Visitors to the 2019 special General Conference will no longer need to pay a $200 registration fee to witness the historic gathering firsthand.
General Conference organizers have found a way to avoid requiring the controversial fees and still cover the costs of The United Methodist Church's top policymaking assembly.
In May, the Commission on General Conference reluctantly decidedto charge each visitor a registration fee of at least $200 to help pay for the initially unfunded meeting.
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The denomination's Council of Bishops has called the special General Conference for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, with the goal of helping the denomination resolve its division over language in the Book of Discipline. The dispute has threatened to split the 12.5 million-member, multinational denomination, and already at least some congregations are heading for the exits.
Paying for the meeting, which will bring together 864 lay and clergy delegates from four continents, also was proving to be a challenge. The commission was facing a $688,000 shortfall in making the meeting's budget of a little under $3.7 million.
In a July 12 conference call, Moses Kumar — General Conference treasurer — told commission members that the fees would no longer be needed, thanks in large part to negotiated cost savings and a grant from United Methodist Communications.
"I want to thank all of the board of United Methodist Communications for stepping up to give us this grant," Kumar said.
The denomination's communications agency, which includes United Methodist News Service, has made a $450,000 grant to the special General Conference. The agency also previously had volunteered to provide all production for the February 2019 meeting at no cost to the commission.
"We recognize that this is a monumental event for the church in its history," said Dan Krause, top executive of United Methodist Communications, in a statement. "It was a chance for us to help the denomination, while also recognizing a broader communication role."
Kumar said the commission will be able to make up the remaining amount through negotiated savings and new revenue from ministry partners — that is, groups willing to help sponsor the special session.
Kumar is also the top executive of the denomination's finance agency General Council on Finance and Administration, which had already committed up to $3 million toward the special General Conference.
Kumar told the commission he is not certain what impact the withdrawal of the fees will have on the Judicial Council, which next meets in October.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS
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