General Conference 2004: How General Conference Works
Meets every four years
General Conference, which convenes every four years, is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. Church law states that no person or organization except the General Conference has authority to speak officially for the denomination (The Book of Discipline 1996, Par. 509.). Cost of the conference is more than $3 million
Site rotates among jurisdictions
The meeting sites are rotated among the church's five geographic U.S. jurisdictions. The 1996 conference was held in Denver, Colorado (Western Jurisdiction), the 2000 conference was held in Cleveland, Ohio (North Central Jurisdiction), and the 2004 conference was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Northeastern Jurisdiction). The 2008 conference will be held in Fort Worth, Texas (Southcentral Jurisdiction).
Delegation half clergy, half lay
Church law provides for a maximum of 1,000 delegates--half clergy, half lay. It mandates that each annual conference must have at least one delegate from each order. Beyond that, a conference's representation is based the number of lay members and clergy members in the conference.
Conference revises Book of Discipline
The conference revises The Book of Discipline (book of church law) and "Social Principles" and adopts resolutions on various current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for churchwide programs for the next four years. The delegates can propose amendments to the church's Constitution but those must be ratified later in the annual conferences. General Conference also elects members of the Judicial Council, the church's "supreme court", and some members of churchwide agencies.
Sources of legislation
Primary sources of legislation are petitions and proposals from church agencies and organizations. Petition deadlines vary, depending on the source, but none may be submitted less than 150 days prior to the opening of the conference. Any organization, ordained minister or lay member of the church may petition the General Conference.
As in the U.S. Congress, the bulk of General Conference business is conducted in legislative committees which receive petitions and proposals; debate them; and determine whether to approve, amend, combine, or disapprove them for recommendation to the full body of General Conference.
General (churchwide) agencies propose resolutions or changes in legislation affecting their respective policies and operations. These, along with petitions from annual conferences, are printed in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate.
Bishops don't vote
Members of the Council of Bishops attend General Conference, but do not vote and cannot speak without permission from the delegates. A bishop presides at each plenary session. Each bishop usually serves during one morning, afternoon, or evening session. All bishops, active and retired, attend the entire conference.
Also attending the conference will be all members of the General Council on Finance and Administration, chief executive officers of all 13 general church agencies and people serving administrative and staff functions at the General Conference.