The 864 delegates to next year's special General Conference face a large task and only a short time to do it.
But whatever decisions the delegates make, the plan is for them to decide together — without the usual prologue of meeting in multiple legislative committees.
The Commission on General Conference, the international group of clergy and laity who plan the big meeting, has set the number of legislative committees at one. And all delegates will be on it.
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Commission members — meeting Oct. 3-5 at the United Methodist retreat center Epworth by the Sea — voted for the plan unanimously. The move does not require any changes to the General Conference rules that delegates approved in 2016.
"Our guiding principles in creating this framework are transparency, fairness, full participation of delegates and stewardship of our limited time," the commission's Rules Committee said in its rationale for the decision.
"Our hope is that Christian conferencing as a whole body will enable us to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst."
While The United Methodist Church's top legislative body typically meets for 10 days, the special session in St. Louis will be Feb. 23-26, 2019.
Unlike at the typical General Conference, the 2019 special session will not have an exhibit hall for businesses and ministries to market their services. However, general agencies and other ministry partners so far have pledged $38,500 to help fund the lawmaking gathering.
Sara Hotchkiss, the General Conference business manager's, office will start sending out invitation letters needed for delegates to receive visas to the U.S. Her office is registering the event with the U.S. government and notifying all U.S. embassies where delegates reside. She will also let different ports of entry know ahead of time which delegates will be passing through their gates.
Over those days, the delegates will work on determining what direction the church should take under the current state of affairs of the denomination.
The Commission on General Conference in many ways represents the denomination it serves. The members, most of whom will be 2019 delegates, have diverse theological perspectives.
However, the plan for one legislative committee had broad support among commission members from the moment it was discussed.
"I think there is a high level of mistrust in the body, and I think this particular approach lessens the mistrust because everybody hears what everybody else hears," said the Rev. Lynn Hill, a commission member from the Tennessee Conference.
The first official day of the session will be Sunday, Feb. 24. Delegates will hear a presentation from the Commission on Way Forward.
On Monday, Feb. 25, the delegates will meet in legislative committee to amend and vote on petitions.
"I think people are coming to St. Louis expecting this to be different," said the Rev. Laura Merrill, a commission member from the Rio Texas Conference. "My prayer is that folks come with a spirit of expectancy."
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS
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