Bishops planning for 2019 General Conference

The Council of Bishops said it intends to call a special General Conference in 2019, but stopped short of actually making the call. Once they receive the report from the Commission on a Way Forward they will issue a call letter.

"When we issue the call letter it must be very specific to the purpose of call and dates," Bishop Bruce R. Ough, council president, said. "We have some work to do on securing a location and we want to be thoughtful about the wording of the call."

The conference would be in February or March and the council asked the business manager of the General Conference to move forward with exploring venues and a bid search. The 2020 General Conference is already scheduled for May 5-15 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ough said the makeup of the commission is final, however, all bishops were asked to invite the clergy and laity in their areas into a conversation about the mission of the church.

Business considered at a special called General Conference, provided for by the church constitution, would be limited to the purpose defined within the call.

"A requirement that materials be in the hands of delegates at least 230 days before such a session makes it unlikely that the commission could complete its work in time to meet that deadline for a 2018 meeting, so 2019 seemed to us to be the best option," Ough said. "The purpose of broadening the timeframe to either February or March is to afford more flexibility in finding a suitable and available location."

The 2016 General Conference delegates, or their lawful successors, would serve at the special called conference, unless an annual conference prefers to have a new election.

Birmingham Area Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett and retired Bishop Al Gwinn, co-chairs of the Praying Our Way Forward Initiative, announced the second phase of that effort, which involves each conference making a commitment to come together in prayer during a designated week. The effort would begin January 1, 2017, and continue into 2018. The first phase involved a commitment from bishops for daily prayer focused on the selection and initial efforts of the Way Forward Commission.

Wallace-Padgett said that the 84 bishops on the council are each praying 15 minutes a day for the commission. "That's 21 hours of prayer a day for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward," she said.

Gwinn said The Upper Room has developed a website called UMCprays.org. "The website features many tools and resources to help you to plan your week of prayer," he explained. "Each week will feature information about what is happening in the conference that is praying that week, including a prayer-focused blog written by the bishop in that area."

"We need to begin to prepare the church for whatever might come out of the commission," Ough said.

Kathy Gilbert, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Fund pays for bishops' salaries, office and travel expenses, and pension and health-benefit coverage. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Episcopal Fund apportionment at 100 percent.