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Church leaders look at possible U.S. structure

United Methodist leaders are looking at ways to strengthen the denomination's worldwide nature. One idea on the table is to add a U.S. church structure that would deal solely with U.S. issues.

Members of the Connectional Table, the church leadership body working on the proposal, acknowledge they face a tough task.  Your faithful support of the General Administration Fund supports the legislative processes of this group.

For decades, United Methodists have considered creating some kind of decision-making body that would take up concerns exclusive to the U.S. — like pensions or U.S. social issues. Still, such proposals always have faced stiff resistance.

As recently as 2016, General Conference — the denomination's top lawmaking body — voted down a petition to create a U.S. central conference and other proposed new regional structures.

However, Connectional Table members say that dynamic is about to change. They argue some kind of U.S. structure will be needed under a proposed General Book of Discipline heading the General Conference voters in 2020.

Since 2012, two other church bodies — the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and the Committee on Faith and Order — have been working on the General Book of Discipline.

Their task is to specify which parts of the current Book of Discipline's Part VI are essential for all United Methodists and which can be adapted. Part VI, the largest section in the Discipline, deals with organizational and administrative matters.

The goal is to have a shorter, more globally relevant governing document. Whatever the new General Book of Discipline no longer includes will be subject to adaptation. 

However, at present, the denomination's constitution allows only the seven central conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines to modify the Book of Discipline according to their legal and missional contexts.

"We defined our work as finding a way for the U.S. to do the adaptable work that will be required with the proposed General Book of Discipline," said Judi Kenaston, the convener of the Connectional Table's advisory group on U.S. matters. She is also a member of the West Virginia Conference.

"There needs to be a way for the U.S. churches to do that adaptable work. Otherwise it remains in the General Conference."

Nordic-Baltic Area Bishop Christian Alsted, the Connectional Table's chair, asked if perhaps each of the five U.S. jurisdictions might be able to develop a supplemental Book of Discipline for their needs. 

The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of the General Conference, pointed out that idea presents challenges. Even within central conferences, individual annual conferences do not have the authority to adapt the Book of Discipline.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter for UMNS

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