The United Methodist Church’s highest court ruled that new delegate elections “are not required” for the long-delayed and potentially pivotal General Conference, now set for 2024.
“The delegates duly elected to the 2020 General Conference for the 2020-2024 Quadrennium stand as submitted and certified by the annual conference secretaries,” the Judicial Council said in Decision 1451.
In practice, this means that the same delegates elected in 2018 or 2019 to a General Conference can continue to serve when the session finally convenes. The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly is the only body that can speak for the denomination and formalize such changes.
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The church court also said the duly elected delegates can vote at the jurisdictional and central conferences that follow the next General Conference. Jurisdictional conferences in the U.S. and central conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines elect the denomination’s bishops.
The Judicial Council’s decision responds to questions raised by three annual conferences after the Commission on the General Conference postponed the legislative assembly a third time.
United Methodist annual conferences — 133 church regional bodies around the globe — are responsible for electing the lay and clergy delegates who vote at General Conference.
The church court concluded that “no provision” of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, “authorizes the cancellation of a regular session of General Conference or the annulment of elections properly conducted by an annual conference.”
Hence, the Judicial Council said, the “next meeting scheduled for 2024 is designated as the postponed 2020 General Conference.”
The church court ruling affirms the position of the General Conference commission, which has consistently argued that the coming session was postponed not canceled. The Judicial Council itself also has referred to the coming General Conference as postponed in earlier decisions.
General Conference is usually identified by the year it takes place simply to distinguish one session from another. Designating the coming General Conference as postponed likely won’t stop people from referring to the coming gatherings by their year, be it 2024, or the regular session expected in 2028.
The Judicial Council noted that the denomination’s constitution enshrines the reserved right to annual conferences to elect clergy and lay delegates to the General Conference and the jurisdictional or central conferences.
The ruling means that the number and allocation of delegates among annual conferences remains unchanged from what the General Conference commission determined for the 2020 General Conference.
A number of delegates elected to the coming General Conference can no longer serve because of death, disaffiliation from the denomination or some other reason. Many of the newly elected bishops were previously delegates who also can no longer serve. As leaders of the denomination’s executive branch, bishops preside but do not have a vote at General Conference.
Annual conferences elect reserve delegates to replace primary delegates who have withdrawn for whatever reason.
However, the Judicial Council decision doesn’t address what happens when an annual conference does not have enough reserves to fill its allotment of delegates. That question was not before the church court.
The Judicial Council’s decision does mean the legislation already properly submitted to the coming General Conference will not need to be resent.
New legislation also could still be submitted.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UM News.
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