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Reactions vary to 2019 special General Conference

The United Methodist Council of Bishops' announcement that a special General Conference likely won't happen before 2019 brought a range of reactions, from support to frustration.

Faulting the bishops about timing, or anything else, is not the way to go, according to Mathew Pinson, chair of the North Georgia Conference delegation to General Conference 2016.

The Book of Discipline says delegates to a special General Conference will be the delegates from the preceding General Conference or their "lawful successors" — unless an annual or missionary conference decides to have an election.

"I think there is some wisdom in keeping the delegations as close to the last General Conference as possible," said Mathew Pinson, chair of the North Georgia Conference delegation to the 2016 General Conference. "It was that body that asked for this work to be commissioned. It should be that body that receives that work back and acts upon it."

"It's the job of those of us who were at General Conference as delegates, and the larger church, to undergird these bishops with prayer and support as they carry out to the best of their ability what the church asked them to do," Pinson said.

The Council of Bishops recently named a 32-member Commission on a Way Forward, and on Nov. 2 the bishops announced that they're planning for a special General Conference in early 2019 to deal with the commission's recommendations. 

That means the gathering would come just a little over a year before the regularly scheduled 2020 General Conference, to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Some United Methodists grumbled about a long wait for the special General Conference, and about the prospect of two expensive meetings in close succession.

But the bishops noted in a press release the obstacles to moving quicker, including the logistical details and the Book of Discipline requirement for delegates to have 230 days to study any petitions they'll be considering.

Florida Conference Bishop Kenneth Carter, who serves as one of three moderators for the Commission on a Way Forward, said the worldwide nature of the denomination dictates a more deliberate pace than some will like. He noted that the council itself represents four continents and a variety of languages.

Carter, who said the commission, will have its first meeting in January, counseled patience and a commitment to democratic decision-making within the global context.

"This will not have a good outcome if one part of the church walks much faster than another," he said.

Sam Hodges, UMNS writer, lives in Dallas and Kathy Gilbert, multimedia news reporter for UMNS

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