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Another General Conference in 2026

Council of Bishops Group photo.
Council of Bishops Group photo.

The Council of Bishops is recommending that The United Methodist Church hold a five-day session of its top lawmaking assembly in May 2026. 

This gathering would be in addition to the regular General Conference sessions already planned for 2024 and 2028.

“This also would be a regular session,” Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton, who also leads the New York Conference, told UM News.

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“But we are asking for it to be framed a different way to enable us to make the kind of shifts that the denomination needs to make.”

The denomination’s General Conference draws lay and clergy delegates, bishops and others from four continents. The delegates typically consider legislative petitions and elect various church leaders over a period of 10 days. The bishops are suggesting the extra General Conference meet for half as long. 

The bishops’ request, announced at the conclusion of their April 29-May 5 meeting, comes as the denomination continues to deal with rising church disaffiliations.

In a statement released after the meeting, the bishops said the additional General Conference “would focus on re-establishing connection, lament and healing, celebration, recasting the mission and vision for The United Methodist Church.”

With the pandemic-caused postponement of the 2020 General Conference to 2024, the Judicial Council majority said in Decision 1472 that another regular session must convene between the beginning of 2025 and the end of 2027 to get the schedule back on track. 

The denomination’s constitution in Paragraph 14 says General Conference “shall meet once in four years.”

The Judicial Council majority said that since the paragraph “stipulates one session per every four years, another regular session of General Conference is therefore required.”

However, four of the nine Judicial Council members dissented from that part of the ruling. 

With that division in mind, the General Council on Finance and Administration — the denomination’s finance agency — is asking the church court to reconsider its decision. 

The Judicial Council’s ruling would result in holding three General Conference sessions over five years.

The agency’s request goes on to discuss the denomination’s financial constraints. The finance agency said the 2016 General Conference — the most recent regular session — cost about $10 million, and costs have only gone up. The added expense of planning another General Conference within the same four-year period would reduce funds “allocated to other areas/functions of the general Church, with reductions in some areas approaching a total of 50%,” the agency said.

The next General Conferences is slated for April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bishops do not have a vote at General Conference, but preside at its plenary sessions. 

In the meantime, bishops continue to seek to lead the denomination through this wave of church exits. 

excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNS

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