GC2016: Where is the zeal for agency reform?

An effort to reform United Methodist agencies in 2012 had the endorsement of bishops, the advocacy of church leaders and the vote of General Conference.

The only snag came on the last day of General Conference — when the Judicial Council, denomination's top court, ruled the plan unconstitutional and void.

Now, a determined group of United Methodists is bringing back a slightly revised version of the plan to the 2016 General Conference when the denomination's top lawmaking body meets May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.

They believe "Plan UMC Revised" is now constitutional and still can win the majority of votes. What the new plan lacks, proponents acknowledge, is the denomination-wide fanfare that agency restructuring proposals received just four years ago.

"I thinks it's fair to say that a lot of people who worked on this, starting with the bishops, really were demoralized by the Judicial Council decision," the Rev. Don Underwood said. "So much work went into that, and it was stopped dead in its tracks."

Underwood is the senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, a General Conference delegate and one of the six drafters of the restructuring plan.

The thrust of that reform is reducing the number of agencies and increasing their oversight with a strong executive.

The plan has its critics — among agency leaders and others. Fred Brewington, a General Conference delegate from New York, criticized Plan UMC Revised as too similar to a corporate model.

"We're talking about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," he said. "Sometimes the strictness of a corporate structure is not the answer."

Nonetheless, Underwood and other proponents are hoping to reinvigorate the passion for agency reform, even as a Judicial Council review of the legislation is still pending.

The Council of Bishops — in referring the revised plan for Judicial Council review — made clear the action was "in no way intended as support or opposition" to the proposal.

The plan also is getting some pushback from the Connectional Table, a denominational leadership body that in 2012 was one of the biggest champions for agency restructuring.

Many United Methodist leaders would agree that structural reform is needed denomination-wide, but they disagree on what that change should look like or the timeline for carrying it out.

The Rev. Amy Valdez Barker served on the initial Call to Action Steering Team and is now the top executive of the Connectional Table.

"The Call to Action was really about looking at the church as a whole and beginning to focus our attention, energy and resources toward increasing vital congregations across the connection," she said.

"The larger vision, the thing we are really working with zeal toward is: What does it mean to serve a worldwide church?"

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service

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