Leaders pursue plan for new U.S. structure

Judi Kenaston, Northeastern Jurisdiction, talks with Michelle Hettman, Southeastern Jurisdiction, during the meeting of the Connectional Table held at United Methodist Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, Tenn., April 2.
Judi Kenaston, Northeastern Jurisdiction, talks with Michelle Hettman, Southeastern Jurisdiction, during the meeting of the Connectional Table held at United Methodist Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, Tenn., April 2.
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United Methodist leaders are pressing ahead with an effort to create a new decision-making body for U.S. matters.

The Connectional Table’s vote gave the go-ahead to submit legislation to the 2020 General Conference that, if the legislative assembly approves, would offer two steps toward creating such a structure.

The Connectional Table’s goal is to have a place for United Methodists to vote on clergy pensions, retirement plans, property matters, resolutions and other initiatives that solely affect the United States — and take some of the burden off General Conference to deal with these matters.

Ordination standards, clergy conduct rules and marriage policies would remain up to General Conference, Kenaston said.

Still, she acknowledged, there are United Methodists who want or fear the Connectional Table’s proposal will do just that.

“At this time, we are left with a very good proposal presented at a very difficult time,” she said. “The church is in transition, and our trust is low. We see and understand the risks of offering any legislation. We don’t want this work to be lost.”

The first step in the Connectional Table’s legislation would create a General Conference legislative committee to deal with petitions pertaining exclusively to the U.S. church.

The committee, which would not convene until the 2024 General Conference, would consist of all U.S. delegates to General Conference. It also would include two delegates from each central conference. The Connectional Table proposes that General Conference’s Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters name these delegates, who will have voice but not vote.

The Committee on U.S. Matters, unlike its central matters counterpart, would not be a permanent committee that meets between General Conference sessions. However, as with the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, any legislation approved by the U.S. committee also would need the support of the General Conference’s full multinational plenary to go forward.

Connectional Table members see the committee approach as only an interim step towards creating a U.S. central conference where delegates from across the U.S. could make decisions without going to the full General Conference.

Creating a new legislative committee on U.S. matters would only require a simple majority vote at the 2020 General Conference.

If a U.S. central conference was approved by General Conference and ratified, the legislative committee on U.S. matters would sunset.

Because of the General Conference 2019 fallout, the standing committee already had agreed to delay bringing its General Book of Discipline recommendations for a vote until the 2024 General Conference. Instead, the group plans to ask the 2020 General Conference delegates to give feedback on the work done so far.

Other committee members remained unsure about what a new U.S. central conference would do to the denomination’s power dynamics — particularly since plan keeps the five U.S. jurisdictions for bishop elections.

After the Connectional Table vote to move forward, those backing the U.S. structure were still hopeful but worried it will face strong headwinds.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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