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Questions and anger follow General Conference delay

Delegates and visitors listen to debate on petitions at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. The third postponement of the 2020 General Conference to 2024 has provoked strong reactions across The United Methodist Church. At the same time, a breakaway denomination is getting ready to launch. File photo by Maile Bradfield, UM News.
Delegates and visitors listen to debate on petitions at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. The third postponement of the 2020 General Conference to 2024 has provoked strong reactions across The United Methodist Church. At the same time, a breakaway denomination is getting ready to launch. File photo by Maile Bradfield, UM News.
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United Methodists reacted to General Conference’s third postponement — this time to 2024 — with strong emotions ranging from outrage to relief. Many also expressed weariness with the uncertainty that has faced the denomination since before the pandemic.

Your support of The General Administration Fund apportionment implements trustworthy administrative oversight like the GC sessions.

Now, some theological conservatives announced that they no longer are waiting for GC to act but launching that new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, on May 1.

Even those committed to remaining in The UMC and understanding of the GC delay feel the frustration.

Nevertheless, both the postponement and the planned new denomination’s launch are leaving United Methodists across the theological spectrum with plenty of questions.

Chief among those is: Will delegates elected to the 2020 GC be able to serve in 2024, or will annual conferences need to elect new slates? That question will likely land before the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court.

Other questions:

  • Does United Methodist church law allow for annual conferences to leave now without GC’s adoption of the protocol? The Council of Bishops is bringing questions related to such a possibility to the Judicial Council. The church court earlier answered questions related to the disaffiliations of individual congregations.
  • Does the protocol remain relevant now that the Global Methodist Church is launching? General Conference always had the ability to amend or vote down the protocol. However, it remains to be seen what has happened to the legislation’s support.

The Rev. Andy Bryan is among the GC delegates who see the third postponement as regrettable but necessary.

The Rev. George Wilson, a GC delegate from Liberia, said the postponement is good and timely.

The Rev. Kalema Tambwe, a clergy delegate from Eastern Congo, said holding GC this year ran the risk of seeing many delegates absent because they had difficulties related to vaccinations and obtaining visas.

However, the delay has sparked anger, especially from theological conservatives who supported the ability to leave in an orderly fashion.

The continued uncertainty resulting from the GC delay presents challenges to a variety of ministries.

The Rev. Kent Millard, president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, said his enrollment staff have heard from prospective students who feel a call to United Methodist ministry but are reluctant to begin formal studies.

“People think, ‘Will there be a church for me to serve when I finish this (degree)?’” Millard said.

The further postponement of GC has implications for Wespath, the United Methodist pension agency that the Global Methodist Church also plans to use. At present, some big legislative changes submitted by Wespath are on hold.

That includes legislation to move United Methodist clergy to a new retirement plan as well as a proposal to give more flexibility to disaffiliating churches in handling pension liabilities. At present, a disaffiliating church must pay a share of its conference’s unfunded clergy pension liability. That share can mean a hefty price tag.

The delay is difficult for the denomination’s progressives too.

With the commission’s decision now made, many United Methodists are moving forward with plans for the future. 

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

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