conferences approve programming and budget, examine and recommend candidates for ministry and every four years elect delegates to General and jurisdictional conferences.

The annual conference is composed of clergy and lay members elected by each charge, diaconal ministers, conference presidents of United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men, conference and district lay leaders and presidents of young adult and youth organizations.

What's a central conference?

United Methodists in Africa, Europe and the Philippines call their geographical division a "central conference." The denomination has seven central conferences, with 74 annual conferences. The central conferences are Africa, Central and Southern Europe, Congo, Germany, Northern Europe and Eurasia, Philippines and West Africa. The central conferences are composed of equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates.

Times to celebrate

But celebrations are in order, too, as United Methodists ordain new clergy, look at vital congregations and new church starts, and reflect on outreach through Africa University, Imagine No Malaria and Operation Classroom.

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference, for example, will celebrate completion of a three-year, $2.3 million Imagine No Malaria campaign with Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton as opening-night speaker. It is the second conference to surpass the $2-million mark. Also on the agenda is a joint agreement between the Illinois Great Rivers and the Northern Illinois annual conferences and Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries of Illinois Inc., to establish Disciple Bible Studies in the Illinois prison system.

The Texas Annual Conference voted last year on a four-year focus: Invest in the Young, Create Transforming Lay and Clergy Leaders and Vital Congregations. This year's annual conference will zero in on the first one - Invest in the Young. The Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, a United Methodist pastor and professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, is the keynote. Delegates will hear short presentations by local churches that have had success in those target areas.

Anticipating the Jan. 1, 2014, merger of the Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska annual conferences into the Great Plains Conference, delegates in all three conferences will review the plan of organization. "There will be no vote at this conference," said Nebraska communications director Kathryn Witte, "but (the review) is in preparation for a Uniting Conference to be held in Salina, Kan., Aug. 22-24." A 60-plus-page document covers staffing recommendations, a common apportionment formula, health and pension benefits, structure and much more.

See the schedule of all annual conferences, as of April 30, 2013

Visit www.umc.org/ac to see past annual conference reports as well as 2013 reports when they are available.

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact Barbara Dunlap-Berg at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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