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General Conference postponed until 2024

Worshipers rise at the opening celebration for the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. (Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS.)
Worshipers rise at the opening celebration for the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. (Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS.)
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Citing long wait times for visas, General Conference organizers announced that The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly, General Conference — long postponed by pandemic — must wait until 2024.

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“We engaged in a fair, thorough, integrity-filled discussion of the alternatives," said Kim Simpson, chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference, in a press statement.

“The visa issue is a reality that is simply outside our control as we seek to achieve a reasonable threshold of delegate presence and participation. Ultimately our decision reflects the hope that 2024 will afford greater opportunity for global travel and a higher degree of protection for the health and safety of delegates and attendees.”

Bishops do not have a vote on the commission. After the commission's announcement, Council of Bishops President Cynthia Fierro Harvey said in a statement that she and her fellow bishops would begin "to explore various pathways for sustaining the worldwide mission and witness of The United Methodist Church, given the announcement of this further and understandable delay."

Meanwhile, leaders of a planned new theologically conservative denomination announced that they are moving up the launch date without waiting for General Conference to act.

This marks the third delay of what many have expected to be a pivotal global gathering. After decades of intensifying debate and defiance the coming General Conference faces multiple proposals for denominational separation.

The most endorsed of these is the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, which if adopted, would allow churches and conferences to leave with church property and $25 million in United Methodist funds to form a new “traditionalist” denomination.

That new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, had plans to launch in conjunction with General Conference later this year. However, the new denomination’s Transitional Leadership Team announced plans to move the launch date up to May 1.

The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies typically have held a General Conference at least every four years since 1792. With the 2020 General Conference now delayed to when the next one was supposed to take place, it remains unclear whether new delegates will need to be elected.

On Feb. 24, the commission met online in closed session for 3½ hours to deliberate on whether the international meeting could go forward as scheduled.

Still unknown is what General Conference’s continued delay will mean for the proposed protocol, negotiated by professional mediator Kenneth Feinberg with a theologically diverse group of United Methodists. General Conference — the only body that can speak for the church — has the final say on whether the protocol takes effect as written.

Also unknown is how many churches will depart before General Conference meets.

However, some churches already have decided to leave. Annual conferences have approved the disaffiliation of about 130 U.S. churches in the past two years.

The additional delay of General Conference brings additional complications.

The decision to postpone again was not an easy one, said Simpson, the commission chair.

“COVID-19 has tested the collective patience, understanding, compassion, resolve, and even faith of the world. Commission members remain hopeful and pray that the world’s circumstances improve to help make the next General Conference not only possible, but a reminder of the witness of The United Methodist Church as a global representation of the body of Christ.”

excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNS

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