The United Methodist Church’s highest court has opened the door of some new delegates to be elected to the long-postponed and potentially momentous General Conference, now set for next year.
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In Decision 1472, the church court addressed questions from the denomination’s Council of Bishops arising from the unprecedented length of General Conference’s pandemic-caused postponement.
“Annual conferences are permitted to hold elections to fill vacancies in the General Conference delegation due to death, resignations, or otherwise, up to the maximum number of allocated delegates,” the decision said, “provided vacancies cannot be filled with reserve delegates.”
In Decision 1470, the Judicial Council affirmed a decision of law made by Bishop John L. Hopkins, then interim bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference. The church court agreed with Hopkins that a question of law submitted orally but not in writing was “improperly submitted.”
The Judicial Council previously ruled that annual conferences “are not required” to hold new delegate elections for the postponed General Conference. The number and allocation of delegates among annual conferences would remain unchanged.
In practical terms, this meant that the same delegates elected in 2018 or 2019 to a General Conference facing multiple proposals for a denominational split or reorganization could continue to serve when the session finally convenes.
The Judicial Council clarified that its previous ruling saying elections are not required “does not mean ‘not permitted.’”
However, the church court emphasized that the precondition for any new elections is that an annual conference has depleted its pool of reserve delegates including reserve delegates to the jurisdictional or central conferences (the church bodies that elect bishops).
The church court further clarified that if a delegate’s status as clergy or lay has changed since their election, that person is no longer eligible to serve.
As with other gaps that now exist in General Conference delegations, the church court said, annual conferences can hold a new election “if the vacancy cannot be filled with reserve delegates.”
With the postponed 2020 General Conference now scheduled for when the 2024 General Conference was to occur, the Council of Bishops had one more question: Does another legislative assembly need to be scheduled?
“Since ¶ 14 stipulates one session per every four years, another regular session of General Conference is therefore required,” the church court majority said in Decision 1472. “Under this provision, a regular session of General Conference must be convened after the adjournment of the postponed 2020 General Conference, between January 1, 2025 and December 31, 2027.”
The majority of the Judicial Council ruled that to put the General Conference’s quadrennial schedule back on track, another session of the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly must be scheduled between Jan. 1, 2025, and Dec. 31, 2027. Four of the nine members dissented from that part of the ruling.
However, Judicial Council members the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, the Rev. Dennis Blackwell and Lidia Gulele issued a joint dissent to this part of the ruling.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNews
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